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John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit Hardcover – March 22, 2016

4.8 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Wall Street Journal
“Penetrating, detailed and very readable... [a] splendid biography.”

New York Times Book Review, Joseph J. Ellis
“[A] splendid new biography.... Reliably thorough, blissfully bereft of jargon and nicely paced.”

Washington Free Beacon
“[An] excellent biography.... [John Quincy Adams’] life is worth meditating on, and Traub’s biography is an indispensable resource for doing so.”

Library Journal
“Adams surfaces as an ambitious intellectual with deeply held convictions striving to hold his family together through illness, tragedy, and financial woes while relentlessly promoting a strong, active federal government as the young but rapidly expanding and diversifying nation grappled with geographic sectionalism and political partisanship.”

Booklist, Starred Review
“Traub thoroughly, even quite engagingly, follows Adams through the years during which he served in the diplomatic corps, building up the reputation as the new republic’s best representative abroad.”

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“[An] essential biography of a complex man.... Traub shows that without imperiling national unity, Adams’s persistent, perspicacious opposition to slavery ‘shattered the overweening confidence of the South’ and confirmed his place in America’s history.”

Kirkus
“Traub depicts a fully fleshed character, an extraordinary man driven by his birthright principles, a voluminous diarist, scholar, poet, polymath, eccentric, and iconoclast. The author also offers a masterly portrait of Adams’ wife, Louisa. An impassioned biography of ‘a coherent and consistent thinker who adhered to his core political convictions across his decades of public service.’”

Shelf Awareness for Readers
John Quincy Adams is a sharp portrait of the fascinating statesman who helped bring about the consolidation of the United States from fragile upstart into emerging major power. Traub’s plentiful source material – Adams kept a journal throughout most of his life – reveals a complex man: a Puritan patrician, a genius diplomat, a villain to many and hero to a hopeful few, including the Amistad defendants. John Quincy Adams is a magnificent work.”

The Arts Fuse
“James Traub has admirably captured the man inside the public figure, giving us a view of a typical New England grandee, puritanical at his core, molded as a traditionalist republican with no love for pure democracy, convinced that governing was intended for the class born and bred for it.”

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS
“This week’s book of the week is James Traub’s biography of John Quincy Adams. By rights, John Quincy Adams should be one of America’s most famous presidents. His life story is remarkable, the son of one of the nation’s founding presidents, the only one to serve in an elected office after leaving the White House, and a man of vast intelligence and political courage who died while debating in the House of Representatives. Yet he’s an obscure figure. James Traub has rectified this in a book worthy of its subject.”

Open Letters Monthly
“[T]his is a fine addition to the newly-swelling ranks of JQA biographies, and one of the finest political lives to appear so far in 2016.”

Roanoke Times
“Traub’s attention to small, sometimes seemingly insignificant, details creates a vivid picture of Adams, his family, his colleagues and adversaries, and the society in which he lived and worked.”

Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln
“James Traub's new biography of John Quincy Adams is exceptionally strong. Adams was a complicated hero, a patrician visionary but also, as Traub puts it, a militant spirit, one of the most important diplomats in all of American history and, finally, slavery's greatest enemy in American politics. Traub does justice to both the man and his times, with a historian's sense of complexity and a writer's eye for drama and detail.”

Kurt Andersen, author of True Believers, host of Studio 360
“Certainly by modern standards, John Quincy Adams doesn't seem like presidential material: all high seriousness and rectitude, uncompromising to a fault, precisely not a guy with whom you want to sit down and have a beer. But James Traub’s beautifully written, absolutely definitive biography is a surprising page-turner that made me admire this other President Adams as he finally deserves to be admired—and to wonder if the species of American civic virtue he embodied, always rare, always endangered, has not become extinct.”

Deborah Solomon, author of American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell
“In the crowded pantheon of politically glamorous Adamses, John Quincy has long been overshadowed. Here he has finally been given his due. James Traub, one of America’s most incisive journalists on foreign affairs, has crafted a moving biography of an unlikely hero — a tense, introspective man who had no gift for small talk and felt beleaguered by criticism from members of Congress as well as his own three sons. By capturing Adams’ unflashy brilliance and do-the-right thing convictions, Traub convinces us that our sixth president is as worthy of our affection and gratitude as any before or after him.”

Alan Taylor, author of The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
“In lucid prose and with canny insight, James Traub illuminates the life and political career of John Quincy Adams. Driven by grim purpose and consistent values, Adams was hard to love but demanded respect as he matured into a champion of liberty for all. Traub admires Adams tinged with sadness for the absence of his type in our own times.”

Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World
“By rights, John Quincy Adams should be one of America’s most famous presidents. His life story is remarkable. The son of one of the nation’s founding presidents, the only one to serve in an elected office after leaving the White House, and a man of vast intelligence and even greater political courage who died while debating in the House of Representatives. Yet he is an obscure figure in American history. James Traub has rectified this in a book worthy of its subject. Traub is a splendid storyteller and a perceptive guide to foreign policy. The result is an utterly compelling book.”

Robert Kagan, author of Of Paradise and Power
“John Quincy Adams was a great statesman and a heroic crusader for freedom, whose finest hours, ironically, came both before and after his time as president. James Traub does us a service by bringing him to life again for a new generation. With a journalist’s touch, Traub paints a vivid portrait of the man in all his complexity.”

About the Author

James Traub is a regular columnist and contributor for ForeignPolicy.com, and a teacher of foreign policy at New York University. His books include The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power (2006), The Devil’s Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square (2004), and City on a Hill (1994), and he is the author, most recently, of The Freedom Agenda, which was praised by Gen. Wesley Clark as “the most penetrating look yet at the historical and theoretical basis for democratization.”
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (March 22, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465028276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465028276
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Matthew L. Shiney on April 12, 2016
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Traub has written an excellent biography of one of the most underappreciated titans of our Republic. Adams was a man of impeccable integrity and clung dearly to his principles of individual liberty, republicanism, foreign policy realism and nationalism, often at the expense of his political fortunes. His life serves as a model to counter the current status quo of of our self-serving politicians. He was a staunch defender of our founding principles and vigorously fought the "slavocracy" with passion and intellectual force.

Traub does an excellent job of highlighting this man's virtues, as well as his faults. He has done a tremendous service to a man all but forgotten by history. With the exception of Alexander Hamilton and Mr. Adams' own father , there may not be a man who was so instrumental to our history that receives less credit than he is due. He is without a doubt one of our greatest diplomats and congressmen.
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Adams. As hard as the rocky soil of Braintree Massachusetts. Long before the Bush father and son presidential team there were the famous Adams family! John Quincy was the son of John Adams the second POTUS. He was a stern and stiff Puritan who would not entertain fools with gladness in his flinty heart. He was among other thing:
1. The greatest American diplomat of the nineteenth century: Adams served well in such difficult embassies as those established in Russia during the Napoleonic era, France, the Hague in Holland and the Court of St. James in London. He was a tough and skillful negotiator.
2. Adams was an early advocate of manifest destiny strongly calling for American expansionism all the way to the West Coast.
3.He was the author of the Monroe Doctrine while serving that president as Secretary of State.
4. Adams was a one term president who had difficulty with Congress and his political foes. The nation did remain at peace during his one term presidency. He lost to Andrew Jackson in their 1828 contest for the White House.
5. Adams was an extremely learned man. He read and wrote several languages; wrote a fascinating diary for over fifty years; was an expert on weights and measures and owned a huge library. Brilliant!
6. Adams served in several important governmental positions from Secretary of State, US Senator from Mass. POTUS and as a US Congressman following his service as POTUS.
7. Adams was a strong advocate for the rights of African-Americans. He helped free the Amistad slave revolt persons and died on the floor of the House of Representatives fighting for African-Americans rights.
8. Adams was a man of principle but he was not adverse to fighting well in the dirty donnybrook arena known as American politics!
9.
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This is a thoroughly readable book about a man almost impossible to love, but perhaps equally impossible not to admire. In a real sense, it serves as a history of the U.S. from about 1775 to 1846. The parallels, admittedly not explored here, to Jimmy Carter in our own time seem striking.
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My ongoing project to read a scholarly biography of every American president took a major step forward earlier this month when I discovered a brand-new biography of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. Written by journalist and author James Traub, “John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit” is a masterful example of the presidential biographer’s art. In this superb book, Traub draws a highly detailed and multi-dimensional portrait of John Quincy Adams and the times in which he lived.

Born in 1767, John Quincy Adams was the oldest child of John Adams (American founding father and second president) and Abigail Smith Adams. Young John Quincy always strove to meet the high expectations of his parents, both of whom demanded from him not only great scholarly accomplishment, but also behavior of the highest rectitude.

John Quincy acquired a first-rate classical education under the guidance of his father. He was keenly intellectual, and, by his own admission, highly reserved, judgmental, and rather cold and aloof – much like his parents. Also like his parents, he was a progressive thinker, and a lifelong, resolute foe of slavery.

In his teen years and early adulthood, John Quincy Adams served as his father’s private secretary while the elder Adams was negotiating the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. He was well traveled; he served as an ambassador of the fledgling United States to several European countries; all the while continuing his education.

He returned home and briefly served as a Senator from Massachusetts. His unpopular stands on several issues led him to leave office before finishing his term. Later in life, he served as Secretary of State in the administration of President James Monroe.
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James Traub's recent book, "John Quincy Adams", is one of the finest presidential biographies I've read in years. His subject, our sixth president, was at the crossroads of the early years of the United States, from the founding of the republic to the build up to the civil war. His account is revealing and often riveting as he works our way through Adams's life, both political and personal.

To think of the historical figures that John Quincy Adams either knew personally or knew about is extraordinary. The only president to have met both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Traub's book details Adams's association with every president through James Knox Polk. He worked with them all, was allied with some, debated others and seemingly fought with everyone. He held positions in government that would be hard to repeat today and his breadth of experience was unmatched.

That said, however, John Quincy Adams seemed to be his own worst enemy. His personality was cold and rigid and that extended to his family as well. His cool relationship with his wife, Louisa, is one of great study and the difficulty, disappointment and sadness he experienced with some of his siblings and children are remarkable in the sense that he was able to survive these and still thrive. His parents, John and Abigail and his son, Charles Francis Adams, seem to be only three that he worshiped and adored, and on whom he relied most heavily.

We see much of Adams through the context of his diaries, which he kept on and off for most of his life. What I came to learn as a sidelight to Adams's life was his interest in things mechanical (the new railroads, for instance) and his love of astronomy.
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