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Abigail Adams: A Life Paperback – June 1, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. While Abigail Adams has always been viewed as one of the most illustrious of America's founding mothers, University of Richmond historian Holton (Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution), drawing on the rich collection of Adams's letters and other manuscripts, paints a strong-minded woman whose boldness developed in the context of the revolutionary era in which she lived. Holton offers a captivating portrait of a reformer both inside and outside the home. Best known for exhorting her husband, John Adams, to remember the ladies in devising America's new political system, she also, Holton has discovered, wrote a will leaving most of her property to her granddaughters, in defiance of the law that made her husband the master of all she owned. Furthermore, she was a businesswoman and invested her own earnings in ways John did not always approve of. Tracing Adams's life from her childhood as the daughter of a poor parson to her long and sometimes uncertain courtship with John, her joys and sorrows as a mother and her life as the wife of a president, Holton's superb biography shows us a three-dimensional Adams as a forward-thinking woman with a mind of her own. (Nov. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Holton... allows Abigail's voice to radiate off the page; the biography grips the reader from the beginning tale of Abigail writing her own will. A wonderful book for revolutionary history buffs, women's studies majors, and biography lovers." --Library Journal, starred review

“Holton vividly captures the brilliance, charm, and spunk of Abigail Adams, and shows why she deserves her place at the table along with her husband John and the other Founders. A must-read book for understanding the founding of our nation.” --Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

"Captivating... biography and social history. Through his engaging prose, Holton provides a nuanced picture of Adams as representative of many women of her era yet also ahead of her time." --Journal of American History
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; 1 edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416546812
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416546818
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Abigail Adams is perhaps best remembered for requesting that her husband, the not-yet-president John Adams, "remember the ladies" as he helped forge a new government in 1776. This famous private letter has turned Adams into a feminist icon, and while here she may have been specifically referring to domestic violence, in other letters she expressed what is often seen as a progressive, enlightened view that women should be equally educated with men and allowed to engage in business and control their own finances. This aspect of Adams's biography is well-known. But less so are her conflicted ideas on religion, African-Americans, money making, Europe, politics and family. In ABIGAIL ADAMS, by American history scholar Woody Holton, readers are given a vivid and complete picture of America's second first lady.

Abigail Smith was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1744, the daughter of a parson. She was raised by her overprotective parents but spent a lot of time with her more affectionate maternal grandmother. Along with her brother and two sisters, she had a typical childhood. She was atypical, though, in the sense that she yearned for an education forbidden to her, one of science and critical thinking in addition to literature and language. She managed to find ways to more fully educate herself through the study of languages and by reading whatever she could get her hands on.

Just before her 20th birthday, she married John Adams, a lawyer family friend nine years her senior. Though one would expect her concern with education and worldly topics to end at that point, she remained true to her belief that girls should be educated as boys are and that women possess intelligence, reason and dignity.

However, as Holton shows, Adams was not a feminist by today's standards.
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Format: Hardcover
Everybody knows the name Abigail Adams but few people know much about her. The John Adams mini-series and the book it was based on hardly tell anything about her. Boy, was she interesting. Woody Holton doesn't just take us through her whole life but provides tons of interesting details. The part I found the most fascinating was the stuff about her financial wheeling and dealing. She was quite the savvy investor. And she even wrote her own will--at a time when women couldn't legally pass along property--to make sure her assets were divided how she wanted them. She was quite the feisty feminist icon. I thought Holton did a great job of bringing Abigail alive in all her complexity--not just the financial speculator, but the wife, the mother, the political advisor. After reading this its hard not to think that Mrs. Adams should be added to the pantheon of "Founding Fathers" as well. Not just as an early feminist hero but as an important player in her own right. The other thing I liked about this book was how it really placed Abigail in the ebb and flow of the events of the Revolution and John's presidency. Holton's a real historian, with years of studying the Revolution behind him, so he's able to bring context that other of the biographies lack. As you'd expect from someone who was a national book award finalist, Abigail Adams is smoothly written and easy to read. He's especially good at explaining complicated business deals in a straightforward way.

This book is great for anyone interested in the Revolution or anyone looking for a good read about an important founding mother.
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Format: Hardcover
Abigail Adams was all over the place in the Revolutionary era, her life entwining not only with that of her husband John, her son John Quincy Adams, and her daughter-in-law Louisa Catherine Adams, but also with those of Benjamin Franklin, George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, Mercy Otis Warren, George III and Queen Charlotte, and other famous men and women, some she admired and some she deprecated. In this brisk and engaging new biography, Woody Holton highlights Adams's keen observation of the public events and public figures of her day, but even more importantly, he shines a steady light on the recesses of her private life, her relationships with her sisters and brother, husband, children, and grandchildren, her economic ventures, her daily activities, and her private dreams and values.

Much of Holton's analysis focuses on two intertwined themes: Abigail Adams as economic agent and Abigail Adams as commentator and critic of women's roles in society. Holton convincingly argues that Adams was responsible for managing and shepherding much of the Adams family's wealth and that her investments turned a better profit than her husband's investments did. The final chapter features an intriguing account of Adams's will, which she used to endow granddaughters, nieces, and other female relations (some already married) with modest economic portfolios of their own. Throughout her life, Adams testified to her concern for women's education-- she believed that the revolution in girls' schooling was one of the most important social changes of her lifetime-- and her wish that women might have more of a voice in society.
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