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Democracy: An American Novel (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – July 8, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

First published anonymously in 1880, the mother of all (American) political novels is the story of Madeleine Lee, a young widow who comes to Washington, DC, to understand the workings of government. "What she wanted was POWER." During the course of the novel, she sees enough of power and its corruptions to last her a lifetime. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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“[One] of the most perceptive books ever written about Washington.” —Maureen Dowd, The New York Times
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; New edition edition (July 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037576058X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375760587
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,223,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Democracy" is what "Primary Colors" would have been if the latter had been well-written. Like Joe Klein, Adams published his book anonymously and skewered a number of contemporary politicians (including President Rutherford B. Hayes). But Adams goes two steps further: his novel is a scathing commentary more on the American political system in general than on one administration in particular, and his characters are iconic and recognizable in any era.
In "Democracy," the nation's capital "swarms with simple-minded exhibitions of human nature; men and women curiously out of place, whom it would be cruel to ridicule and ridiculous to weep over." But Adams is not hesitant about being cruel in his portrayal of Washington's residents, and he saves his weeping for the true victims in his novel: the American people. The typical American senator combines "the utmost pragmatical self-assurance and overbearing temper with the narrowest education and meanest personal experience that ever existed in any considerable government." (Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!)
The story concerns Madeleine Lee, an intelligent and well-meaning (if somewhat naive) New York widow, who, bored with her cosmopolitan lifestyle, travels to Washington to learn what makes the nation tick. She and her sister are quickly surrounded by a diverse group of politicians, lobbyists, and foreign diplomats, and she finds herself courted by Silas Ratcliffe, a senator with presidential aspirations whose talent "consisted in the skill with which he evaded questions of principle." During one heated (and humorous) argument about George Washington's merits, Ratcliffe sums up his view of politics: "If virtue won't answer our purpose, then we must use vice, or our opponents will put us out of office.
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Format: Paperback
Anyone wishing to understand democracy in America might skip that more famous book by that name and take up this novel by Henry Adams instead. Here the reader learns how politics really works and it is not pretty. In this work, Adams shows the dark underside of democracy. Adams was critical of the politics of his age and with reason. It was until now the most openly corrupt era in American history. There is a memorable scene in which the hopes and dreams of the American Revolution and founding fathers, as personified by the ruins of Mt Vernon are constrasted by the book's various characters on the make. It is no wonder that the word "democracy" is used rather ironically throughout this book.
This book had an interesting history. It is a roman a clef and certain people, notably James Blaine (one time corrupt congressman, corrupt senator and corrupt presidential contender) were reportedly outraged by the rather unflattering portrayal. To prevent libel suits, as well as the more damaging social slights, Adams did not disclose he had written it. As one of the leading historians of the day, he probably did not wish to be associated with something as frivilous as a novel. He and his friends did have fun, baiting a curious reading public by periodically throwing out all sorts of red herrings to divert suspicion from Adams.
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Format: Paperback
This book read very well 118 years after it was published. I suppose there are "guides" which would tie the characters to actual people--maybe I should check Ernest Samuels' 3-volume bio, which I read in March of 1985, and see what he says. Apparently the president was Hayes--it certainly fits him in some ways, tho it is rather hard on him. The problems the book does not solve--campaign finance and its relation to political action--are not yet solved.
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Format: Paperback
When I first started it after an excruciatingly long intro it appeared to be a good read. What would be cool would be a companion read-along, a brief summary describing who were the high-steppers in politics, some of the ongoing partisan infighting, the then Perle Mesta, backbiting of the moment, that sort of thing. Then we readers would have a better background to feel what was driving a book written almost 120 years ago. Something like I've heard attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, "If you have nothing good to say about X, then please come sit down beside me and let's talk." Henry Aiken's long-winded Foreword gave some useful background but it didn't really tell us enough about the actual people other than the Henry and Clover Adams' network. I found Democracy a kind of fun book to read. A little bit like a soap opera, but then, isn't 1997 Washington a little bit like a soap opera? At one point I was waiting to see if Carrington's stepped up heart rate about Sylvia, catches her into his arms? And how 'bout Sylvia playing at Cupid with her big sister? Or rather, Cupid in reverse, trying to disengage her sister from the clutches of the dirty Rat-cliffe from Peoria, er, Peonia? The party for the Brits sounded a bit make believe, and so convoluted that I felt it must have been like some of the high school mixers that I used to attend, and have fun at! What's boggling my mind is that the story line feels as if it would be a good fit in the current environment! Could this book be a hoax and in fact be a recent release rather than 1880? During the reading I was once at the point where Ratcliffe seems to have met his match in Mrs. Lee, and is baffled by his hormones. Next thing you know they'll be in the Tidal Basin after a touch of the grape.Read more ›
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