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First Family: Abigail and John Adams Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Ellis (Founding Brothers) gives "the premier husband-wife team in all American history" starring roles in an engrossing romance. His Abigail has an acute intellect, but is not quite a protofeminist heroine: her ambitions are limited to being a mother and helpmeet, and in the iconic correspondence she often strikes the traditional pose of a neglected wife who sacrifices her happiness by giving up her husband to the call of duty. The author's more piquant portrait of John depicts an insecure, mercurial, neurotic man stabilized by Abigail's love and advice. Ellis's implicit argument--that the John/Abigail partnership lies at the foundation of the Adams family's public achievements--is a bit over-played, and not always to the advantage of the partnership: "Her judgment was a victim of her love for John…," Ellis writes of Abigail's support for the Alien and Sedition Acts, the ugliest blot on John's presidency, all of which explains little and excuses less. Still, Ellis's supple prose and keen psychological insight give a vivid sense of the human drama behind history's upheavals.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
When so much has been written—and televised—about John and Abigail Adams, do we need another book? Yes, when the author is distinguished historian Ellis. Although Ellis notes that any study of either John or Abigail is necessarily about them both since their partnership was so central to their story, his focus is on that partnership (an approach also taken by Edith B. Gelles in Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage, published last year). The letters John and Abigail exchanged are the chief documents—an ongoing conversation that ceased (to the frustration of historians) when they were together but also sometimes when they were apart. John was not a good correspondent when he was in Europe, for example, and what letters he did write often took six months to arrive, when they were not lost at sea. In addition to looking at the strengths of the Adams’ marriage, the book examines the toll taken by their years apart and the misfortunes in the lives of all their children except John Quincy. Ellis has produced a very readable history of the nation’s founding as lived by these two. --Mary Ellen Quinn
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Still, the heart of the work is the detailed depiction of the relationship of John and Abigail over the years. Their marriage lasted over fifty years. While there were tensions at times, their deep and abiding friendship, their intellectual discussions, their sharing of his public life are tales well told in this volume.
Ellis has authored other excellent historical volumes--American Sphinx and Founding Brothers. This book merits inclusion in that estimable body of work.
On a side note, at one point I was reading three historical works at the same time--Chernow's biography of Washington and Burstein/Isenberg's "Madison and Jefferson." What is interesting is that each book has the lead characters of the other two works involved--as well as other eminent persons such as Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and so on. The fascinating part of this is how--from the particular focal characters' perspectives--we see different views of the others. Hamilton is a plus for Washington (although there were problems); for Adams, he was a demon. For Madison, Hamilton was at some times an ally and at other times the enemy. Considering the three at the same time makes for very interesting reading--and comparison of characters. It was only by accident that I did this, but it added an intriguing element to the reading.
A fine work indeed. . . .