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John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life Paperback – March 5, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Who is the real John Quincy Adams? The brilliant secretary of state, prime mover behind the Monroe Doctrine, and principled opponent of slavery, defender of the Africans shanghaied aboard the Amistad? Or the ineffectual president stymied by a hostile Congress and his own self-righteousness, the vindictive political foe famed for his cold, disagreeable character? Paul C. Nagel, author of two previous books about the Adams family, seeks to give readers a more human Adams (1767-1848) whose complex nature contained many contradictions. John Quincy Adams is a valuable revisionist biography of a misunderstood figure at the crossroads of American history. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Of all American public figures, none led a more remarkable life than John Quincy Adams. The son of a president, Adams was an elected congressman, an accomplished diplomat, a president himself, and, after vacating the White House in virtual disgrace, a congressman once again from 1831 until his death in 1848. He was a man of letters, had a passion for science and technology, and, more important for the historian, kept a diary for nearly 70 years. With this excellent biography, Nagel continues a string of successful books on America's first families?the Adamses and the Lees (e.g., Descent from Glory, LJ 12/1/82, and The Lees of Virginia, LJ 6/15/90). Nagel focuses more on the private Adams, utilizing diary entries to provide keen insight into this extraordinary man, who often suffered from severe depression. The result is a fascinating psychobiography. Highly recommended for all libraries.?Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Lib., Ala.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 466 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674479408
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674479401
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #642,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Baker VINE VOICE on August 1, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Quincy Adams had a really amazing career of public service. Being the son of one of our country's founding fathers and second president John Quincy Adams had a lot of advantages. But it was his intelligence and hard work that merited him his many positions.

It's almost hard to fathom all the public positions held by JQA in his life. From a legislator in Massachusetts, to a long and distinguished career as a diplomat in Europe - most notably Russia where he was a close confidant of the Tzar Alexander - to Secretary of State, sixth President of the United States, and U.S. Congressman. He even turned down an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Relying heavily on a very personal diary JQA kept nearly his entire adult life, this biography delves deeply into the psyche and private life of JQA, giving us an intimate portrait of his personality, family life, religious beliefs, and even some of the things that shaped his thoughts and personality. We literally follow JQA in his day to day life. The biography, as it stands, is extremely interesting.

The downfall of the book is that it does not deal enough with JQA's politics. We end up knowing far more about JQA's religious beliefs at the end of the biography than we do about his political thought. A perfect example is that JQA, as Secretary of State, was the primary influence behind the Monroe Doctrine dictating that European powers could no longer attempt to influence politics or colonize countries in the Western Hemisphere. Other than crediting JQA for this, the author does nothing to explore the details of how this extremely important political stance came about.
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Format: Paperback
John Quincy Adams has long endured the reputation of an aloof, pugnacious elitist totally out of touch with his constituency and his times. In this recent biography, Paul Nagel seeks to go beyond the historical negative image of our sixth president to uncover the man behind the mask.
Given the author's stated intention, this book is as much character analysis as historical biography. Other reviewers of this book listed below have criticized Nagel for neglecting an in-depth accounting of JQA's public accomplishments. Clearly, they didn't read the preface (in which the author clearly lays out the focus of the book) and would have been much better off reading a different volume on Adams' life, such as Samuel Flagg Bemis' masterwork, "John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy," which won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and provides a comprehensive analysis of JQA's many public achievements.
Using JQA's private diary as the primary source, Nagel describes a talented but conflicted man tormented by a life of extreme self-doubt and merciless self-criticism. From an early age JQA was groomed for greatness by his parents. But that preparation - which included a stint as secretary to the US Minister to Russia while only 14 years old, the best classical education a young American of his time could dream of, and close contact with many heads of state and intellectuals - proved to be more curse than blessing in a nation rapidly shifting toward the popular democracy of Jacksonianism. The intense pressure to succeed and a public increasingly hostile to his aristocratic upbringing and bearing caused JQA a lifetime of great personal anguish and ultimately national rejection.
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Format: Hardcover
It's a matter of debate who was our most intelligent President: Lincoln, Madison and Jefferson would certainly garner their share of votes. But John Quincy Adams warrants serious consideration: he was an intellectual titan with an astounding breadth of intellect. He was impossibly well-read, sober, amazingly articulate with a rapier-like ability to demolish opponents or defend his position. It's debatable whether he was, in fact, America's most brilliant President, but this book goes a long way in making that case.
Nagel wisely delves into Adams' private side and quotes extensively from his own words. If you are looking for a glum recitation of Adams' political life, look elsewhere, this is a more human biography. There was a refreshing amount of material focusing on Adams' boyhood, and the chapters covering his Congressional years are especially interesting. His story reads like something from a novel: failed President transformed into one of the most influential Congressmen who ever serve in the House.
My only minor criticism is that Nagel does not sufficiently explore or explain Adams' brilliant son, Henry, who grew up to be a caustic and clever chronicler of the late 10th century. Otherwise, this is a solid book, well-written, thoroughly researched and illuminating.
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Format: Paperback
I agree with a few of the other reviewers: the "public life" of JQA (one my favorite presidents...) gets a tad too little attention for my taste in the book. Just a tad: what is there is well-written and interesting enough to propel the book forward.
Though I am no expert on the subject, I thought Nagel was a little tough on JQA'S mother Abigail Adams. Actions and words that Nagel seemed to condemn as overbearing in her I found to be...well...*nothing* compared to my mother's ability to nag (Sorry, ma). That is, they were the sort of keep-your-nose-clean-and-your-trousers-buckled exhortations I'd pretty much expect from anybody's mommy.
But this is a small quibble with an otherwise good book. I found the best, most moving writing when Nagel describes JQA's last years in Congress. Here, Nagel evokes respect and sympathy for the JQA who was both drawn to and repulsed by political discourse. And Nagel's treatment of the obvious love between JQA and his wife was touching but not cloying--the best kind of love story.
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