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John Quincy Adams Hardcover – September 4, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 165 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The Washington Independent Review of Books Pick of the Week, 1/7/13

Kirkus Reviews, 5/1
“A neglected president receives his due as a statesman and practical politician…A fine examination of a life, well deserving a place alongside David McCullough’s study of Adams père.”

Publishers Weekly, 6/11/12
“Spare prose clarifies the overview of political complications and intricate family dynamics, revealing Adams as a historically overlooked yet key transitional figure who witnessed the birth of the nation and endured its nearly irreparable geographic squabbles of the 1840s.”

Booklist, August 2012
“Unger’s well-presented portrait merits American-history readers’ attention.”

Asbury Park Sunday Press, 8/26/12
“[A] lively and often intimate account…John Quincy Adams is usually brushed aside in discussions of the presidents, but Unger makes a convincing argument that the presidency was only a footnote in one of the most important public careers in American history.”

BookPage, September 2012
“Unger captures the many sides of Adams and his era in the superb John Quincy Adams…Eloquent, irritating and fiercely committed to his work, John Quincy Adams lived and extraordinary life, and Unger tells his story convincingly in this compelling narrative.”

Library Journal, 9/1/12
“[An] in-depth biography. The reader comes to know John Quincy Adams intimately as a son, father, statesman, and patriot…The individuals encountered in the narrative are familiar, but—in the best tradition of David McCullough’s biographies—the pace and plotting pull readers forward even though they may know the ending. Unger makes use of many years of JQA’s diaries and expertly dissects intricate political and (potentially confusing) family relationships. In all, he succeeds in making clear why JQA was the first subject of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. Verdict: Unger does a masterful job. Although there are other books on John Quincy Adams, American history and political history buffs will find this stirring work irresistible.”

Internet Review of Books, 9/14/12
“Unger gives us the story of a person bred for great deeds…A thoughtful significant work, bringing this sixth president to life.”

Portland Book Review, 9/12/12
“Thorough…Mr. Unger spreads his focus around, never getting bogged down by the details…A powerful biography.”

Washington Times, 9/20/12
“Unger gives us the biography of one of the great intellects of that era, our sixth president, and son of the second, and how he interacted with both his fellow Americans and the foreigners with whom he was assigned to deal…We should be grateful to Harlow Unger for his detailed biography.”

Denver Post, 9/16/12
“JQA had quite a life. Unger, an award-winning historian, spells it out.”

InfoDad.com, 9/20/12
“Readers of this fact-packed, dense biography will certainly come away feeling that politicians like John Quincy Adams do not exist anymore.”

Encyclopedia Britannica blog, 9/26/12
“Searching and thorough, though not overwhelming in length or detail, John Quincy Adams helps restore the second Adams to memory.”

AND Magazine, 9/22/12
“There are few historians of the United States from the Revolution up to the Jacksonian era who have the knowledge and ability to make familiar faces seem brand-new and shine the spotlight on some of the more obscure figures or those who are often overshadowed by the most famous of the Founders…As is his style, Unger's John Quincy Adams is first-class history from cover-to-cover…Unger is one of the preeminent historians and chroniclers of our nation's first 75 years. Nobody is better-equipped to write this biography, and we're lucky that Unger has told the story of this underrated American icon, legendary diplomat, and tireless advocate of everything that is just and righteous in our country.”

Louisville Courier-Journal, 9/28/12
“As our election season kicks off with crude and confounding incivility, it is pure pleasure to read about a statesman who refused to tout himself because he believed that votes should be cast for principles, not for the politician behind them…The superlative nature of Unger’s material alone would make for a rich life history. But his distinctive biographical gift is his ability to humanize rather than lionize his subject.”

Roanoke Times, 9/23/12
“Most Americans know very little of this former president…Unger has provided a palatable remedy to that national knowledge gap…An excellent portrait of Adams as a man of great intellect…Unger has brought the dour visage of Adams from the dim daguerreotype, with which many are familiar, to life.”

Tucson Citizen, 10/1/12
“A fascinating biography of this almost bigger-than-life figure. Exciting and crisply written, this is a vivid biography that finally gives Adams the historic acclaim he deserves. This is more than a mere political biography since it is nothing less than the stirring story of our country finding its way during changing and often turbulent times.”

Reference & Research Book News, October 2012
“This readable narrative biography for general readers interweaves many excerpts from Adams's diary as it celebrates Adams's triumphs.”

Bookviews blog, October 2012
“An extraordinary biography of an extraordinary man…I heartily recommend this book.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/7/12
“Finely written…Unger deftly weaves into a narrative of what was a very demanding—even harrowing—career, choice reporting on the tragedies that dotted Adams’ personal life…Anyone still burdened with an image of an early American leaders bewigged, wearing shoes with silver buckles, rolling along cheerfully in horse-drawn carriages while thinking great thoughts should read this book…[Adams] wasn’t a great president, but he was a great American statesman and legislator.”

“This biography is a gift to all of us who love American History.”

Collected Miscellany, 10/13/12
“A wonderful tribute to one of the greatest defenders of freedom in our nation’s earliest years.”

“Politics & Patriotism” blog, 10/17/12
“It’s not just the biography of an American who would grow up to lead his nation, or the story a much-loved son. It’s a lesson that many Americans need to get reacquainted with. What happens when parents help their kids get a good education, and then urge them to use what they learned? The short answer is that those kids grow up to be highly productive members of society, and better citizens…Unger’s work addresses more than the chronological sequence of a great man’s life. This biography demonstrates the value of character, ethics, and integrity.”

Warning Signs blog, 10/18/12
“[A] captivating biography.”

Miami Today, 10/25/12
“[Unger] bring[s] to life a character he ranks among a handful of ‘truly virtuous and selfless leaders in American history.’”

January, 10/24/12
“No one writes biography quite like Harlow Giles Unger. His last half dozen or so books have brought as many long dead presidents back to something like literary life…As the country rolls towards election, looking over our shoulder can be an interesting—and sometimes even helpful—exercise. And, as usual, Harlow Giles Unger delivers some of the best.”

The Federal Lawyer, December 2012
“[A] compelling volume.”

Taft Bulletin, Fall 2012
“[A] masterful biography.”

American History, February 2012
“In Unger’s hands, Adams comes close to becoming an inspiring character… Unger makes him seem as overweeningly intelligent, clever, headstrong, insecure, brave and insightful as he probably was.”

Sacramento Bee, 12/1/12
“[A] captivating new book.”

Midwest Book Review, reviewed, November 2012
“A magnificent book…and one for the young scholar in your family whilst in high school or college.”

Washington Independent Review of Books, 1/2/13
”[An] excellent biography…it is refreshing to find an author who, while still rigorous in his use of sources, is a champion for his chosen subject…The great strength of Unger’s approach is his extensive employment of diary entries by John Quincy Adams, allowing him to speak in his own voice. He also makes excellent use of the extensive correspondence between Adams and the rest of his family…For anyone looking for a thoroughly researched, entertaining and informative biography of the public life of John Quincy Adams, this is an excellent choice.”

January Magazine, Best Books of 2012: Non-Fiction, 1/5/13
“The first few words of John Quincy Adams illustrate Unger’s skill: in a very few words he tells us everything we really need to know about his subject, introduces the idea of why we should care and teases us to go on. It’s a great ride.”

Lone Star Book Review, January 2013
“If we want to have a better America then we need to read about John Quincy Adams and look for a leader who puts the nation’s interest first all of the time. John Quincy Adams is the standard by which we should judge all others seeking to fill the highest office.”

Tutu’s Two Cents, 11/28/12
“Unger’s writing is clean, interesting, well-researched."

Roseburg News-Review, 1/10/13
 “A fast-moving, intimate, and wonderfully entertaining biography…The book reads like a novel, except that, as fiction, the story would be implausible. Tragedy, triumph, intrigue, romance, Duels, liaisons, alcoholism, suicide, murder, political scandals…John Quincy Adams is a delight.”

WhatWouldTheFoundersThink.com, 1/28/13
“Unger’s latest biography is, if possible, even better than his last. Unger does a superb job of illuminating a largely forgotten figure of American history… Unger’s book is a great place to start learning about the generation immediately following the country’s founding…Fascinating reading…Mr. Unger’s descriptive powers continue to impress. He writes some of the most readable and informative biographies available.”

Town Hall, February 2013
“Unger shows readers how the son of second president John Adams left a legacy of heroism and courage.”

Choice, March 2013
“In this useful volume…Unger nimbly traces the entirety of Adams’s extraordinary but mostly unfamiliar life…Unger’s readable work is a much appreciated introduction to one of the US’s much neglected statesman.”

The Waterline (newspaper of the Naval District Washington), 5/2/13
“Unger writes in an excellent and flowing style, and the lover of American history will enjoy this biography.”

Hutchinson Leader, 6/23/13
“A lively and entertaining book…Highly readable…Well worth your time.”

About the Author

A former Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at George Washington's Mount Vernon, Harlow Giles Unger is a veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian. He is the author of twenty books, including six biographies of America's Founding Fathers and two other histories of the early republic.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 38068th edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030682129X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306821295
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Author Harlow Giles Unger's relatively brief, fast paced biography of the 6th President of the US is a very worthwhile read both for its content and brisk style. The book moves through 8-decades of American history spanning the beginning of the Revolutionary War to the beginning-of-the-end of American slavery. The chapter containing the War of 1812 flows especially well and is highlighted by the author's shrewd summary remark that it was, "The war that the United States could have won without firing the first shot and ended before they had fired the last."

The author shows great respect for his subject without crossing the line that causes a reader to suspect the author of the bias of having "fallen in love" with his subject. Mr. Unger takes the reader to the brink of resolution of the "Corrupt Bargain", but never decides for us whether or not John Q. offered the State Dept. as a reward for electoral delegates. The take-away from this book (at least for those with heretofore only passing familiarity with the 2nd Mr. Adams) is one of an enlightened new perspective; exchanging the image of a dour failed President for one of the most enlightened, urbane and intellectual presidents to occupy the White House. A failed president still... but there is far more to the man than his presidency, and far more to the failure of the presidency than the man. Even with the newfound perspective, the author doesn't dispute the more familiar historic cliché when he adds that, "John Quincy, on the other hand, was a bit of a grouch." (loc. 3034)

John Q. Adams ended his career and life in the House of Representatives of the the U.S. distinguishing himself with fiery, eloquent oratory.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Quincy seems to be a relatively unknown historical personage perhaps owing to his uninspired term as president or because he occupied the White House in a short interval between the Founding Fathers and the Jacksonians. This is a shame because he led a fascinating life and served the United States as long and as well as any public official in the history of the Republic. The oldest son of John Adams acted as secretary and interpreter for the first American ambassador to Russia at age 14. In his career, he was President, Senator, Secretary of State and ambassador to 6 European nations. Adams often demonstrated that his commitment to public service was more important than the title of his office. He was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate after being recalled from the Berlin Embassy and served for almost 20 years in the US Congress after leaving the White House. In all, John Quincy Adams served in government for two thirds of a century under 10 presidents (not including himself). He was appointed ambassador by Washington and ended his career working with in the House with Abe Lincoln. He served in Congress and the executive branch and turned down appointment to the Supreme Court. His 14,000 page diary covers a period from the Revolution to the eve of the Civil War. Harlow Giles Unger uses Adam's diary in writing this biography, referring to it as "the most complete personal, day-today record of events in the New World and the Old from the 1770s to the 1840s."

More impressive than the title of Adams' positions in government are his accomplishments especially in expanding the United States and in opposing slavery. He worked alone in the Federalist party to secure passage of the Louisiana Purchase and later organized the seizure/annexation of Florida for Monroe.
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Format: Hardcover
While I enjoyed this biography, it's not what one might call exhaustive. Most interesting to me was the first half, which covered his childhood and his experiences and role as US minister to several European countries, which I was not very familiar with. Once past this part, it's more of a brief synopsis of his role in Washington in Monroe's cabinet and his failed Presidency, and then his brilliant career in the House of Representatives (which is covered much better and in more detail in Joseph Wheelan's book "Mr. Adams Last Crusade"). Still, I'm glad I read this, even if it's more of a summary than an in depth biography.
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John Quincy Adams is fascinating. In this bio, anyone can understand that he lived an interesting life. Unger does not approach the man with insight, which Adams deserves. There are better biographies of JQA, though they are old. Maybe an older age had more sympathy for him. However, Unger writes well and is a good popularizing biographer.

Reading reviews by people who know little of Adams, I feel a little guilty not being satisfied. I was looking for more than I already know and got less. Maybe this is wonderful as an introduction and if you do not know much about JQA, will be just right for you.
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I have embarked on an intellectual/historical trek that involves reading every US Presidential biography. Thus far, I have read:

David McCullough JOHN ADAMS
Harlow Giles Unger’s JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.

Currently, I have begun H.W. Brands' ANDREW JACKSON. Reading JACKSON is going to be much different than the other presidents. While studying Jackson in college, I developed a preconceived notion and a strong bias against him.

Of all the authors among those listed above, Unger is clearly the BEST writer. He is a master of the written word and has the rare skill of making the characters within his biographies come out of the pages. This man has a treasured talent.

I am writing this during the summer of 2016 immediately following the Republican and the Democratic conventions. Donald Trump will run against Hilary Clinton. I say this because it is a perfect time to read Harlow Giles Unger’s JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. The electoral process between Adams and Jackson is nearly identical to what we are seeing between Trump and Clinton. The contempt and anger among supporters of Jackson levied against supports of Adams was on the threshold of violence. As I watch the news in the election season, I am very much troubled by the violence I see during political rallies. The political establishment during JQ Adams .v Jackson was anguishing over the prospects of Jackson becoming president just as the political establishment is anguishing over Trump's prospects.

The similarities do not end there.
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