- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Free Press; (1st,2009); Fifth Printing edition (November 3, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743299124
- ISBN-13: 978-0743299121
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 127 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #874,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Samuel Adams: A Life Paperback – November 3, 2009
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"In order to understand the moral and religious roots of America's zeal for liberty, you need to know and appreciate Samuel Adams. Ira Stoll does a glorious job bringing to life this agitated and revolutionary apostle of liberty, whose passions still reverberate in our nation's soul. This book will help you understand our founding, and our future." -- Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Einstein: His Life and Universe
"Samuel Adams was a life-long journalist who left a meager paper trail; a pious believer who was a flaming radical; the jumpstarter of our independence whom we have unaccountably lost track of. Ira Stoll lets the Founding Firebrand shine once more." -- Richard Brookhiser, author of George Washington on Leadership
"Ira Stoll here manages the daunting task of anchoring Sam Adams in his own time yet making him relevant to ours. A triumph of learning and understanding." -- James Grant, author of John Adams: A Party of One
About the Author
Ira Stoll was vice president and managing editor of The New York Sun, which he helped to found. He has been a consultant to the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, an editor of the Jerusalem Post, managing editor and Washington correspondent of the Forward, editor of Smartertimes.com, and a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He is a native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Harvard College. He lives in New York City.
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I learned two valuable facts from this book about Adams. First, he was much more literate that we realize. His writings, especially before and during the Revolution, were not just broadsides against the British. They were diverse and literate. He very often published under pseudonyms in newspapers and his writing has the fervor of a Hamilton or Madison, especially when it comes to the moral justification of the Revolution. While it is true that Sam Adams did not have Madison or Hamilton’s incisive minds, his writings portray a man who spent long hours with his pen and whose ideas often portray a depth of understanding that goes far beyond the tavern broadsides we might associate with him.
But probably the most important factor brought out by Stoll and which I never realized was how deeply rooted religion was in Adams’ life. This is virtually never brought up in popular depictions of him. While many of his more famous contemporaries became Deists, Adams appears to be the Revolutionary figure who had the deepest roots in the Great Awakening and who continued to accept the theology that came with it. Franklin lived through much of that also but he rejected most of it in one way or another. Not Sam Adams. His political writings and speeches are constantly comparing the Americans to the Jewish people searching for freedom or to the fight for freedom of the Puritans; his view of the Revolution was to see the new country as the fulfillment of the virtuous “city on the hill.” One is tempted today to think of this as a good front, a cover for his political ideas filled out with a lot of Biblical quotations. Many modern politicians are great at that. But, as Stoll shows time and again, religion was no political cover for Adams. In his private writings, which he never thought would be made public, he consistently refers to religious analogies for America and as inspiration for the future of the country. Making Adams a child of the Great Awakening must be tied to his intense love of liberty and his constant identification with the common people, both before, during and after the Revolution. These ideas came as a package in his personality. The same religious zeal and oneness with the common folks that led him to be the early and loud critic of the British led him to detest the centralizing government of the Federalists in the 1790’s.
Stoll also brings out many other interesting facts. In Adams’ religious zeal also lay a deep-seated anti-Catholicism. A fear of “Popery” runs through a large number of his writings and was transferred to the Church of England trying to impose itself on the colonies. Adams comes across as irrational at times, sometimes exaggerating or distorting to make a point. It helps to see this not just as a specific personality trait, but as a result of a religious calling about this country. The end, Liberty, justified the means and the means had religious/nationalistic justifications. I wish there were more about how Adams developed as a young man into the adult he became but, as Stoll mentions at the end, Adams made a point of destroying and burning the majority of his personal letters. If the book has a weakness, it is that Stoll goes out of his way to show that religion was much more important than we think not just to Adams but to many of the people he associated with. Stoll cites many speeches and sermons by other people that support Adams’ view of the religious nature of the Revolution. But it gets a bit tiring to read so many religious selections from sermons or speeches of others who lived at or near the time of Adams, especially when several of them have only an indirect bearing on Adams’ actual life. Context is important but it can be overdone.
All in all, however, this book is an important corrective about the life of Samuel Adams. Given the scarcity of material at times, Stoll does a fine job of laying out aspects of this man whose life is often forgotten or distorted today but who played a critical role in defining the history of this country.
The points made were supported by quotes from newspapers published at that time.
His religious thoughts and positions that he took became more understandable and consistent as the book progressed.
My picture of S A was admittedly naive. What convinced me was the posture he took time after time and how it never changed. His convictions were his guiding light right to the end.
It is a picture of American history that I lack and it is a picture of S A that is not clearly presented to the citizens of American. It would be good to put him into the proper perspective and place in the American Revolution story.
Stoll devotes this entire work to lending the perspective Adams faith had on his words and actions and so this work is somewhat stilted - it is not a traditional biography. It is more a treatise on how Adam's faith informed his life and the Revolution.