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The Education of Henry Adams

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  2,020 ratings  ·  216 reviews
Named by The Modern Library as the best non-fiction book of the 20th century, this autobiography plots Adams' own history against that of the U.S. during his lifetime.

As a journalist, historian, and novelist born into a distinguished family that included two past presidents of the United States, Henry Adams was inescapably a part of the American experience. The Education
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Published July 3rd 2007 by AudioGO (first published 1918)
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Justin Evans
One of the oddest books I've ever read, and am ever likely to read: an autobiography written in the third person, which tells us almost nothing at all about the author/central character, this seems more like a pre-modernist bildungsroman than anything else. The weirdness doesn't end there- Henry Adams spends much of his time philosophizing about history while the narrator (call him Mr Adams) spends most of his time explaining that Henry Adams is a fool who has no idea what he's talking about; He ...more
Once more! this is a story of education, not of adventure! It is meant to help young men—or such as have intelligence enough to seek help—but it is not meant to amuse them.

Everyone agrees that this book is difficult and odd. An autobiography of an American man of letters, the son of a diplomat, grandson of a president, historian, journalist, secretary, all told in the third person, written for his private circle of friends. At once claiming to be the story of one man’s life, a critique of the
there is no book like this anywhere else in American literature. It annoys, it fascinates, it bores, it amuses... a densely textured, thoughtful, at times exasperating story of growing up in the American 19th Century by the great-grandson of one president and the grandson of another -- who freely admits he should have lived in the 18th Century.
Henry Adams was the original celebutante: famous for nothing other than being related to the two John Adams(es), he was in the unique position of having access to the upper crust of post-revolutionary America without having the burden of any kind of responsibility.

This book is a guided tour of 19th-Century America, told with surprising wit and self-awareness-- his description of Harvard as (and I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly) a place where rich children went to drink beer and call themselve
Victoria Olsen
I slogged through a Kindle edition of this classic, dodging the typos, and struggled with what to make of it. It wasn't at all what I expected of an American patriarchal autobiography. It was relentlessly, even annoyingly, self-effacing and pessimistic. Chapter after chapter details what he didn't learn in Boston, in London, in Germany.... from the senators and ambassadors he grew up with. I couldn't figure him out until I finally decided that he was really talking to himself the whole time. He ...more
Roxanne Russell
The "hallelujah" did escape, and loudly, from my lips when this read was finally done, but that reaction was only to the last quarter of the book or so. Otherwise, well worth the read.
As the book begins, he vividly and concretely describes his youth, and throughout his middle-aged years also, his ponderings are grounded in specific descriptions and prompts for reflection. Since he has two Presidential ancestors and is part of the Bostonian elite, his access to the most prominent figures of histo
J. Dunn
I'll agree with the ratings of this among the best nonfiction of the 20th century. It is another of my favorite genre, the "books about everything." It covers roughly the period from 1850 to 1905, and hits on almost every major historical and intellectual development of the time, but from a unique personal and anecdotal perspective. Adams was a man of great gifts and cultivation, but with a unique, eccentric, mugwumpishly conservative temperament that makes his collision and confrontation with t ...more
The memoir of a man and a family, Henry Adams was the son of a diplomat/ politician, grandson of a president and the great-grandson of another. The Adams family had produced leaders for the country since its founding and Henry Adams was heir to that leadership. In his Education he produced one of the best autobiographies ever written, chronicling the rapid change of the last half of the nineteenth century while sharing personal experiences with his father, at Harvard, Washington and elsewhere. I ...more
Amazing. There are a just a few books (Meditations, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Brothers Karamazov) that I feel every person on the planet should read. This is one of those books. If you are an historian, a diplomat, a Civil War buff or an amateur philosopher, this book will strongly resonate.

Brad Lyerla
The Education of Henry Adams is on my list of books to re-read. I first read it as a senior undergrad in the '75-'76 academic year at the University of Illinois. It was an introductory political theory course. In addition to EOHA, we read Civilization and Its Discontents, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a few others. EOHA was our "conservative book".

It was a fluff course that I took to fill in my social science requirements. But the books we were assigned are all worthwhile and I would lo
Eric Kibler
This is my second least favorite book thus far from the Lifetime Reading Plan. My least favorite being the Q'uran.

Henry Adams was the grandson and great grandson of Presidents. Although a Bostonian, he inherited an eccentric outsider-dom from his famous forebears, and remained to the end of his life apart from the business community of that city. Adams has the disconcerting habit of speaking of himself in the third person like Jimmy from Seinfeld. "Henry Adams doesn't like this steak! Henry Adam
I'll augment my review later, but I'll give my first impression of this book now, having finished reading it yesterday. Adams's life, in itself, is interesting. He seems to have been a man of good grace, kindness and ability. (He was extremely well-placed, being the direct descendent of both Presidents Adams.) As the book progresses, more and more of the education he claims not to have shows, until, by the end, he almost seems to be throwing educational firecrackers at the reader. I learned THIS ...more
Perhaps, in another life, Henry Adams would have been a great thinker, one who, like Benjamin or Nietzsche, penetrated the myths of modern society and showed the world a glittering realm of possibility. There's a sense of the doom of modernity that wreaths his thoughts like a fog-- in line with T.S. Eliot, Thomas Carlyle, and other anti-moderns. It's a conservatism that, unlike that of Christians and free marketeers, at least deserves a certain sympathy. Pathetic, perhaps, but ultimately you fee ...more
While acknowledging that this book is Important, I respectfully submit that it won't stay that way for much longer. The most interesting aspect of the book - its commitment to something like psychic catastrophism - is also, from a formal perspective, what makes it a tedious read, and the sheer volume of petty political sniping (about slights and missteps that occurred in, like, 1872) is enough to make one almost embarrassed for the aging Adams. Add to that the author's by now pretty untenable co ...more
An important book for anyone with an interest in American history and literature, by a descendant of two presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams). I especially enjoyed his accounts of British politics during the American Civil War, which he spent in London serving as private secretary to his father, Charles Frances Adams, the Minister to Great Britain. Since Adams did not intend his "Education" to be read by anyone other than close friends and family it can be a bit obscure, so it helps to ...more
I tried to place this among the other books I’ve read, and strangely the one that seems most similar to me is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Like that book, Adams takes a journey, albeit through a life, and riffs on topics great and small, from politics to education, women in history to evolution. And like “Zen”, Adams drills down into a topic, not quality but history through a scientific eyepiece. The writing felt of a similar theme, while expounding on looking at history through ...more
Russell Bittner
The Education of Henry Adams is just that: i.e., the education of Henry Adams. But as he uses the word, it denotes a never-ending process between the two parentheses of birth and death. In that sense, Adams strips the word of its conventional value and re-dresses it in a habit more befitting a man who genuinely understands that education doesn’t end with formal schooling, but rather continues until he draws his final breath. And in this matter of education, Adams (who here — as in much of this ...more
The writing of Henry Adams can take some getting used to. At times he seems pompous, and falsely modest (after all, how modest can you be when you have decided to write an autobiography of your life), but I suspect the reality is that Adams is simply the product of another time. Clearly influenced by his illustrious family (great grandson of John Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams, and son of Charles Francis Adams, a Congressman and Ambassador), one can clearly imagine that this is precisely h ...more
Mike Clinton
I bought the book and read it - well after I had bought it, actually - on its reputation as one of the "great" American books, but it left me disappointed. Adams' idiosyncratic writing style didn't appeal to me, and the content wasn't so enthralling, either, although the array of important historical figures from the 19th century whom he met is staggeringly impressive. Sure, I understand the conceit of reflecting upon his ironically poor educational preparation for the America to come in the gen ...more
Warren Perry
This book is the composite American diplomatic history of the Civil War plus the political history of America before the Civil War plus the political, academic, and social history of America for Adams' lifetime, plus forty years before, minus twenty years during his marriage and the recovery after his dear wife's suicide, and minus the American experience of the Civil War. A professor at Georgetown told me, "We have probably gotten all we can get out of Henry Adams," and there are moments where ...more
David Yost
I tried reading this once as an MA student and gave up in boredom. Coming back to it with a lot more American and European history under my belt, I found it more intriguing but still was not amazed. Adams was a funny guy, but there are just too many pages here devoted to settling scores with, for example, senators and foreign policy officials in the Grant administration. In particular, his discussion of British politicians' reactions to the American Civil War is endless without being very illumi ...more
Alexander Laser-robinson
The Education of Henry Adams is a slow and often tedious work of nonfiction. Some credit is due to the work for its amazing array one-liners. Some of my favorite include, "Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds," "The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence to upset Darwin," and "There is no such thing as an underestimate of average intelligence." However, the work as a whole fails f ...more
This started out fascinating -- son of a famous political family growing up in mid-19th Century New England. Henry Adams has the insider's view of the who's who of America at the time, and his family, social, educational, and professional life is a series of name dropping. Adams has a quirky sense of humor, but about a third of the way in the journal turned increasingly tedious and sometimes downright boring. It's never a good thing when the book seems it will never end. But end it did, and I do ...more
This book is written in a beautiful style, and Henry Adams was a fascinating character. He was the grandson of one president and the great grandson of another. He was at the pinnacle of Boston society and yet he shunned it. He rubbed shoulders with the rich, famous and powerful, but he never held public office and was never quite one of the ruling class himself. He seems to have not been rich, but he also seems to have never done much to earn a living. He was obviously a brilliant man with much ...more
Bryce Holladay
The Education of Henry Adams was so different, confusing, and had such complicated diction that I did not complete the book.

However, it doesn't take one long to realize what they're getting into. The autobiography is written in a third person, where the author does not address himself often. He makes it very clear that he is examining his life from the view of his much older self. The publication is of the early 20th century, yet The writing style is reminiscent of 19th or 18th century literatur
Is this the greatest book ever written by an American?

This is the only interesting question I can think of when critiquing this book. Adams himself contributes some competitors, of course, in Mont St. Michel and his History of the United States. But none of these works quite possesses the immediacy of Adams's Education. This book manages, amazingly, to combine the political with the intellectual with the near-spiritual, all in a prose nearly unequaled among Americans. Haunting and educational,
Jon Frankel
Henry Adams’ The Education of Henry Adams is intellectual autobiography told in a slightly mocking, gently ironic third person. Henry Adams is never off the page. He anatomizes himself with the same acuity, but greater clarity, than the other Henry, Mr. James, analyzes his characters. Adams was born in 1838 and bears witness to the industrial, scientific, cultural, and intellectual revolutions of the 19th century. He is aware that he shares a womb with the future, even as his instinct draws him ...more
What a complex and interesting autobiography, all told in the third person about the life-long education of Henry, grandson of JQ Adams and great-grandson of John Adams. With his incredible political heritage, his access to the great and powerful through them and through his father Charles, his personal involvement in the politics of Boston, Washington and England (particularly during the Civil War), and his own interest in history and literature, Adams provides a brilliant look at the political ...more
Carol Apple
I gave the book four stars but it really ought to be more like 4.5. I just couldn't give a full 5. It is long and strange and after the first two chapters I thought I would never be able to stick with it but then I got sucked into narrative and slowly became fascinated. If this were a 10-point rating system I'd give it a 9. This book is an unusual autobiography, ironic and self-effacing which is ironic in itself since Henry Adams was born into a family firmly established in history and society a ...more
Richard W.
Takeaway Quote (Adams at 60 in about 1898): "The object of [my] education [of myself], therefore, was changed. For many years it had lost itself in studying what the world had ceased to care for; if it were to begin again, it must try to find out what the mass of mankind did care for, and why. Religion, politics, statistics, travel had thus far led to nothing." (page 217)

Henry Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of U.S. Presidents. He saw himself as situated between the thought-world of th
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Born in 1838 into one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Boston, a family which had produced two American presidents, Henry Adams had the opportunity to pursue a wide-ranging variety of intellectual interests during the course of his life. Functioning both in
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