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The Education of Henry Adams

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,223 Ratings  ·  241 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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Audio CD, 0 pages
Published July 3rd 2007 by AudioGO (first published 1918)
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William1
Epistemological inquiry in the form of self-denigrating autobiography. Written in the third person, at times overbearingly acerbic. Author Henry Adams was grandson of President John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of President John Adams. He was a Boston Puritan born in 1838 who at sixteen attended Harvard College—severely berated here—and went on to pursue a career as a journalist, novelist and historian.

His historical gamut stretches from the American Revolution to the years just before World
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Justin Evans
Apr 03, 2012 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Lotz
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
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Mackenzie
Jan 28, 2009 Mackenzie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Brendan
Sep 27, 2007 Brendan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Victoria Olsen
Jan 24, 2013 Victoria Olsen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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Darwin8u
Jun 11, 2015 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2012
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.

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
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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
James
Mar 11, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brad Lyerla
Jan 15, 2015 Brad Lyerla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Frederick
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
Andrew
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
Hannah
Sep 08, 2012 Hannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kate
Aug 12, 2010 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Douglas Dalrymple
Feb 01, 2016 Douglas Dalrymple rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here’s a book I tried and failed to read for several years, but finally the time was right. The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiography written in the third person which curiously overlooks some of the biggest events in its subject’s life. Adams was a historian and public intellectual, the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, who belonged (according to himself) in the eighteenth rather than the nineteenth or twentieth centuries (born in 1838, he died in 1918). Ostensibly a record of h ...more
Jay
Jul 17, 2015 Jay rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
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
Kurtbg
This is an autobiography of a descendant of the Adams family written in the early 20th century. The author distributed the work to personal friends and was only published after his death.

The period covers the civil war up to before the first world war.
His father was a minister to England and took his son with him as a private secretary.
Most likely his dad got him out of participating in the war.

The writing is interesting as the author refers to himself in the third person. The majority of the b
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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore
I rather enjoyed the writing in this autobio of Henry Adams (grandson of John Quincy), but surprisingly though I never felt it while actually reading the book, it was rather slow moving-I read much of it without as such getting bored but at the same time, however long I read, I seemed to make very little progress in terms of the actual pages read.

The period during which Henry Adams lived- when Darwin and Dickens were writing their works, and on the other side of the pond, the civil war was being
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Russell Bittner
Feb 12, 2014 Russell Bittner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dave
Jan 28, 2011 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 08, 2009 Warren Perry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Allen Price
This was a monumental effort. I felt like I had been listening to the audio or reading the book (I bounced back and forth) for a year. The list of "100 Greatest Books" by the Franklin Library called it the "best autobiography every written". Well.... I'm an educated man - aren't I? I must read this book.

So I've done it. I liked it. I got educated. I got bored. I got reinterested. I was impressed with his high level of governmental influence and the candor of which he spoke about himself. That wo
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David
Mar 20, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alex Laser
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
John
Oct 09, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even up to the first 200 pages, I was ready to give this work one star but then, I started to get it. After that , every page, every paragraph had to be thought about. I do not think I have ever used the word amazing to describe a book before this but this was amazing..PERHAPS THE NUMBER ONE NONFICTION OF THE 20TH CENTURY. This was self published and not publicly available until after the authors death. He wrote his true thoughts, not just what he thought people would pay to read. HE WAS HONEST ...more
Russell
Dec 22, 2009 Russell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is different from any other book I've read recently. At times fascinating, interesting, boring, slow, brilliant, annoying, nihilistic, dense, hopeful, dry wit served with extra helpings cynicism, topped off with a strange disassociation with himself. It's not easy to describe this book, it certainly wasn't an easy read, but it left me different than I was before.

This book isn't for everyone. I'd give it 100 pages, if it doesn't interest you by then, put it down and walk away. I can te
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Connorsludge
Apr 28, 2010 Connorsludge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First off, let me admit that I have a thing for Adamses. JQA is my favorite, but Henry found his way into my heart as well.

I love the way he worked in the idea of evolution into his narrative. As a history person, the details that would have put others to sleep were fascinating. I have been meaning to learn more about John Hay and I accidentally got it!

All in all, I liked it a lot, but I can't actually imagine meeting many other people who would. It's not anything I would recommend to a friend
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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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“Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.” 191 likes
“No man means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.” 92 likes
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