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John Adams: A Life

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  765 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews

John Ferling's masterful John Adams: A Life is the most comprehensive single-volume biography of the man who succeeded George Washington in the presidency and shepherded the fragile new nation through the most dangerous of times. Drawing on extensive research, Ferling depicts a reluctant revolutionary, a leader who was deeply troubled by the warfare that he helped to make,
Paperback, 560 pages
Published June 15th 1996 by Owl Books (first published 1992)
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Daniel Ligon
Jun 28, 2016 Daniel Ligon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, presidents
Ferling's biography offers an excellent perspective of John Adams. I read McCullough's better known bio a few months ago, and of the two, I slightly prefer Ferling's. McCullough's book is excellent, a page-turning, sweeping narrative that tells rather than analyzes John Adams' life. Ferling, while not as good of a story-teller, shines in explaining the way Adams thought and what motivated him. Ferling gives a philosophical and topical examination of Adams and his times rather than a strictly chr ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Sep 02, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone Interested in American HIstory
I started this biography of John Adams right after reading Flexner's biography of George Washington. I said in that review that no doubt reading a biography of a different American founder by another author would complicate the picture. Boy, did it ever!

This is a well-written, erudite biography, and in some ways it's stronger than Flexner's. I liked how Ferling, unlike Flexner in his one-volume work, constantly referred to other historians and biographers of the leading figures, airing the vario
Dec 06, 2013 Steve rated it it was amazing

“John Adams: A Life” is the fifth of nearly a dozen books authored by John Ferling, who has written extensively on the revolutionary era and several of its most important figures. This biography was first published in 1992 and has received consistently high marks since, although its popularity has faded somewhat in recent years as several additional biographies of our second president have been published.

Ferling’s biography of John Adams is almost the perf
Apr 10, 2009 Jean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ferling's biography is fascinating and wonderfully written. I think he paints a more complete picture than David McCullough of both Adam's personality and his relationships with family, friends and associates.

After I finished McCullough's book I remember being particularly impressed with the level of Adam's education, the decades-long pivotal role he played in the founding of our country and the rich written record he left behind. As I read Ferling's biography I was interested in the similaritie
Feb 22, 2016 Beverly rated it it was amazing
This book on John Adams by John Ferling is an excellent read. I have read David McCullough's book on Adams and, although I loved McCullough's book, I think Ferling's bio is more balanced and I would give it a slightly higher rating than McCullough's book. Ferling paints a more troubled relationship between Abigal (the wife) and John and he does an excellent job on analysis of John Adams and his place in history. One of the things he does that I liked was to point out the various and sundry concl ...more
Eric Sevigny
Nov 15, 2015 Eric Sevigny rated it really liked it
This book started as a real sleeper after reading Chernow’s biography on Washington. Part of it was that the treatment of the revolutionary War was so much better in Chernow. However, the book picked up considerably with Adams’s experiences as a diplomat in Europe during and after the Revolutionary War. IN the end, a good read.
Aug 02, 2007 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians
Shelves: biography
This Adams biography tends towards the personal side of President Adams. Casual readers might stay away but anyone with an interest in American History, Biographies, or Adams himself will enjoy it greatly.
Jan 04, 2012 H. rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Adams—like Hamilton and in contrast to Washington and Jefferson, who were more guarded both in deed and word—reminds us that our founding fathers were not the demigods they are sometimes made out to be, but simply men, albeit great men, thrust into a turning point in history. Like all men, they could be petty and they could be cruel.

Ferling’s academic background shows in a way I find quite wonderful. When he comes to some particular facet of the many-faceted man under his microscope, the interpr
The atrabilious Adams is on display throughout John Ferling's admiring yet sober biography. This is the enfant terrible of the Founding Fathers, a man dedicated to his principles and rambunctious in their defense.

Ferling nicely illuminates that critical juncture in American history: that post-honeymoon period when the regal majesty of Washington began to fade and the gritty task of defining the newborn republic's character was at hand. As it should be, much of the text is devoted to careful stud
Cynthia Rennolds
Excellent look at John Adams

Our second President was an interesting man who made real contributions to the founding of our country and its early years. His talent lay in hard work, depriving himself of his family and home for years at a time to pursue his ambitions. As President, subverting an imminent war with France did much to maintain the integrity of our early country. This was well written and very balanced. Highly recommend.
Jul 26, 2009 Becky rated it it was amazing
This book left me feeling very humbled and emotional over what this founding father accomplished. I cried for John Adams just as I cried for George Washington after reading his biography. John Adams was a man who did not give up. He did not have the attitude that he had better things to do, but he kept on mulling over a political issue or speech or any other issue or concern because giving up was just not an option. He was dedicated. He was the work horse. Unfortunately he didn't receive the cre ...more
Eric A.
Mar 22, 2016 Eric A. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent biography of John Adams. Ranks right up there with David McCullums.
Sep 19, 2014 Robertcurran rated it liked it
Jun 05, 2013 Tim rated it liked it
Really good. I learned a lot, but it's not as interesting as some of the other history I've read lately (Rubicon). Did however lead me to buy a Franklin book and a French Revolution book, based on the number of references.
Diana Post
Oct 25, 2015 Diana Post rated it really liked it
A very interesting look at the people of the revolutionary era, through the eyes of a non-soldier, and a fascinating insight into how the popular press had a huge effect on how events turned out.
Mar 23, 2007 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the best Adams biography I've read, significantly better than the David McCullough book, and very readable for an academic work.
Feb 20, 2013 Gerry rated it liked it
The author, at times, tended to be apologetic, for the person that Adams was, thus, lessening the objectivity of the book.
I am not a John Adams fan. This book, while well-written, did not do much to improve my opinion of John Adams.
Dave Sherman
Sep 08, 2012 Dave Sherman rated it really liked it
Ferling wrote a tremondous biography. This book was the equivalent of a college course. Adams was a true patriot.
Aug 16, 2015 Brent rated it really liked it
Shelves: presidents, biography
Any book that followed Ron Chernow's biography on Washington would likely come up looking worse by comparison, which is definitely fitting considering John Adams the person. Prior to reading this book Adams was one of my favorite presidents (mainly due to his portrayal by William Daniels in the excellent musical 1776) and also because Washington always seemed passive, compared to the feisty or obnoxious Adams. Whereas Washington was elevated by Chernow's book by actually having many of the perso ...more
Mar 19, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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John E. Ferling is a professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia. A leading authority on American Revolutionary history, he is the author of several books, including "A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic", "Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence", and his most recent work, "The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Politi ...more
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“Mr. Adams, by your Name I conclude you are descended from the first Man and Woman. . . . [Perhaps] you could resolve a difficulty which I could never explain. I never could understand how the first couple found the Art of lying together?” Adams must have been mortified. He blushed but stammered cleverly, or so he remembered, that the first couple surely “flew together . . . like two Objects in electric Experiments.” “Well,” the lady responded, “I know not how it was, but this I know, it is a very happy Shock.”21” 1 likes
“At first glance, young John Adams’s obsession with recognition seems odd. In contrast to the great mass of his contemporaries, his yearning was exceptional. Yet when Adams is compared to other high achievers of his generation, his behavior appears more normal. Young Washington sought recognition just as fervently, and he impatiently pursued a commission in the British army during the French and Indian War as the most rapid means of procuring attention. The youthful Thomas Jefferson dreamed of someday sitting on the King’s Council in Virginia, while Alexander Hamilton, born too late to soldier in the war in the 1750s, announced: “I contemn the grovling and condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune, &c., contemns me.” He wished for war, through which he could be catapulted into notoriety; his hero was James Wolfe, the British general who died in the assault on Quebec in 1759. Benjamin Franklin, who grew up earlier in Boston, exhibited the same industriousness and ambition that Adams would evince. He mapped out an extensive regimen of self-improvement, as did Adams, and found his role models in Jesus and Socrates. Adams, and many others who would subsequently play an important role in the affairs of early America, were the sort of men that historian Douglass Adair aptly describes as “passionately selfish and self-interested,” men who shared a common attribute, a love of fame.23” 1 likes
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