Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  722 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A fresh look at this astute, likably quirky statesman, by the author of the Pulitzer Award-winning Founding Brothers and the National Book Award winning American Sphinx. "The most lovable and most laughable, the warmest and possibly the wisest of the founding fathers, John Adams knew himself as few men do and preserved his knowledge in a voluminous correspondence that stil...more
Paperback, 277 pages
Published February 17th 2001 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1993)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Passionate Sage, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Passionate Sage

John Adams by David McCulloughTeam of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinTruman by David McCulloughWashington by Ron ChernowThe Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Best Presidential Biographies
37th out of 157 books — 190 voters
John Adams by David McCullough1776 by David McCulloughTeam of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinA People's History of the United States by Howard ZinnBattle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson
Best American History Books
255th out of 968 books — 1,383 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,567)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Lauren Albert
Ellis does a great job of showing Adams as the complex man he was--he was a perfect example of the kind of person whose flaws and strengths cannot be separated. He was a realist and that didn't lead to his popularity--in his own time or later. As Ellis wonderfully writes: “Finally, he was linked historically with Jefferson as the supreme embodiment of the American dialogue: he was the words and Jefferson was the music of the ongoing pageant begun in 1776; he was the ‘is,’ Jefferson was the ‘ough...more
Paul Bond
The naturally prickly among us have to find our own ways to contribute. Adams did. Ellis explains how Adams, a bitter pessimist, contributed psychological realism to the political DNA of the country. Adams knew and distrusted the animal passions of his fellow "founding brothers" and countrymen. He knew that partisanship and glory-seeking are intrinsic to human nature. Washington himself may be above party politics, but the nation as a whole would not remain so. In part, the political genius of t...more
I found this to be an excellent book. Easily read and entertaining as well. The author is very meticulous about his references.

Here's an entertaining snippet from the book - John Adams' opinion of the upper house of the legislature.

From page 152:

...Adams's motives for favoring the creation of a senate were entirely different and seemed to smack of an affection for a European-styled aristocracy. "The rich, the well-born, and the able, acquire an influence among the people that will soon be too mu...more
Oct 17, 2009 Kirsten rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Biography/American History readers
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Adams has become my favorite founding father because he, like myself, cannot learn to keep his mouth shut to save his life. Or in his case his legacy. Adams was a man ahead of his time his respect and friendships with learned woman was breath of fresh air. Humorous, interesting and provides content that is timely in our current quest to continue this experiment with democracy.
Greg Boswell
Of the four Adams biographies I've read, this is the only one that I can say that I felt ambivalent about. I would not recommend this book to anyone who only wanted to read one book about John Adams.
Ellis provides an overview of Adams' political theories and does so accurately and fairly, but one would hard-pressed to nail down a compendium of his policies, accomplishments and victories that truly define the man for posterity.
More importantly, the author does a pretty amazing job of rendering...more
Sep 12, 2011 Margaret marked it as to-read
Bought this book after a visit my sister and I took to to the Adams homes in Quincy, MA. Its focus is on the time after Adams finished being president and deals with his thoughts and actions connected to those thoughts over his later years. There is gold in this book. For example, her attacks the romanticization of our Founding Fathers, which he calls "ancestor worship," by reminding everyone that "Every measure of Congress from 1774 inclusively was disputed with acrimony, and decided by as smal...more
This is a warm, engaging and scholarly look at the under-appreciated John Adams.

He had a absolutely first-class, brilliant mind. His prescience, during his long retirement, about what lay in store for the United States is astonishing. His appreciation of strong, smart women and his willingness to engage with them as his intellectual equals puts him far ahead of most of his peers in the revolutionary generation.

Ellis celebrates, among many other things, Adams' contrarian streak, his insistence...more

“Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams” by Joseph J. Ellis was published in 1993. Though it remains a relatively well-read title on our second president, in terms of sheer popularity and acclaim it has been overshadowed by more recent John Adams biographies. Of the modern books on Adams in my library (everything since Page Smith’s series) “Passionate Sage” is one of the oldest and seemingly the most unique.

Somewhat to my surprise, “Passio...more
4.5 stars. I have to admit, the strong rating might have something to do with the fact that I just love John Adams. Ellis, one of my favorite history authors, does not disappoint. This isn't really a biography; rather, it's a look into the later years in Adams' life, Adams' concern for his place in history, and his legacy. This is a probe of Adams' psychology and inner life more than a recounting of events. Since Adams wrote so prolifically and was pretty much incapable of disguising his true fe...more
James Spurgeon
An interesting book into the inner-mechanisms of John Adams, but I still found David McCullough's book on him much better. We can see the Adams personality come out in the book and how he responded to things and events in his life. Though often overlooked, I still find him to be one of the most influential of our Founding Fathers. This is almost a book about his character rather than a biographical story. You get the inner-workings of his mind (and mindset) more than anything. A good overall boo...more
This was excellent. I am a big fan of Adam's political writings and have enjoyed the surge in biographies on him. This book as inspired some of the more recent books, movies and projects on Adams.

This was more like a biography of thought and legacy. It focuses on Adam's retirement period and uses it to explore the development of Adam's character, thought and legacy. Ellis always paints an honest picture, of both his subjects positives and negatives. No one is better at that aspect of biography....more
A focused compendium of our second President. Ellis paints a vivid picture of the historical significance and often overlooked relevance of the irascible John Adams. As the title indicates, it is not a complete biographical overview but rather a precise look at his legacies that shaped the American Revolution and policies. At times it came across dull and plodding, but for the most part it was intellectually stimulating and educational. I would recommend David McCullough's John Adams though, whi...more
Wes F
Good solid read that looks mainly at the post-presidential John Adams, living out his days in his childhood home in Quincy, MA. This book focuses a lot on the various correspondences Adams carried out in his retirement--and some of his writings and literary squabbles--with a major emphasis on the rekindled friendship between President #2 Adams & President #3 Jefferson. Interesting stuff. Ellis is a gifted historian and writes in a fairly readable text. I liked David McCullough's book on Adam...more
Katie Thompson
Ah, John Adams, perhaps the most important but least appreciated founding father. Ellis is so familiar with Adams' legacy and character, you feel as though he is telling a story about one of his close friends. The detail and care he takes to fully explore Adams are so refreshing in an era where the founding is reduced to a few bland paragraphs in textbooks. This is by far my favorite history book - so get off Goodreads and go read it!
This book was one of those which inspired David McCullough to write his biography of Adams. Not a traditional biography, Ellis chooses to focus on small sections of Adams' personal life, particularly his correspondence with Jefferson. He reveals some keen insights about Adams (I was most intrigued by Adams' observation that men are motivated by a need for esteem--be it love, fear, etc).
Eric Atkisson
I would have rated this 5 stars, but for the baffling fact that Ellis never once mentions--in a book explicitly about Adams' character and legacy, no less--the Alien and Sedition Acts that Adams signed as president, which surely tainted his legacy far longer and more seriously than any of his famous, irascible outbursts of candor and skepticism.
"His best book�.Ellis's knack for bringing historical figures to life seems so natural you can't imagine him doing anything else." � New York Times Book Review

Listen to Passionate Sage on your iPhone, desktop, or smartphone.
Sean Chick
Strange book that is more like a long ramble or a series of esoteric essays. That is only for those with a lot of background knowledge about the period. Ellis's judgement are as always fair, but ultimately the scope is limited and hurt by his confusing layout. His prose saves the book from utter mediocrity.
John Adams is one of U.S. history's more engaging characters. Ellis does a great job describing Adam's passion and wisdom as he helped with the founding of our Nation. A great book though I found David McCullough's book on John Adams a little more moving.
One of my favorites at this time. Simone characterized Ellis's style as dry humor, and that's about right, but I love the way he writes. Who knew I could become BFF's with one of the founding fathers but Ellis made me love Adams.
Interesting survey on the 2nd president of the US. It certainly sucked for Adams to be the next president after the best one of all time (GW), but you learn a lot about Adams' reasoning and intelligence during his years in politics.
Many know little of John Adams in his retirement years. Ellis focuses upon a time of Adams's life that was no less interesting than his earlier years. The Adams-Jefferson correspondence is always an interesting study.
Scott Ford
When I get overwhelmed at my job, I think of John Adams. A man in the wrong place at the wrong time. To take on the role of President after George Washington, who was practically idolized! Jefferson was no fool!
I've read many books about President Adams and have enjoyed his writing as well. This book was a very nice change of pace to the usual tome about him and a must for any Adams' fan's library.
David Simonetti
This is an insightful and interesting study of Adam's charatcer. I enjoyed the book and it was easy to read, despite the fact that some times history books can be dry. Well worth reading.
I find Joseph Ellis to be a lot more even handed towards Mr. Adams than is the ever popular David McCullough, whom I find to have a little too much pollyanna in him.
John Windt
Excellent, excellent, excellent! A new found appreciation regarding John Adams after reading this book. A wonderful portrait of the Sage of Quincy.
Bob Allen
Excellent bio of John Adams: shows his strange outbursts and highlights his concerns and warnings that were surprisingly prophetic
In my opinion, Joseph Ellis approaches history with the mindset of a psychologist and I find this a unique and refreshing perspective.
It is a vivid recounting of an uncertain period of history. It is well written, entertaining, and educational.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 52 53 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • John Adams: A Life
  • Mr. Adams's Last Crusade: The Extraordinary Post-presidential Life of John Quincy Adams
  • Madison and Jefferson
  • James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity
  • James Madison
  • Adams-Jefferson Letters
  • American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence
  • The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787
  • Grant, a Biography
  • John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life
  • The Life of Andrew Jackson
  • My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams
  • An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America
  • Alexander Hamilton, American
  • The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
  • Jefferson the Virginian
  • The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness
  • Theodore Roosevelt
Joseph J. Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, is a nationally recognized scholar of American history from colonial times through the early decades of the Republic. The author of seven books, he is recipient of the National Book Award in Nonfiction for American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson and the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers. He lives in Massachusetts.
More about Joseph J. Ellis...
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation His Excellency: George Washington American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic First Family: Abigail and John Adams

Share This Book