Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams” as Want to Read:
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

4.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,365 Ratings  ·  54 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, 288 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 GoodwinWashington by Ron ChernowTruman by David McCulloughThe Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Best Presidential Biographies
45th out of 185 books — 312 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 Non-fiction American History Books
219th out of 1,237 books — 1,713 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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
May 06, 2012 Paul Bond rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
May 05, 2009 Gene rated it it was amazing
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
Greg Boswell
Dec 28, 2013 Greg Boswell rated it liked it
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
Dec 06, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it

“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
Mar 15, 2015 Ross rated it liked it
Quite interesting history and analysis of John Adams' retirement years. This is a kind of psychoanalysis of Adams peculiar nature and an apology of sorts for why Adams created so many enemies leading up to his retirement. A good deal of the book is devoted to the famous reconciliation with Jefferson through the hundreds of letters they corresponded leading up to the incredible coincidence of they're both dying on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The author gives his theor ...more
Paul Arbogast
May 06, 2016 Paul Arbogast rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Good book on Adams, one of the most forgotten Founders.
Oct 17, 2009 Kirsten rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Jan 21, 2016 Meg rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers of David McCullough's John Adams
Although this book was published immediately before David McCullough's bestselling biography of John Adams, I believe the two make a terrific pairing. Whereas McCullough has written a traditional biography of the founding father (he went here, he did this; he went there, he said that), this is a biography of Adams' political thought in his later, post-presidential years. For much of the book, Ellis focuses on Adams' correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. By centering on Adams' thought and his wri ...more
John Windt
Jan 28, 2013 John Windt rated it it was amazing
Excellent, excellent, excellent! A new found appreciation regarding John Adams after reading this book. A wonderful portrait of the Sage of Quincy.
I've long been a fan of Joseph Ellis, ever since I read American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic and Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation in early 2008. In fact, this is his 7th book I've read. Ellis has an incredible knack for dialing in on the personalities and characters of those he writes about. His Excellency: George Washington and American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson are amazing - you really feel like you understand what made them t ...more
Joseph J. Ellis writes biographies that I love reading. His ability to both make the men he writes about feel relevant to the modern age and to analyze both their legacy and character is, to me, remarkable. He brings these men out of history, and turns them from marble to flesh. It is fitting, then, that he would do this to a man who warned so furiously against the idea that Americans had overcome what he considered to be the deepest set instincts of man: a search for power, and a tendency towar ...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
Jan 27, 2013 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 03, 2016 Chris rated it it was amazing
Dense but excellent! Many books have been written on John Adams, so I thought I'd read one of the shortest (it still took me 6 weeks!!) to dip into to see if I wanted to read more. I do. Ellis aims his work on Adams post-presidential life & by the subtitle can surmise the focus. He does however provide commentary on pertinent events throughout his life that shaped him personally and his political thinking. A pretty amazing and complex man whom many people continue to find off-putting r/t his ...more
"Passionate Sage" is about John Adams in his later years and his communications with others, particularly Thomas Jefferson. The author also relates John Adam's ideas to modern ideas and how he might react to them.

Very readable book. I am definitely going to read it again.
Sep 06, 2014 Lindsay rated it liked it
Ellis does a good job on defining Adams personality particularly in older age. Much of the discussion focuses on his politics, philosophy and character without dealing much with specifics of events in his biography. Kept wanting more conciseness in the meanderings.
Russell Hall
Sep 30, 2014 Russell Hall rated it it was amazing
A good survey of the final chapters in the life of a founder father, who is most often relegated away from the limelight. A must read for anyone looking at this intelligent, but deeply misunderstood patriot.
Jun 13, 2013 Melanie rated it really liked it
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
Feb 02, 2013 James Spurgeon rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 20, 2015 Kiddonne rated it really liked it
A good intro to one of the US founding father about whom I knew nothing.
Mar 12, 2013 Ryan rated it liked it
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
Feb 06, 2014 Wes F rated it liked it
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
Dec 11, 2015 Jenni rated it really liked it
Loved seeing the excerpts from his margin notes. He "fought" with the authors of books that he read.
Katie Tahuahua
Sep 13, 2014 Katie Tahuahua rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
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!
Kathy  Petersen
John Adams is one of the most interesting people from the early American period, and Ellis's examination of his later years as well as his political philosophy makes excellent reading.
Jan 27, 2009 Derek rated it liked 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).
Apr 29, 2016 Nicki rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It gave me a new admiration for John Adams. Ellis focuses on the later years in Adams' life and the tone is reflective. This isn't a chronological biography, rather more of a survey of his political thought and character. For me, it was a great appreciation building book before (hopefully soon) reading a bigger book on Adams.
Eric Atkisson
Aug 29, 2013 Eric Atkisson rated it really liked it
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • John Adams: A Life
  • John Adams: Party of One
  • From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain 1765-76
  • Mr. Adams's Last Crusade: The Extraordinary Post-presidential Life of John Quincy Adams
  • Adams-Jefferson Letters
  • America Afire: Jefferson, Adams, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800
  • James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity
  • James Madison: A Biography
  • The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787
  • Madison and Jefferson
  • John Quincy Adams: American Visionary
  • Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington
  • The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
  • Grant: A Biography
  • President James Buchanan: A Biography
  • My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams
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...

Share This Book