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John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life
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John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  2,294 ratings  ·  75 reviews
Nagel probes deeply into the psyche of this cantankerous, misanthropic, erudite, hardworking son of a former president whose remarkable career spanned many offices: minister to Holland, Russia, and England, U.S. senator, secretary of state, president of the United States (1825-1829), and, finally, U.S. representative (the only ex-president to serve in the House). On the ba ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published September 30th 1997 by Knopf
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If I were John Quincy Adams (oft' referred to as JQA), much of this review would likely consist of chastising myself for not having the discipline or talent to write a better review. I mean, this was a guy who wasseriously full of self-reproach. If he didn't have an internal proclivity for finding fault in himself, it's likely that growing up the first-born son of John and Abigail Adams would have steered him in that direction.

The elder John Adams brought JQA (who was only 14 or so at the time)
Excellent biography based on JQA's diaries (of nearly seventy years), focused more on his private than public life. Such an amazing man-- well traveled by his teen years, brilliant diplomat, Harvard graduate (2nd in his class), struggled with depression, perfectionism and trying to meet the high standards of his parents. Would have preferred to be a man of letters (was a professor of Oratory at Harvard) and had a passion for science and technology. He was a lawyer, U.S. Senator, Secretary of Sta ...more
Patricia Mendez
I was familiar with the Adams Family having read several books on JQA's famous parents. I was interested in learning what type of man JQA was in his private life as well as his professional career. This book did not disappoint in terms of bringing out JQA's genius, personality, talents and struggles. He unquestionably blessed the United States of America with his diplomatic skills with various important treaties and his life-long service. All the while struggling with bouts crippling depression. ...more
A good biography must be more than a summary of dates and events; the best would not only relate an individual's achievements, but also his motivating influences and internal conflicts. Because John Quincy Adams kept a very detailed, and intimate, diary for 70 years of his life, the author had a wealth of information upon which to draw, the result being a dynamic exploration of the sixth president.

Well-traveled from a young age and educated in European schools, Adams found it difficult to later
Jenny Brown
This is one of those rare and wonderful biographies of a public figure that gives you deep insight into the person behind the historical personage. I had always bought into the commonly held idea that JQA was a curmudgeon who didn't live up to his father's heroic example. I came away from this book appreciating both his accomplishments and the emotional difficulties he faced as he lived a life where the best of the 18th and early 19th century cultural values warred within him. The political hist ...more
I enjoyed this. It’s a very personal biography of Adams, based largely on his diaries. It contains only as much historical background as is absolutely necessary to make his story intelligible.

The author is fond of Adams and unabashedly defends his often maligned character. He doesn’t hesitate to describe Adams’s weaknesses, though, and only spends a single chapter on his miserable presidency, calling it a "hapless failure and best forgotten".

The book includes a source list, but it doesn’t have a
Jeremy Perron
There is a phrase in the United States that asks, "How good does one have to be in order to bad in the NBA?" The answer to this question is "pretty damn awesome!" To be bad in the NBA, the MLB, or the NFL one has to be an incredible ball player. Only by being great at the lower levels can one find the opportunity to be bad as a professional.

I think you can take this same view with American statesmen and the presidency. The American presidency is the highest office that any American can possibly
I gotta say, I really didn't know what to expect with this biography of the Sixth President. On the one hand, I'd heard he was cold, humourless and unbearably arrogant. On the other, I'd heard it was generally agreed he was the smartest of all the Presidents. And there there's the fact of his life that appear in McCullough's bio of his father, or in bios of Madison and Monroe - in whose administrations he served.

And the verdict? Yes. Cold, humourless, arrogant - all probably because of the fact
Brian Pate
This is a superb biography...but not necessarily fun to read. Although thorough and well-researched, it was tedious to read at times.

Nagel's biography is the first biography based on JQA's diary. While this affords a unique perspective into his life and psyche, it seemed like an overkill at times. Just because JQA wrote details about what he ate and drank and the specifics of dinner conversations does not mean that it needs to be included in his biography.

Since it's based on JQA's diary, we see
Perhaps I am blinded by my Massachusetts blood, but I have always believed that both John Adams and JQA have been vastly underrated by history. It may also be that portrayals of both of them as stubborn, sometimes cold, and cantankerous men don't trouble me so much since I recognize the typical marks of a New Englander in that profile. And neither of them was as cold or cantankerous as some would say anyway.
In any case, this is an excellent biography, aided, of course, by the existence of JQA's
Mark Stidham
The book was a compelling read for me. It is my first JQA biography, and I will now look for at least two others that deal more narrowly on his diplomatic career and on his Congressional career. I am also encouraged to read a book "The Adams Women".

Back to the present book, the author deftly weaves the story with quotes and events that provide a visceral experience of the man and his times. For me, this is the most important aspect of any biography. Some reviewers complain about the absence of
Brian Schwartz
Reading David McCullough's treatment of Adams followed by Nagel’s biography of his most famous son is reading the history of a political dynasty every bit as powerful and commanding in the 19th century as the Kennedys were of the 20th. Perhaps a better comparison is to the Bush family which dominated the last twenty years. JQA’s children would go on to hold important positions in government, but never rise to nearly the stature of their father or grandfather. Prescott Bush was a U.S. senator, fa ...more
I don't recall enjoying a presidential biography as much as this one. Mr. Nagel wrote a compelling account of the remarkable life of a remarkable American.

I don't want to detract from Mr. Nagel's writing, but I imagine a biography of John Quincy Adams would not be the most difficult one to write. In the family tradition, he was a prolific writer, keeping a journal consistently from boyhood until death. Living across the Atlantic from the ever-flowing quills of John and Abigail further contribut
A very thorough overview of the lesser known of the two John Adams'. Modern studies of history pare down figures into keywords, and JQA has always been relegated to themes such as testy, snobbish, and temperamental. This book does a good job of rounding out the man and bringing forth the motives and desires that led to his furor in pursuing what he felt was a struggle of good vs evil. He could embody all of the negative attributes mentioned above, but he was also someone who truly fought for wha ...more
Zohar -
"John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life" by Paul C. Nagel is a biography of the sixth president of these United States. JQA, as he referred to himself to be distinguished from his prominent father, was a melancholy politician who would have rather been a man of letters, than the lawyer / diplomat / politician he turned out to be. The book is based mostly on JQA's diary which spanned an amazing seven decades - arguably the "most valuable historical and personal journal kept by any promi ...more
I have to get something off my chest before I really get started with this – After reading John Adams by David McCullough and watching the mini-series I held John Quincy Adams to this level of awesomeness just because I “watched” him grow up. Not even 100 pages into this biography I had to admit to myself that he is a total jerk. Like the king of all jerks in the world. He should get a crown for his haughty attitude and general disdain – it seemed to ooze out of his pores and writings.

Aside fro
Regina Lindsey
Although probably the most prepared man in history to become president, JQA's presidency is viewed by most historians as an abysmal failure. However, what does get lost in history is the success JQA found in other roles of government. He was well traveled by the time he reached his teen years. He was highly intelligent. Served admirably as diplomat and Secretary of State. Eventually returned to the House after his presidency.

Using JQA's diaries as his primary source, Nagel reveals the complexi
John Quincy Adams is one of the presidents that we learn about in school mostly under the preface of “he was the son of John Adams” and his failure of a presidency and time spent as a Congressman are sometimes highlighted. One aspect that we are almost never treated to is his private life, interactions with his parents, his wife, and his children. Paul C. Nagel sets out to provide us with an insight into Adams private life as well as feature his public life. There is a nice preface to the book w ...more
Eric Paulsen
John Quincy Adams, or JQA, could have been a President. Or he could have been a writer, a farmer, a swimmer, or a panhandler. Of course, I know that he was the sixth President of the United States, but his fame is not renown. Unfortunately, he was just as remedially unimportant during his administration as he is today in the eyes of popular society. Paul C. Nagel paints a different portrait of JQA, however, as someone that should be remembered, despite his forgotten presidency. Nagel portrays th ...more
This book is actually about 90% John Quincy Adams (JQA) private life drawn by the author largely from the diaries of JQA, much of which had not been published before. The shortcoming here is that a great deal of this material in unimportant and some is downright trivial. As a result I had to stretch to give it 3 stars and can only recommend the book to those very interested in American history.
JQA's diary makes clear what a character he was. He was raised from early childhood by his parents as a
JQA may have been our most intelligent president, but ironically, his term in office was one of the most unremarkable in our nation's history. The author only devotes one chapter to his ineffectual presidency, so this in not the book to read if your are looking for a history of presidential politics. This book focuses much more on the personal side of JQA, with great success. JQA kept a detailed and revealing journal for 70 years of his life, so historians are blessed with a tremendous primary s ...more
Jay Adams-feuer
Apr 10, 2013 Jay Adams-feuer rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in US History from the Revolution and before the Jacksonian era.
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Christopher Litsinger
Every bit as good as McCollough's biography of his father.
Nagel relies on John Quincy Adams' personal journals, which leads to a deep understanding of the man, without the interpersonal filtering (or outright lying) that often happens with letters, which most of the previous presidential biographies I've read have been based on.
And Adams' led a fascinating life: living throughout Europe and Russia as a young man, a short and failed presidency, followed by a long and cantankerous career in the ho
John Quincy Adams (or JQA) was a brilliant, but troubled man, who never seemed to feel as if he accomplished very much. A Harvard educated Lawyer, scholar, writer, orator, diplomat, and having served in public office for over 60 years, he was his own worst enemy.

Like his father, the 2nd President John Adams, John Quincy Adams was a difficult person, and a person who liked to be surrounded in controversy, and was not afraid of forcing his opinion on others. This led to his developing many enemie
I was inspired to read this after visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, where the gallery of the presidents shows each and every one, and says something good about each.
The book is written smoothly, and is therefore easy to read. But somehow it is not written inspiringly, and so I found myself turning the pages even faster than might have been called for, to try to get to the interesting bits.
JQA, as the biography calls him to distinguish him from his presidential parent, is

“John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life” by Paul Nagel was published in 1997 and represents the first significant biography of JQA following Marie Hecht’s 1972 biography. Nagel’s biography was also the first to draw upon his complete (and voluminous) diary. Nagel, who died in 2011, was an author and historian, and spent time as a professor at the University of Georgia and University of Kentucky.

Nagel’s “John Quincy Adams” is unique among the thre
This book might be called a "psychological biography" as much as anything else. That isn't to describe its depth, of which there is little, nor to suggest that it is primarily devoted to a purely psychological portrait of its subject. What this book attempts and largely succeeds at doing is to explain John Quincy Adams' actions in light of his personality.

This is a useful perspective, and a fairly easy one to work from, especially if you accept unquestioningly Nagel's assertion that Adams's domi
This is an excellent biography of John Quincy Adams which gives a broad view of his personal and public life.

My only complaint is the author's depiction of JQA's mother in a simple, single faceted manner that portrays Abigail Adams in quite a negative light. She was a very complex and remarkable woman and that is lost. This can be forgiven as she was not the focus of the book.

The portrayal of John Quincy Adams was deep. As a reader, I felt like I could understand the thoughts, motivations and l
A good, solid bio of someone who was perhaps a bit the George H.W. Bush of his day,only better at it. Not a real "partisan," he voted Jeffersonian not Federalist half the time when a U.S. Senator. The author of the "Monroe Doctrine," and the defender of the US issuing the idea alone, not in conjunction with Britain. Dedicated to free speech as a Congressman. A man miserable as president.

And miserable trying to live up to a domineering mother, a weight of family history and a scolding self-consci
An enjoyable biography of John Quincy Adams that spends a lot of time on his inner life and not a lot on the political battles of his era. Based largely on his extensive diaries, the book reads somewhat like Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, given Adams' constant emphasis on self-critique, self-improvement and self-experimentation.

For instance, before he was elected the 6th president:

"John Quincy Adams' second four years as secretary of state were given only in part to chasing the presidency.
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