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The Education of Henry Adams

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,718 ratings  ·  197 reviews
The Education of Henry Adams, written by America’s greatest historian and heir to America’s first political family, was greeted on its posthumous release as the finest of American autobiographies. For a century it has been routinely characterized as one of world literature’s extraordinary life narratives. However, The Education isn’t truly a work of autobiography. It is a ...more
Paperback, Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading, 448 pages
Published December 4th 2009 by Barnes & Noble (first published 1918)
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Justin Evans
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
Mackenzie
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
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
...more
Victoria Olsen
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
Dave
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
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
...more
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
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
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
...more
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
Colleen
Having read the book years ago after I bought it, and after reading so many reviews positive and negative, I have come to the conclusion that The Education of Henry Adams states in long form what we must all come to know personally, and that is that our education well and truly commences after we leave the "hallowed halls of ivy" whether they were covered with ivy or not. Our "formal education" is only the door to our real education and, if our teachers have been true to their real calling, we h ...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
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
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
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
Laura
I'm intrigued by Adams's notion of himself as an 18th century man, and why this unfitted him for his time, and why this was a bad thing. Is he being modest, pessimistic, nihilistic, or was this merely a style of rhetoric from the late Victorian era? I don't know enough yet to tell.

After having finished the book, I have a sustained impression that Adams's style of writing is like an odd combination of Chesterton and Ecclesiastes--Chesterton because he writes indirectly and dialectically, and Eccl
...more
Warren Perry
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
Brad Lyerla
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
...more
Zack Anchors
One of the most important factors in the "education" of this man -- whose father and great-grandfather were both presidents of the USA, and who witnessed and participated in central events of US history for almost 100 years -- were the seasons of New England. He describes this here, in one of my favorite passages from his account:

"The New England boy had a wider range of emotions than boys of more equable climates. He felt his nature crudely, as it was meant. . . . Winter and summer were two ho
...more
John E. Branch Jr.
It does little to suggest the quality of the writing, but this is surely one of the most unusual of memoirs (in the broad sense of autobiography). In the course of accounting for his life, Adams does much to account for the life of his country, what it had been and what it was becoming. His view of the dynamo, for instance (what to us is a mere electric generator), is likely to stick with one as a potent symbol for a kind of mechanized power in the world.

Having read it once, in the 80s, I began
...more
Alexander Laser-robinson
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
Dennis
This started out fascinating -- son of a famous political family growing up in mid-19th Century New England. Henry Adams has the insider's view of the who's who of America at the time, and his family, social, educational, and professional life is a series of name dropping. Adams has a quirky sense of humor, but about a third of the way in the journal turned increasingly tedious and sometimes downright boring. It's never a good thing when the book seems it will never end. But end it did, and I do ...more
Bob
What a complex and interesting autobiography, all told in the third person about the life-long education of Henry, grandson of JQ Adams and great-grandson of John Adams. With his incredible political heritage, his access to the great and powerful through them and through his father Charles, his personal involvement in the politics of Boston, Washington and England (particularly during the Civil War), and his own interest in history and literature, Adams provides a brilliant look at the political ...more
Carol Apple
I gave the book four stars but it really ought to be more like 4.5. I just couldn't give a full 5. It is long and strange and after the first two chapters I thought I would never be able to stick with it but then I got sucked into narrative and slowly became fascinated. If this were a 10-point rating system I'd give it a 9. This book is an unusual autobiography, ironic and self-effacing which is ironic in itself since Henry Adams was born into a family firmly established in history and society a ...more
Darwin8u
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 a historian, a diplomat, a civil war buff or a amateur philosopher, this book will strongly resonate.

Russell Bittner
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
Tom Rowe
This started off pretty well and was quite interesting, but by the end, I was just ready to get it over with. If you are not somewhat familiar with the times, you may be completely lost at some points. The greatest problem I had with the book is that I never understood what he meant by "education" which was the theme of the entire book. Maybe that is my fault for not listening carefully enough.

This book is clearly a memoir and not an autobiography. I would not have even known he was married or
...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Interesting material - but Adams is so long-winded!
Pete Iseppi
This is a highly regarded autobiography of Henry Adams, who was the great grandson of John Adams, and as such, was as about as near to American royalty as it gets. Henry Adams was best known for his history of the Presidencies of Jefferson and Madison.

He tells his life story in a false self-deprecatory manner. It's like he's grinning while he's watching us read about how he was just a regular guy, or less. He was an Adams, for crying out loud! Yet he tries to make us believe that he was basical
...more
Camille Tesch
3.5 stars. This book is listed on several lists as one of the best non-fiction books of the 20th century, and I can understand why. It gives a first-hand account of historical, political, scientific, and social trends from 1850-1905 through the lens of Henry Adams and his life-long attempt to become educated and understand the world. Though an autobiography, it's written in the third person.

Parts of the book are completely fascinating, such as his memories of his grandfather John Quincy Adams a
...more
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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
...more
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