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The Education of Henry Adams

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,091 Ratings  ·  222 Reviews
As a journalist, historian, and novelist born into a family that included two past Presidents, Henry Adams was forever focused on the experiences and expectations unique to America. A prompt bestseller and Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Education of Henry Adams (1918) recounts his own and his country's development from 1838--the year Adams was born--up to 1905, thus incorporat ...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published August 12th 1999 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1918)
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Justin Evans
Apr 03, 2012 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 11, 2015 Lotz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
Once more! this is a story of education, not of adventure! It is meant to help young men—or such as have intelligence enough to seek help—but it is not meant to amuse them.

Everyone agrees that this book is difficult and odd. An autobiography of an American man of letters, the son of a diplomat, grandson of a president, historian, journalist, secretary, all told in the third person, written for his private circle of friends. At once claiming to be the story of one man’s life, a critique of the
Jan 28, 2009 Mackenzie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 27, 2007 Brendan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Victoria Olsen
Jan 24, 2013 Victoria Olsen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Mar 11, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 11, 2015 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2012
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 an historian, a diplomat, a Civil War buff or an amateur philosopher, this book will strongly resonate.

Brad Lyerla
Jan 15, 2015 Brad Lyerla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Sep 08, 2012 Hannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 12, 2010 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Douglas Dalrymple
Feb 01, 2016 Douglas Dalrymple rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here’s a book I tried and failed to read for several years, but finally the time was right. The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiography written in the third person which curiously overlooks some of the biggest events in its subject’s life. Adams was a historian and public intellectual, the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, who belonged (according to himself) in the eighteenth rather than the nineteenth or twentieth centuries (born in 1838, he died in 1918). Ostensibly a record of h ...more
Jul 17, 2015 Jay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
I tried to place this among the other books I’ve read, and strangely the one that seems most similar to me is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Like that book, Adams takes a journey, albeit through a life, and riffs on topics great and small, from politics to education, women in history to evolution. And like “Zen”, Adams drills down into a topic, not quality but history through a scientific eyepiece. The writing felt of a similar theme, while expounding on looking at history through ...more
Russell Bittner
Feb 12, 2014 Russell Bittner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 28, 2011 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mike Clinton
Feb 17, 2011 Mike Clinton rated it liked it
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
Warren Perry
Jan 08, 2009 Warren Perry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Allen Price
This was a monumental effort. I felt like I had been listening to the audio or reading the book (I bounced back and forth) for a year. The list of "100 Greatest Books" by the Franklin Library called it the "best autobiography every written". Well.... I'm an educated man - aren't I? I must read this book.

So I've done it. I liked it. I got educated. I got bored. I got reinterested. I was impressed with his high level of governmental influence and the candor of which he spoke about himself. That wo
Mar 20, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I tried reading this once as an MA student and gave up in boredom. Coming back to it with a lot more American and European history under my belt, I found it more intriguing but still was not amazed. Adams was a funny guy, but there are just too many pages here devoted to settling scores with, for example, senators and foreign policy officials in the Grant administration. In particular, his discussion of British politicians' reactions to the American Civil War is endless without being very illumi ...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
Oct 09, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even up to the first 200 pages, I was ready to give this work one star but then, I started to get it. After that , every page, every paragraph had to be thought about. I do not think I have ever used the word amazing to describe a book before this but this was amazing..PERHAPS THE NUMBER ONE NONFICTION OF THE 20TH CENTURY. This was self published and not publicly available until after the authors death. He wrote his true thoughts, not just what he thought people would pay to read. HE WAS HONEST ...more
Dec 22, 2009 Russell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is different from any other book I've read recently. At times fascinating, interesting, boring, slow, brilliant, annoying, nihilistic, dense, hopeful, dry wit served with extra helpings cynicism, topped off with a strange disassociation with himself. It's not easy to describe this book, it certainly wasn't an easy read, but it left me different than I was before.

This book isn't for everyone. I'd give it 100 pages, if it doesn't interest you by then, put it down and walk away. I can te
Apr 28, 2010 Connorsludge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First off, let me admit that I have a thing for Adamses. JQA is my favorite, but Henry found his way into my heart as well.

I love the way he worked in the idea of evolution into his narrative. As a history person, the details that would have put others to sleep were fascinating. I have been meaning to learn more about John Hay and I accidentally got it!

All in all, I liked it a lot, but I can't actually imagine meeting many other people who would. It's not anything I would recommend to a friend
David Bird
A landmark of self-obscuring, as much as of self-exposure. This volume deserves its reputation as perhaps the finest autobiography of an American. Yet you would never know that Adams had a wife to whom he was devoted, or of his apparently profound gift for friendship.

It says much of Adams that his autobiography is the counterpoint to his volume on architecture as the evocation of the spirit of its age, Mont St Michel and Chartres.

My personal reaction to the book was deepened, because of its gr
Mar 26, 2015 Dennis rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-lit
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

Secretly built around death. There is a 20 year leap forward in the middle of The Education. The death of his sister concludes the first half before the jump. The death of his close friend Sec. of State Hays ends the work. The 20 year void, he fails to tell the reader, covers his marriage to Clover Hooper and her suicide in 1885. At one point, he relates visiting a monument he had erected for her, devotes a full page of description to the monument, and never once mentions the identity of the ind

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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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
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