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

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,381 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life
Audio, 0 pages
Published August 24th 2009 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published September 30th 1997)
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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)
Doreen Petersen
May 27, 2015 Doreen Petersen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: presidents
Absolutely loved, loved, loved this book. As far as JQA's term as president to me that was rather bland. The story of his life and his success as a human being against numerous odds is what just blew me away! Definitely a must read for anyone!
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
Czarny Pies
Nov 23, 2015 Czarny Pies rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those with an intense interest in the U.S. Presidency
Shelves: american-history
Paul C. Nagel's John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life falls short of the expectations of what I have for a book from the Harvard University Press. The work is thoroughly researched and the author is a legitimate academic expert in the field. The problem lies with Nagel's decision to present a record of how John Quincy Adams viewed the events in his life rather than an analysis of his role in American history. By focussing on Adam's psychological make-up, Nagel is able to make a compel ...more
Patricia Mendez
Feb 12, 2011 Patricia Mendez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 21, 2011 Jenny Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jamie Collins
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
Brian Eshleman
Dec 22, 2015 Brian Eshleman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I consider a great biography one that sketches out the subject's psyche to such an extent that the reader can project how he or she would react in another situation AND a work which gives the reader a detailed texture for his or her time.

In this case, relying heavily on John Quincy Adams's detail and Decades-Long journal, the author has his hands full with his subject's energetic and irascible temperament as it escapes from his pen. As a reader, I could identify with the personality of John Quin
Jeremy Perron
Nov 27, 2013 Jeremy Perron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 17, 2015 Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 18, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

“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
Jan 28, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grown-up-books
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
Scott Cox
"Now also when I am old and gray, O God, forsake me not; until I have shown thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to everyone that is to come" (Psalm 71:18). John Quincy Adams (JQA), sixth president of the United States, reread the words to this famous Psalm prior to his death at the age of 80. His life was unique: son of the second President of the United States, ambassador to many nations in Europe, Secretary of State under President Monroe, and the only President to serve as Congre ...more
David Beeson
Oct 30, 2015 David Beeson rated it it was amazing
John Quincy Adams was a strange figure, politically and personally. Subtitled “a public life, a private life” this fine biography does justice to both.

Paul C. Nagel makes extensive use of Adams’ correspondence and the diary that he kept for most of his life, to reveal the man’s personality, and a fascinating picture emerges. Adams was tormented by sensations of failure or at least underachievement, but that could easily flip into what sounds like its opposite but is, in fact, just he other side
Mark Stidham
May 19, 2014 Mark Stidham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
May 26, 2015 Iain rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Quincy Adams was an extraordinary man of enlightenment and had the personal social graces (many thought) of a tempest. Paul C. Nagel provides a tremendous insight to this man through his journal. It was began at the tender age of 11 and continued throughout his life, till the very end. Other works on about JQA utilize it as a source but not the primary source, Nagel does. The result is a very intimate look at the complicated figure in American history.

Most U.S. presidents are remembered fo
Aaron Million
Reading this book was a pleasant surprise: I had anticipated another somewhat academic, scholarly biography of JQA. Instead, Nagel was scrupulous in trying to balance the personal with the professional Adams. The book does not get bogged down in Adams' many foreign policy accomplishments. That in and of itself is a feat as Adams was a great statesman in the diplomatic realm: Minister (today he would be called an Ambassador) to The Netherlands, Minister to Germany, Minister to Russia, Minister to ...more
Christie Bane
Mar 11, 2016 Christie Bane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, JQA seems to have been equal parts passionate, patriotic public servant and self-loathing, irascible, argumentative jerk. I knew nothing at all about the second Adams president before reading this book, and now I know a whole bunch of stuff like this: his mother, the famous Abigail Adams, was a domineering woman who totally considered it her right to tell her son how to live his life. What he really wanted, at least in his early life, was to not have to work much and have time to read and w ...more
Mar 29, 2016 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: presidents
The 6th president: The story of JQA is certainly an interesting one. Being the son of the second president, John Adams, who was co-writer of the constitution and the architect of money from Europe to fund the revolutions - JQA had a heavy burden to bare. He traveled extensively with his father through Europe as a young boy and teenager and was exposed to other cultures and learning. The truth be told - his 1 term as president was probably the lackluster portion of his life. What is evident is th ...more
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
Dec 12, 2014 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Apr 06, 2013 Diana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 -
Oct 29, 2010 Zohar - rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
"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
Jul 12, 2012 Eric Paulsen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 13, 2013 Ross rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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“The young John Quincy Adams begins it lifelong habit of keeping a journal with reluctance that he might one day have to read it. He hopes, though, that the flaws in his earlier entries will be balanced by the progress he is able to see.” 2 likes
“The president notices that when he takes off his coat to dig, people take more notice of the visual than they did his preceding remarks.” 1 likes
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