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John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  4,239 Ratings  ·  116 Reviews
A United States minister, senator, president, and congressman in turn, John Quincy Adams was one of the most prevalent and dedicated Americans in history. Drawing from Adams' seventy-year diary, author Paul Nagel probes deeply into the psyche of this cantankerous, misanthropic, erudite, hardworking son of a former president whose remarkable career spanned so many offices. ...more
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Published February 1st 2010 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
Nov 12, 2013 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
Patricia Mendez
Feb 02, 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
Czarny Pies
Oct 25, 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
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
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
May 06, 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
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
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
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
Martin Bihl
Feb 16, 2011 Martin Bihl 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 Eshleman
Dec 17, 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
Dec 30, 2010 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
Feb 22, 2017 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Quincy Adams was in many ways the first resume president. He was the United States's minister to four countries (the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom), United States Senator from Massachusetts, and Secretary of State before becoming President. After his single term in office, he is famously the only former President to become a member of the House, serving nine terms and seventeen years until his death in 1848. Many people those days, and historians these days, consider him ...more
Gabriel Riekhof
John Quincy Adams kept a journal for his entire adult life, the most detailed and expansive of any U.S. President, which gives incredible insights into JQA as a person. It is this document that Paul Nagel taps into in “John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life” to give us an amazing peek at the personal life of America’s sixth President.

Contrary to the blissful and glory-filled life most people assume for U.S. Presidents, you can’t help at some points feeling sorry for JQA. The son of Am
David Beeson
Oct 30, 2015 David Beeson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Zohar -
Sep 22, 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
Mary Alderete
Mar 18, 2017 Mary Alderete rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this guy! He was tougher than his dad. He could fight like Hell in debates and not back down. He served his country even after his presidency and did it all while suffering from clinical depression. He fought the gag rule and he was the lawyer who won the case for the Africans in Amistad. I learned so much about this president and I'm glad I did.
Jay Adams-feuer
Apr 10, 2013 Jay Adams-feuer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in US History from the Revolution and before the Jacksonian era.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 27, 2011 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-history, biography
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
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
This was an excellent book explaining John Quincy Adams. Based largely on his intense and rambling journal, it's a nice bunch of scholarship that makes it easier to understand the man. That being said, I wasn't wild about how harsh Nagel is on the Adams family--especially Abigail. He consistently makes her out to be the villian that led to all of JQA's downfalls, but it's pretty clear to me that JQA had his own issues (much like his father) and was headed for many of his problems even without Ab ...more
Christian Dibblee
Reading this book, my overwhelming thought was how true is the old aphorism "The unexamined life is not worth living"...and how JQA seems to have taken that to an extreme.

Nagel's book is based almost entirely on JQA's diaries and letters, and paints a rich portrait. Adams is perpetually driven to reach intellectual heights, yet wracked with guilt at never being able to do enough. His writings are full of scolding himself for not using his time effectively...this despite being a well-traveled dip
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
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
An excellent book, even if entirely from JQA's point of view. A book from his wife's POV might be less forgiving. I think he only became President because he spent most of his political career abroad; foreign service kept him from pissing off so many people he would need to become President. I felt a little sorry for the guy, pushed off his dreams by his parents for their ambitions for their son, but his second life as a Congressman gave meaning to everything that went on before.
May 01, 2012 Riley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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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“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.” 3 likes
“I was born for a controversial world, and I cannot escape my destiny. John Quincy Adams” 3 likes
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