This one hit the spot -- plot-driven enough to make it a page-turner, but without compromising character, tone, ambiance or insight; narrated by a wit...moreThis one hit the spot -- plot-driven enough to make it a page-turner, but without compromising character, tone, ambiance or insight; narrated by a witty, observant, ambitious, even likeable narrator; and with just the right doses of art deco, big band swing and 30s screwball comedy.
There are some remarkable turns-of-phrase, too, from the blunt truisms of an Old-World father ("Old times, my father said: If you're not careful, they'll gut you like a fish.") to the lyrical, Nick Carraway-esque musings of the narrator ("As we sat there, dusk was falling and the lights of the city were coming on one by one in ways that even Edison hadn't imagined. They came on across the great patchwork of office buildings and along the cables of the bridges; then it was the street lamps and the theater marquees, the headlights of the cars and the beacons perched atop the radio towers -- each individual lumen testifying to some unhesitant, intemperate collective aspiration.").(less)
So John Adams lacked the natural social grace of Jefferson and the understated dignity of Washington. And he certainly did not have the gift for...moreWow...
So John Adams lacked the natural social grace of Jefferson and the understated dignity of Washington. And he certainly did not have the gift for self-promotion and "joie de vive" that the French found so abundant in Franklin. As Adams himself admitted, he could be a bit self-righteous and vain, especially when he felt that his integrity had been questioned. But these (admitted) flaws seem like small potatoes next to Jefferson's hypocrisy regarding slavery, his uncontrollable personal spending, and his personal betrayal of Adams for his own political gain.
In fact, by the end of this book, McCullough had convinced me again and again that Adams was the most maligned and misunderstood of the Founding Fathers, despite his being the most honorable, honest and tireless of the lot. The portrait this excellent book paints is that of a Yankee farmer's son who loved books and new ideas, who fell in love with the law and devoted his life to the American experiment, and who refused to compromise his integrity for political approval.
The Adams we see here is also entirely devoted to his wife Abigail, despite the many separations they endure in the interest of the United States.
And speaking of Abigail, why wasn't she president? She would have been every bit as sharp, decisive and resolute as any of the presidents up to Lincoln.
What I enjoyed most about McCullough's writing is the liberal use he makes of the private correspondence between John and Abigail, as well as Adams's letters to and from Bejamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson, Elbridge Gerry, and his son John Quincy Adams. Again and again I was struck by how central such written correspondence was to the lives of this founding generation, and also how long it often took for these letters to arrive at their destination -- especially in times of war and when they had to travel across the Atlantic.
Why isn't there a John Adams Memorial in Washington, D.C.?
This is one of the most fantastically f'ed-up books I've ever read. To say anything more about the characters' relationship or individual psyches woul...moreThis is one of the most fantastically f'ed-up books I've ever read. To say anything more about the characters' relationship or individual psyches would be to ruin it for everyone, so I'll leave it at this: it's profoundly messed-up in all the right ways... (less)
"a group of seven or eight fans...want him to sign their game-programs. So grateful, they say. So proud. Awesome. Amazing. This only takes a couple of...more"a group of seven or eight fans...want him to sign their game-programs. So grateful, they say. So proud. Awesome. Amazing. This only takes a couple of moments, but while he's scribbling his name it dawns on Billy that these smiling, clueless citizens are the ones who came correct. For the past two weeks he's been feeling so superior and smart because of all the things he knows from the war, but forget it, they are the ones in charge, these saps, these innocents, their homeland dream is the dominant force. His reality is their reality's bitch; what they don't know is more powerful than all the things he knows, and yet he's lived what he's lived and knows what he knows, which means what, something terrible and possibly fatal, he suspects. To learn what you have to learn at the war, to do what you have to do, does this make you the enemy of all that sent you to the war?" (306). (less)