Nathan's Reviews > John Adams

John Adams by David McCullough
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Jun 13, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: history, franklin-library
Read from June 13 to 20, 2011

Popular history. That's what this book is. David McCullough is obviously engaged with his story; he likes Adams, respects the Founders, and knows his history. But he seems shackled by having to tell two stories at the same time, while making both flow into one accessible and engaging narrative.

The first story is the political one. Adams the politician is an energetic, combative creature, not afraid to step on toes or burn bridges in the name of principle. McCullough cuts no corners in fleshing out the particulars of the contemporary political issues, but they still manage to get overshadowed by the force of Adams's personality and thus lose a bit of clarity and readability. The length of the book calls for a little more explanation of ideologies and party lines than McCullough bothers to give, and that cripples the large part of the book he devotes to the political scene. He also intermittently fails to analyze specifically Adams's role in the general drama, which makes it even more trying to follow.
There are highlights: Jefferson's (sometimes turbulent) relationship with Adams is studied in careful detail, with interesting implications. The turbulence of these early times in general are conveyed with verve and detail; the importance of this juncture in American history comes through loud and clear.

The second story is the personal one. The relationship beween Adams and his wife is the centerpiece of the book: an affectionate, engaging affair between two bright and independent minds. The amount of attention given to Mrs Adams forms in itself a worthwhile picture of female life in colonial America, as well a fitting tribute to the exceptional mind that Mrs Adams had.


The major failing of the book is that the two stories aren't given mutual context. It seems unlikely that a man with as rich a personal life as Adams would be as unaffected by it in his public life as this book conveys. I felt that McCullough saved his best efforts for the personal story that he enjoyed telling, while giving the political narrative only by grudging rote. This made it difficult to read the book as a unified whole. A shame, since even the more neglected areas of Adams's life seemed to offer something worthwhile. A solid popular history, but rather too ambitious for it's scope and achievement.
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04/29 marked as: read

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Katherine Rukambe Hey John


Katherine Rukambe What are u doin


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