Stephen's Reviews > John Adams

John Adams by David McCullough
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it was amazing
bookshelves: history-usa, ebooks, audiobook, 6-star-books, biographies, 2000-2005, history

MESSAGE TO BIOGRAPHERS: Tidy up your prose, sharpen your story-telling, knowledge up on your source material and bring your entire bag of game, because the gauntlet has been chucked, the bar has been raised and David McCullough has taken off his literary glove and pasted all of you upside your second rate heads. The challenge is before you.

This is, WITHOUT QUESTION, the best biography I have ever read. It is also, again WITHOUT QUESTION, the best story on the American Revolution and the creation of the United States of America that I have ever read.

The breadth, depth and detail of this biography is unbelievable. Epic does not begin in describe it. It is epic epicness on an epically epic scale. This is only appropriate given the subject matter.

After finishing this book, I believe the John Adams is the "founding father" I most admire. By making that statement, I do not want to downgrade the importance of the others. Jefferson was arguably more intelligent and was clearly the better writer. Washington was the most beloved and admired figure and without his leadership, the fledgling country would not have had a much needed symbol to rally around and the revolution may very well have failed. Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, James Madison, Samuel Adams, John Jay and all the rest deserve to be acknowledged for their significant contributions.

So why John Adams? Two simple but very important reasons. First, John Adams, through the beautiful prose of McCullough, came across to me as the quintessential HONORABLE MAN. True, he was short tempered and intellectually vain in so far as he very much desired to be acknowledged as "great" by his countrymen. He was a man with many faults.

However, he NEVER allowed any of his shortcomings or personal desires to influence any decision he made or any action he took. He was a ROCK OF INTEGRITY and every action he took and decision he made (though not always correct in hindsight) was what he genuinely BELIEVED to be in the best interest of the country. Thus, he came across in this story as the person who most aptly illustrated the qualities of INTEGRITY, VIRTUE AND MORAL FORTITUDE.

In contrast, Jefferson's "behind the scenes" attacks on Adams and his inability to even acknowledge the same later on struck me as shallow and less than admirable. I point that out not to bash Jefferson (who I also admire) but to demonstrate that even the best of men had moments when they did not act in accordance with their conscience. Everyone that is, except John Adams, who never seemed to waiver from the path his conscience set before him.

The second reason, and one that goes hand in hand with the first, is the absolute devotion, respect and love that he and his wife, Abigail, displayed for one another throughout their lives. Call me sappy and overly sentimental, but I was absolutely awe struck by the level of commitment and affection that they felt and showed to one another even across great distances and during long years when they hardly even saw each other. John and Abigail drew strength and comfort from one another in a way that was special and unique.

This just cemented for me the truly exceptional nature of John Adams' character. He made me proud to be an American and to have such men in my country's history. Anyway, to sum up, I loved this book and give it my HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!! 6.0 Stars.

One final note: for those of you that listen to audiobooks, I wanted to point out that I listened to the unabridged version (all 30+ hours of it) narrated by Nelson Runger and Mr. Runger did an amazing job that I believe added both to my enjoyment and absorption of the material.


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Reading Progress

March 18, 2010 – Shelved
May 24, 2011 – Started Reading
May 29, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-42 of 42 (42 new)

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Stephen Brian wrote: "Great review, Stephen. Added to my "to reads"!"

Thanks, Brian. I think you will like it.


message 2: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Did you guys see the HBO series? Fucking fantastic (pardon my French; the scenes with the reserved Adams among painted and perfumed French courtesans are especially fucking fantastic).


message 3: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Does the book highlight Adams's statesmanship? An extrapolation of his integrity, I guess you could say. He walked a very fine line during a very delicate period: dealing with the belligerence of Hamilton, the self-assuredness of Jefferson, the fucking fantastic French Revolution...good, good stuff. I adored the mini-series, I may have to read this.


Stephen Esteban wrote: "Did you guys see the HBO series? Fucking fantastic (pardon my French; the scenes with the reserved Adams among painted and perfumed French courtesans are especially fucking fantastic)."

I totally agree. The HBO show was "sex without guilt" fantastic. It was the HBO series that lead to my reading the book. As good as the series was, the book is even better IMHO.


Stephen Esteban wrote: "Does the book highlight Adams's statesmanship? An extrapolation of his integrity, I guess you could say. He walked a very fine line during a very delicate period: dealing with the belligerence of H..."

Esteban, it does spend quite a bit of time on his statesmanship and his travels to England, France and the Netherlands, but then the book does such a wonderful job detailing so many aspects of his life (dare I say all of them) that I don't think there is a period is doesn't cover well. As you can tell from my review, I think this is pretty close to perfect as far as bios go.


message 6: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Sold.


message 7: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal And Stephen, who are you having sex with such that it leaves you guilty? I think you might be going about it wrong. Sounds downright Adams-esque of you.


Stephen Esteban wrote: "I think you might be going about it wrong."

Damn it, now you sound like my wife.


message 9: by Alex (new)

Alex The issue is (re USA's Founding Fathers) - are they just the bunch of bright, talented and resolved individuals, who forcefully imposed on the new country, which they created, their ideas and principles
OR
they were true "expressors" of the historical need and the will of the American people at that time?

Would USA evolve to be the same country if none of Founding Fathers were existing at that time ?

Would other group of people arise instead of this group to lead to creation of basically the same country ?

These above questions fall into the general question, usually categorized at the "role of the individuals in the history".

Even more general question:
"Is historical process (by its nature) objective or subjective" ?

Does this book help in attempt to answer above posted questions ?


Chantal LeGendre I'm ruined for reading any other biographer.


Stephen Chantal wrote: "I'm ruined for reading any other biographer."

I know the feeling, Chantat. McCullough is just amazing.


Michael Speer Def in my top 5 books ever!!!!! : )


message 13: by Robbie (new) - added it

Robbie that power epic bigophy


message 14: by david opara (new)

david opara Hi baby hshshshahabababha


message 15: by david opara (new)

david opara Hi


message 16: by david opara (new)

david opara What is your name and your email


message 17: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Franklin Reading it now and totally agree. Very few other nonfictions have been this good. David McCullough has made a masterpiece. I just wish I didn't have so much other stuff to read. After this it'll probably be Julius Caesar and then The Stand. Anyways great review and glad I'm not the only one who sees this as such great writing for a biography.


Brian Gray Best bio and American history since his last few books


Yaboimazz Ur review wuz lame


kendall willis hi like they book


kendall willis I think had a book good


message 22: by Vin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Vin Far Diana, Murder at Pillar 13, Free Ebook, Amazon.Amazing first-time printed facts of Diana's life, by Baroness De Vere. Read those brief truths before it is banned. Diana's pregnancy in death. baby Muslim brother for Prince Willie and Harry Hewitt.


Dr. Donna Hoffman I agree. This is my very favorite book of all.


message 24: by Beth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth Kleinman Great review, Stephen! It's on my list. Have you read Chernow's Hamilton yet? Would love to hear your comparative thoughts.


message 25: by Socksv (new)

Socksv enomous well


message 26: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany I really wwdvwwcvwcvwcwcwcvwfwfwvwfwvfwvfwvfvwfwwffwwfwvfvwwvdvwfwvdwvfwvfwvfvwfvwfvwfwwdvfwvwfwvacwj


Louise Really liked your message to biographers and looking forward to reading the book soon. Thanks


message 28: by leynes (new)

leynes SIT DOWN JOHN YOU FAT M----------- :D


message 29: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy Your enthusiasm is palpable and now I can't wait to read this. Also, thank you for REVIEWING the book and not writing a summary.


Emily Fuger You should read basically anything by Ron Chernow. Prepare to be wowed again.


Albert Really. You want McCullough to tighten his prose. I suspect it is more a problem of a tightened sphincter.


Brittany F I heartily agree!


message 33: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg But Adams tried to override the 1st amendment!


message 34: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg And he had the right to do so, given the issues!


Andrew So I was trying to write a review and then I read this one and realized that everything I wanted to say had already been written here. In spades.


Jonathan Arrowood Completely agree!


message 37: by Lori (new)

Lori Moore Nice


message 38: by Greg (last edited Oct 15, 2018 08:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Stephen wrote: "Esteban wrote: "Does the book highlight Adams's statesmanship? An extrapolation of his integrity, I guess you could say. He walked a very fine line during a very delicate period: dealing with the b..."

I liked best of all the explanation of the Electoral College and the reason it exists. I remember in grade school civics being taught that the Founding Fathers and others put the EC in place because at that time, communications lacking and slov (keyboard not vorking today correctly) and so only the people in the knov should vote. That made sense, no telephones, lots of people illiterate, etc. That said, the talk is that it still is a good idea because if there vere no EC, about 10-12 states could elect the POTUS and therefore campaigns could only happen in 10-12 states. BUT originally, there vere no political parties, so the utilization of the EC couldn't be abused by parties. In 1800, only property ovners could vote. Jefferson and Burr decided that, for voting day, people living in slum housing in Nyork ovned a portion of that building, and could vote. THAT's the method Jefferson used to become president, Burr going door to door and informing slumlords that on voting day, all tenants ovned part of the building and could vote. Jefferson took all EC votes in NYork, and then vas elected presented. vithout the fake slum ovners vote, Jefferson may not have become POTUS. At least from the perspective of the author of this book, this story is the vay things happened. So, from day 1, apparently the abuse of the EC began. I'm not saying it's only republicans that abuse it. Or any specific group/state abuses it, or that democrats abuse it. I'm saying the EC has been abused from day 1, and the author made that clear. Should it still be used? Could there be changes for improvement? I think there is alvays improvements that can be made to anything. Before retirement, corporate America talked about Beta testing nev tech, etc. But to me, everything is alvays being beta tested, by everyone, every day. If you've read this far, I'd be surprised, but thanks. (I've vritten about 600 books, rated about 1200. I might have 100 likes in total, and far more negative comments than positive concerning my thoughts on books. (And lots of 'stfu' comments so I just let that roll off my shoulders. ) And if I interpreted the book incorrectly, please correct me!


message 39: by Kristina (new) - added it

Kristina Great review, I'll be reading this one now.


message 40: by Ryan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ryan Williams Nice review but do drop the bad habit of using caps for key terms. It gives the impression you think people online are deaf.


message 41: by Daniel (new) - added it

Daniel Your enthusiastic review convinced me to read it as soon as I finish Anna Karenina
for the second time.


Ewandro If this is what you mean with freedom, then we are systemic enemies. I quote from this.
When you hear “founding fathers”, it can’t end well. It only suggests a different kind of nationalism: “patriotism” they call it. It’s like LGBTQIetc. (ch. 5) in the place of binary identifications: it’s still identities. Why care? Why care where you live, or about names? We’re talking about 19th and 18th century: that was not freedom. Also, the “ancient romans”: you can’t say that liberty (civilization) started there, and then evolved. As long as there were slaves (or simply no discursivity), it had nothing to do with liberty.


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