John Adams just died, dammit.

[from the vaults, July 5, 2010]

So I’m sitting here bawling because John Adams just died. It doesn’t seem to matter that it happened 182 years ago.

adamsThe best biographers understand that a biography is not only a history of the title subject but a time machine to the time in which he or she lived. Having read David McCullough’s John Adams, I now feel like I was in the room when John (look at that, we’re on a first-name basis) rose in Congress to speak in support of the Declaration of Independence, like I was sitting at Abigail’s elbow when she wrote to him wherever he was, Philadelphia, Paris, Amsterdam, London. There are so many great word pictures, like the one of John helping to repel boarders when his ship came under attack crossing the Atlantic, told this time in the words of the ship’s captain.

And Abigail. Has there ever been such a woman? Has there ever been such a partnership? It’s almost enough to make me believe in marriage.

Of course it helps that John and Abigail both were such indefatigable correspondents (they weren’t happy that they were so many times separated but we sure lucked out) and such amazingly good writers. The quality of their writing, as well as that of their multitude of other correspondents is certain to leave you wondering where the hell that ability went.

McCullough’s organizational skills in plucking just the right phrase from just the right letter are astonishing, and his own prose doesn’t suffer by comparison, either. A glorious, you-are-there book.

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Dana View All →

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10 Comments Leave a comment

  1. The series on HBO made from this book was extraordinary. Inspiring and at times extremely difficult to watch.

    We cried several times watching the series.

  2. As Lymaree said, the HBO series was superb in every aspect. I confess that until I watched it, I didn’t know John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day (dammit).

  3. Thank you Dana!

    I LOVE history and like Lymaree really really enjoyed the HBO movie about Adams.

    I have a great library system where I live in NW Washington and looked to see if I could listen to this book – YES! they have it on CD along with five other titles by McCullough. I am looking forward to many hours of enjoyable learning.

    Thank you so much for the recommendation!!!

  4. I should read the book. I have to absolutely agree with the others – Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney did a masterful job and the show was very moving.

  5. Bought my copy of this book at a library sale for less than $5. Hardcover. Yup still bragging about that two years later. One of the best deal I’ve ever gotten on a book.

  6. Am having my high school literature class read this book this year. Can’t wait to introduce them to John Adams as well as David McCullough’s amazing writing skills. Great, great book!!
    PS: Minor trivia – David McCullough was the narrator for “The Civil War” documentary by Ken Burns – his voice is as easy on the ear as his words are on the soul…

  7. I am a direct descendant of John Adams and was so excited to read that book. Even though it doesn’t mean much after so many generations, I was proud to find out I was related to such a great man. I, too, was greatly saddened by the telling of his death and wish that I had been able to know him personally.

  8. This book has really stayed with me over the years. It is magnificent. What a woman true partner and was Abigail Adams! John Adams has become my definition of the word patriot with his act of heroism in serving as a defense attorney for British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre. Adams later wrote in his diary:

    “The part I took in defense of captain Preston and the soldiers, procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country. Judgment of death against those soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this country as the executions of the Quakers or witches, anciently.”

    Justice, fairness, statesmanship, and freedom had meaning for the man. I can imagine he would find the state of our nation beyond troubling.

  9. Very cool, Amy. And Kelly, I would imagine that a lot of modern politics today would have the Founders scratching their heads. I’d love to hear what they had to say about strict constitutionalists, just for starters.

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