Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book 48: John Adams by David McCullough

Title: John Adams by David McCullough

Pages: 656

How it was obtained: I bought it for a quarter at a garage sale.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 ½ years

Days spent reading it: 10 days.

Why I read it: I read 1776 by David McCullough and really enjoyed it. I thought I might like his biography of John Adams as well.

Brief review: I am not usually a biography person. David McCullough is changing my mind. John Adams is a phenomenal account of one of our founding fathers. McCullough, rightly, throws us right into the American Revolution and fills in John Adams' back story as the biography progresses. McCullough is in control of the story the whole time. He masterfully weaves the primary sources of John Adams' life into the narrative. There is enough to keep us in touch with how the characters themselves felt, but not so much to overwhelm the reader.

John Adams' story really is remarkable. I was totally drawn into Adams' world. In this biography you feel his triumphs, and his failures. If there is anything that falls short in McCullough's telling, it is that we love Adams too much. Even though Adams has faults, it is difficult for the reader to recognize those faults or accept them.

There were a number of highlights in this book for me. First, it is interesting to see that the political scene during Adams' day had striking similarities to today. Newspapers were one-sided. Politicians were accused of (and committed) adultery. This sometimes ruined or advanced their careers. Political parties made clear lines that hurt the nation, fighting for their party instead of what is right for America as a whole. The world seemed like it was in moral decay.  There were even boring sermons, and thankfully some not so boring .  And I could say something about the French (like here), but I'll (sort of) refrain.

Second, issues surrounding the Civil War were not absent from the founding of the country. The North/South divide was evident even in the founding of the nation. There were issues of economics, culture, slavery, and state's rights even in the beginning. They would simply come to a head in the Civil War. Slavery especially was a real issue during this time. One question that is constantly raised, but never resolved, is: How could men like Jefferson and (gasp!) even Washington promote the God-given freedom of all men, but kept slaves even until their deaths?  Adams did not have slaves and abhorred the idea.  He was true to his principles even when it was not popular or advantageous.  I respect that a lot.

This biography was fantastic. I loved reading it from start to finish. I think McCullough has a master's touch in writing history. He really pulls us into the time period. Through his writing I felt like I was actually there. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. It is a must read for history lovers. And in truth, it is a book that inspires. Adams' history is America's history. Here was a man who gave everything for his country, and laid the foundation for the freedom America enjoys today. If you take the time to read this tome (and it is pretty long), you will definitely be rewarded. It is rich with lessons about life and liberty that we can all apply to our lives. I highly recommend.

Favorite quote: [In commenting about the French Revolution]: "But he had 'learned by awful experience to rejoice with trembling.' He could not accept the idea of enshrining reason as religion, as desired by the philosophes. 'I know not what to make of a republic of thirty million atheists.'"

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Final Word: Revolutionary.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Kathy and I listened to this on CD while driving last year in the USofA, and really liked it. Maybe we should read it.