Review by Booklist Review
John Adams and George H. W. Bush share a unique place in American history: both were presidents themselves, and both fathered presidents. McCullough's masterpiece of biography--his first book since the equally distinguished Truman (1992)--brings John Adams pere out from the shadow of his predecessor in the presidency, the Founding Father George Washington. Of hardy New England stock and blessed with a happy upbringing, Adams led an adult life that paralleled the American colonies' movement toward independence and the establishment of the American republic, a long but inspiring process in which Adams was heavily involved. Adams' historical reputation is that of a cold, cranky person who couldn't get along with other people; McCullough sees him as blunt and thin-skinned--and consequently not good at taking criticism--but also as a person of great intelligence, compassion, and even warmth. According to McCullough, Adams' drive to succeed influenced nearly every move he made. He was a lawyer by profession, but when rumblings of self-governance began to stir, Adams' inherent love of personal liberty inevitably drew him into an important role in what was to come. Interestingly, McCullough avers that Adams did not view his election to the presidency as the crowning achievement of his career, for he "was inclined to look back upon the long struggle for independence as the proud defining chapter." But Adams' greatest accomplishment as president, so he himself believed, was the peace his administration brought to the land. This is a wonderfully stirring biography; to read it is to feel as if you are witnessing the birth of a country firsthand. --Brad Hooper
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Here a preeminent master of narrative history takes on the most fascinating of our founders to create a benchmark for all Adams biographers. With a keen eye for telling detail and a master storyteller's instinct for human interest, McCullough (Truman; Mornings on Horseback) resurrects the great Federalist (1735-1826), revealing in particular his restrained, sometimes off-putting disposition, as well as his political guile. The events McCullough recounts are well-known, but with his astute marshaling of facts, the author surpasses previous biographers in depicting Adams's years at Harvard, his early public life in Boston and his role in the first Continental Congress, where he helped shape the philosophical basis for the Revolution. McCullough also makes vivid Adams's actions in the second Congress, during which he was the first to propose George Washington to command the new Continental Army. Later on, we see Adams bickering with Tom Paine's plan for government as suggested in Common Sense, helping push through the draft for the Declaration of Independence penned by his longtime friend and frequent rival, Thomas Jefferson, and serving as commissioner to France and envoy to the Court of St. James's. The author is likewise brilliant in portraying Adams's complex relationship with Jefferson, who ousted him from the White House in 1800 and with whom he would share a remarkable death date 26 years later: July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration. (June) Forecast: Joseph Ellis has shown us the Founding Fathers can be bestsellers, and S&S knows it has a winner: first printing is 350,000 copies, and McCullough will go on a 15-city tour; both Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club have taken this book as a selection. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
McCullough's epic biography won both Audie awards for nonfiction in 2002. An abridged version, expertly narrated by Edward Herrmann, is more approachable but reduces the material to nine discs. The much more robust unabridged version is narrated by Nelson Runger. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A great, troubled, and, it seems, overlooked president receives his due from the Pulitzer-winning historian/biographer McCullough (Truman, 1992, etc.). John Adams, to gauge by the letters and diaries from which McCullough liberally quotes, did not exactly go out of his way to assume a leadership role in the tumultuous years of the American Revolution, though he was always ambitious to excel. Neither, however, did he shy from what he perceived to be a divinely inspired historical necessity; he took considerable personal risks in spreading the American colonists rebellion across his native Massachusetts. Adams gained an admirable reputation for fearlessness and for devotion not only to his cause but also to his beloved wife Abigail. After the Revolution, though he was quick to yield to the rebellion's military leader, George Washington, part of the reason that the New England states enjoyed influence in a government dominated by Virginians was the force of Adams's character. His lifelong nemesis, who tested that character in many ways, was also one of his greatest friends: Thomas Jefferson, who differed from Adams in almost every important respect. McCullough depicts Jefferson as lazy, a spendthrift, always in debt and always in trouble, whereas Adams never rested and never spent a penny without good reason, a holdover from the comparative poverty of his youth. Despite their sometimes vicious political battles (in a bafflingly complex environment that McCullough carefully deconstructs), the two shared a love of books, learning, and revolutionary idealism, and it is one of those wonderful symmetries of history that both died on the same day, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While McCullough never misses an episode in Adams's long and often troubled life, he includes enough biographical material on Jefferson that this can be considered two biographies for the price of onewhich explains some of its portliness. Despite the whopping length, there's not a wasted word in this superb, swiftly moving narrative, which brings new and overdue honor to a Founding Father. Author tour
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