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Monday, August 17, 2009

"John Adams" - a review

I read a lot of books. Very quickly – much to my friend Catherine’s dismay as she tries to keep me supplied with books. Periodically I read a book that I actually remember after I finish. “John Adams” by David McCullough will now join the ranks of my favorite books.

My foray into American revolutionary history began with “1776” by the same author. My education is woefully incomplete during this period of critical development of the USA, and finally, prompted by the Armstrong and Getty Show during their annual 4th of July beratement of the “sheeples” of America for knowing nothing about the founding fathers (Melinda raises her hand here….), I went to the library.

“1776” is a light read, encompassing only the period of American history that occurred in 1776. It dumps you in the middle of the war, and seems to assume at the end of the book that you knew how the war ended (besides America winning of course)…As I didn’t, I looked for my next book that would provide a more comprehensive history. A biography of either John Adams or Benjamin Franklin was suggested by a good friend, and I chose “John Adams” by David McCullough, as I thoroughly enjoyed his “1776”.

“John Adams” is a much different read from “1776”. While “1776” was short and fast, “John Adams” took me several weeks to complete. “1776” had me proclaiming to people I knew (and didn’t know…) that this was a "must read" because I felt everyone should understand this critical period. “John Adams” left me reflective and reluctant to recommend because of the depth and reading level. Without some sort of background (such as what “1776” provided) I think the reader may get lost and bored.

The points that made the biggest impression are as follows:
1. This country came very close to never existing many, many times. (by “existing”, I mean in the form it is today). It seems that when this period of history is taught, or discussed, the fact that the war would be won by America seems a foregone conclusion. It was far, far from that. Many people (I am not a historian, so all my “facts” in this post can be seen as my personal conclusions from reading) saw the formation of the country and victory over Britain as divine providence (or “luck”), and I now have a tendency to agree.

2. I’m not sure I would have been a revolutionary if I lived during that period. What they did was certainly against the law, absolutely treason etc., but I don’t think, before now, I really understood what they did. Victory by Britain seemed certain, the concessions/pardons they offered more than fair, and the devastation, (by both sides) looting, and raping unspeakable. The whole country was certainly not behind the efforts of the revolutionaries.

3. The vicious attacks against politicians, the behind-the-scenes wrangling and vote-fixing, the lies and rumors deliberately spread, the press, and the strong differences of opinion of what direction the country should go was just as present in the early days of our country as it is now.. It has been here since the beginning and isn’t likely to change. The attacks against George Washington and John Adams in particular were absolutely appalling, even in view of our national politics today. It gave me some comfort and perspective regarding the present issues facing the country, as our country has survived and flourished so far, even with a turmulent and shaky past.

4. I am immensely, indescribably proud of my country. And not just because I happen to think this is the best place to live in the world – but because of the knowledge of our history.

I could relate to the personality and character of John Adams better than any biography I have read to date. I thought that his personality and perception of life was remarkably close to mine. How exciting! I do not presume to be on John Adams level at all – he was brilliant and knew that he was going to be someone in this world from an early age, but it was very interesting to learn about someone who had a huge influence in the making of our country, and realize that I could relate to him! As any good biographer, McCoullogh also points out the Adams weaknesses, and those too I could relate to. I live in a different time than Adams and may never have the opportunity to do the great and influential things that he did on such a grand level, but I can strive to do worthwhile and meaningful things within my sphere of influence.

John Adams had the need to write and left an amazing amount of letters, correspondence, and documents behind. He was passionate, straightforward, honest, loyal, and could be a bit impulsive. He was also reflective about himself and his behavior. I can relate! How many times I have sat and wrote in a journal about my shortcomings and vow not to fall prey to them! John Adams had similar writings.

I found myself not liking Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. It’s complex, but in a nutshell, John Adams had problems with them both and I can TOTALLY see it. T. Jefferson had no self-control when it came to personal finances (I have a hard time feeling kindly towards these kind of people), and Benjamin Franklin played the political game very well (which made him an excellent Ambassador, which I can admire, but don’t have to like).

Abigail Adams, John Adams wife, sounds like a delightful person that I wish I could meet and talk to. I’ve never felt the keen sadness of living in a different time than another person before.

I look forward to learning more about John Adams and the time period in history. I hope you join me in exploring the roots and origins of our country.

1 comment:

  1. I started John Adams some time back, enjoyed it, but sort of trailed off as time and attention became crunched. Yes, I agree, my eyes became more opened while reading it. The presidents end up being little symbols, or placemarkers of our history. They become objects that have historical importance based on their order, like a numbered coin set, rather than real leaders living through real times of crises.


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