Movies Books Music Food Tv Shows Technology Politics Video Games Parenting Fashion Green Living more >

Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » John Adams (David McCullough book) » User review

Fitting monument to the forgotten Founding Father

  • Nov 30, 2012
John Adams was an 80-year-old former President and still constant patriot when his beloved wife wrote these words, as reported in McCullough's masterful biography:

"Your father's zeal for books will be one of the last desires which will quit him," Abigail observed to [son] John Quincy in the spring of 1816, as Adams eagerly embarked on a sixteen volume French history.

It is most fitting, then, that this founder, who has no monument in Washington, DC to mark his place in the pantheon of patriots, is memorialized in McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography.  Lest you think perhaps that Adams' forgotten status is overstated you need only do two things to correct your view:

1.  Quick list the Founding Fathers in the order you recall them!  Franklin, Jefferson, Washington . . . . Adams--and even then you might ask John, or Sam (John has no microbrew named for him, either).  John seemed fated to be overlooked by his

  • personality (alternately New England granite and prickly self-defensive), 
  • role (years spent out sight/out of mind in Europe participating in arduous negotiations),
  • geography (Virginians were the aristocrats, Pennsylvanians the populists),
  • family (while the Adams family became the first great family in American politics, John Adams is the progenitor, not the beneficiary, of that family prominence),
  • and politics (Adams was consistently his own man and no party's man, even as the American two-party system was building to predominance with startling rapidity).

2).  Read this biography, where you will learn how often his contemporaries at best took Adams for granted or at worst blamed him for various degrees of failure, corruption, or even insanity.  McCullough never flinches from showing the real Adams (amply revealed in voluminous letters) who was at times
  • perhaps too virtuous to a fault in his refusal to play politics,
  • too self-defensive to accept and deflect criticism in instructive exchanges with his opponents,
  • but also too incorruptible to bow to temptations that were available and diverted the abilities of some his contemporaries like Jefferson, Hamilton, and Burr. 

His Presidency wasn't brilliant, but he did steer a steady course between corrupt parties at home and certainly disastrous war with the stunningly unstable superpower France.  And his honest and honorable negotiation style earned him begrudging respect during his diplomatic service in Paris, Amsterdam, and London.   It was this thankless, powerful and personally painful service (he was separated: from his much beloved partner in marriage and letter writing Abigail for most of seven years) that literally founded and saved America.

And in McCullough's model narrative style, you will not only learn to overlook Adams at your peril, you will also meet an amazing man of humor, learning, curiosity, science, law, and passion.  His letter exchanges with Abigail hint at their marital passion and love for their children, grandchildren, and wide and expanding extended family.  Surely he was a rock-ribbed New Englander, but he was also a great friend, traveler, and ultimately joyful and optimistic observer of the fallen world he inhabited with grace--a grace perhaps most visibly displayed in the powerful correspondence he picked up with his fellow founder Jefferson in the last 15 years of their lives.  Despite their geographic and political differences Jefferson had been a one-time friend in Continental Congress in Philadelphia and in the diplomatic courts of Paris, but became a bitter political enemy of President Adams, attacking him viciously through direct and indirect channels of party and journalistic communication, stooping to the level of paying for false witness against Adams' presidential policies, actions, and character.  While open to the charge of petulant self-defensiveness, few then or now would have shown the forbearance of Adams.  Then, with both men in retirement, Franklin began, through mutual friend and founder Benjamin Rush, the great letter-writing campaign that left an irreplaceable record of the conception of the American experiment, and its tenuous survival in those founding years.  When both great men died within hours on July 4, 1826 at the 50th anniversary of this birth, they were forever linked as comrades in liberty.

So spend a few precious hours with this great man (who of all the fathers seems likely to have been the best friend we all would want) in this deserving monument to his greatness.

What did you think of this review?

Fun to Read
Post a Comment
More John Adams (David McCullough b... reviews
review by . January 10, 2004
The book is written in an easy-to-read narrative which will  capture the interest of any American history enthusiast.   John Adams was a graduate of Harvard College, a United States  President and busy advocate for legal clients. In 1772, he   appeared in over 200 Superior Court cases with famous clients  like John Hancock. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress.  Jonathan Sewall concluded early that Adams was headed for   greatness. …
review by . June 28, 2010
It took me several months to get through this book. It is well-researched but VERY lengthy and dry at times. Don't start it unless you are a history buff with a lot of time on your hands.      Overall, the book matched the trajectory of Adams' life. I was interested to learn about his early career as a lawyer in Boston - he defended some of the British soldiers involved in the Boston massacre. His logic for representing them is actually quite moving to read and reflect …
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
McCullough shows Adams to be one of the more boring men of rthe time. Unable to make a sucess in many fields, such as farmer, lawyer, diplomat so they made him the Presidnet
review by . July 01, 2010
This was an incredibly inspiring read.  The very foundation of our nation is unveiled.  John Adams was at the forefront of our nations beginnings, he is a hero and is hailed as such in this inspiring read. I would recommend this book in heartbeat to anyone.  The book reads like a novel, Mccullough writes as if he lived right along side John Adams.  He knows things that could only be attained through long and arduous research.  This book is exciting, it makes you feel proud …
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
David McCullough has an insight when it comes to historical figures.
Quick Tip by . June 11, 2010
Awesome book and history, Good read.
review by . March 01, 2009
McCullough has done a great service in reminding us what an important influence John Adams had in the founding of our nation. He is too often a forgotten figure in our nation's pantheon of founders. Adams' importance in securing our independence and protecting and perpetuating the federal government under the Constitution is arguably greater than Thomas Jefferson's. Among Adams' accomplishments: (1) He was an important influence in the committee that revised Jefferson's draft of the Declaration …
review by . July 10, 2002
I recently re-read two biographies. The other is Edmund Morris's biography of Theodore Roosevelt. However greatly their two subjects differ, both are written with the narrative skills of a novelist, the discipline of a consummate historian, and an objectivity which enables the reader to absorb and digest the abundance of information without manipulation by the biographer. Whereas Morris limits his attention to a period which extending from 1901 when Roosevelt became President after McKinley was …
review by . August 31, 2001
David McCullough's volume was of great satisfaction to me. Mr Adams and his son John Quincy have always been personal heros of mine. Just as Amistad gave the country a look at John Quincy, Mr. McCullough give us a look at John warts and all. The warts are few. Over and over we see a man singing the praises of virtue, frugality, honesty, in short CHARACTER! I suspect that the success of this book has something to do with the times. Adams (and his son and wife) are just the type of examples and heroes …
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
Consider the Source

Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.

Your ratings:
rate more to improve this
About this book


Pulitzer Prize winning biography of the 2nd President of the United States, John Adams (October 30, 1735  – July 4, 1826).

Left to his own devices, John Adams might have lived out his days as a Massachusetts country lawyer, devoted to his family and friends. As it was, events swiftly overtook him, and Adams--who, David McCullough writes, was "not a man of the world" and not fond of politics--came to greatness as the second president of the United States, and one of the most distinguished of a generation of revolutionary leaders. He found reason to dislike sectarian wrangling even more in the aftermath of war, when Federalist and anti-Federalist factions vied bitterly for power, introducing scandal into an administration beset by other difficulties--including pirates on the high seas, conflict with France and England, and all the public controversy attendant in building a nation.

Overshadowed by the lustrous presidents Washington and Jefferson, who bracketed his tenure in office, Adams emerges from McCullough's brilliant biography as a truly heroic figure--not only for his significant role in the American Revolution but also for maintaining his personal integrity in its strife-filled aftermath. McCullough spends much of his narrative examining the troubled friendship between Adams and Jefferson, who had in common a love for books and ideas but differed on almost every other imaginable point. Reading his pages, it is easy to imagine the two as alter ...

view wiki


ISBN-10: 0743223136
ISBN-13: 978-0743223133
Author: David McCollough
Genre: American History,Biography, Biographies & Memoirs, History, Nonfiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: September 2002
Format: Hardback,Paperback
First to Review

"Excellent biography!"
© 2015 Lunch.com, LLC All Rights Reserved
Lunch.com - Relevant reviews by real people.
This is you!
Ranked #
Last login
Member since