Synopses & Reviews
The Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of Founding Brothers
and His Excellency
brings Americas preeminent first couple to life in a moving and illuminating narrative that sweeps through the American Revolution and the republics tenuous early years.
John and Abigail Adams left an indelible and remarkably preserved portrait of their lives together in their personal correspondence: both Adamses were prolific letter writers (although John conceded that Abigail was clearly the more gifted of the two), and over the years they exchanged more than twelve hundred letters. Joseph J. Ellis distills this unprecedented and unsurpassed record to give us an account both intimate and panoramic; part biography, part political history, and part love story.
Ellis describes the first meeting between the two as inauspicious — John was twenty-four, Abigail just fifteen, and each was entirely unimpressed with the other. But they soon began a passionate correspondence that resulted in their marriage five years later.
Over the next decades, the couple were separated nearly as much as they were together. Johns political career took him first to Philadelphia, where he became the boldest advocate for the measures that would lead to the Declaration of Independence. Yet in order to attend the Second Continental Congress, he left his wife and children in the middle of the war zone that had by then engulfed Massachusetts. Later he was sent to Paris, where he served as a minister to the court of France alongside Benjamin Franklin. These years apart stressed the Adamses union almost beyond what it could bear: Abigail grew lonely, while the Adams children suffered from their fathers absence.
John was elected the nations first vice president, but by the time of his reelection, Abigails health prevented her from joining him in Philadelphia, the interim capital. She no doubt had further reservations about moving to the swamp on the Potomac when John became president, although this time he persuaded her. President Adams inherited a weak and bitterly divided country from George Washington. The political situation was perilous at best, and he needed his closest advisor by his side: “I can do nothing,” John told Abigail after his election, “without you.”
In Elliss rich and striking new history, John and Abigails relationship unfolds in the context of Americas birth as a nation.
"Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Ellis (Founding Brothers) gives 'the premier husband-wife team in all American history' starring roles in an engrossing romance. His Abigail has an acute intellect, but is not quite a protofeminist heroine: her ambitions are limited to being a mother and helpmeet, and in the iconic correspondence she often strikes the traditional pose of a neglected wife who sacrifices her happiness by giving up her husband to the call of duty. The author's more piquant portrait of John depicts an insecure, mercurial, neurotic man stabilized by Abigail's love and advice. Ellis's implicit argument — that the John/Abigail partnership lies at the foundation of the Adams family's public achievements — is a bit over-played, and not always to the advantage of the partnership: 'Her judgment was a victim of her love for John...,' Ellis writes of Abigail's support for the Alien and Sedition Acts, the ugliest blot on John's presidency, all of which explains little and excuses less. Still, Ellis's supple prose and keen psychological insight give a vivid sense of the human drama behind history's upheavals. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“Written with the grace and style one expects from the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Founding Brothers....John Adams could not have a better biographer.” The Los Angeles Times
“The author’s fluid style penetrates a correspondence studded with classical references, political dish, felicitous turns of phrases and unvarnished pleadings of affection and anxiety. America’s first power couple enjoyed, teased and rescued each other during 54 years of marriage.” Newark Star-Ledger
“Ellis’s strength is his ability to portray historical icons as real human beings, and his talent remains sharp....Ellis has made himself into a sort of bard of our early Republic, and [First Family] is a fitting addition to his repertoire.” Miami Herald
“Richly detailed...erudite as well as eloquent, First Family proves that bedfellows can make superior politics.” Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Ellis is that rare professional historian who can eloquently convey both information and insight with remarkable clarity...[he] has once again given us a consistently engaging dual biography and love story as well as an insightful exploration of early American history.” Bookpage
“First Family invites you into a sustaining marriage that survives revolution, personal tragedies and the vicious politics of the moment. In this election year, it’s valuable reading.” Newsday
“The author’s beautiful writing draws the reader wholly into this relationship, bringing new perspective to the historical importance of this enduring love story. An impeccable account of the politics, civics and devotion behind the Adams marriage.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“In addition to looking at the strengths of the Adams’ marriage, the book examines the toll taken by their years apart and the misfortunes in the lives of all their children except John Quincy. Ellis has produced a very readable history of the nation’s founding as lived by these two.” Booklist
"The Adams family -- John, Abigail, the four children who reached adulthood -- is hot. John's breakthrough came with the publication of David McCullough's big biography in 2001 and its subsequent conversion into the popular HBO miniseries. Abigail was recently the subject of a Bancroft Prize-winning biography by Woody Holton. The Adams' marriage and family were treated in Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage, a fine book by Edith Gelles, which was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize. One might have thought this would have sated the market. But now we have one more book on what of Joseph Ellis calls America's "First Family." Ellis's production will undoubtedly eclipse its predecessors in publicity and sales." Jack Rakove, The New Republic
(Read the entire New Republic review
The prizewinning, best-selling author of Founding Brothers
and His Excellency
brings America’s preeminent first couple to life in a moving and illuminating narrative that sweeps through the American Revolution and the Republic’s tenuous early years.
Joseph J. Ellis gives us a story both intimate and panoramic: equal parts biography, political history, and love story. In a fifty-plus-year political and personal partnership, John and Abigail strategized over civic and foreign affairs as often as they discussed their children and Abigail’s loneliness during John’s extended absences required by his work. Their remarkable connection is epitomized in words he wrote to her after his election to the presidency: “I can do nothing without you.”
The Adams marriage — in all its complexity, richness, triumph, and sorrow — is revealed as never before in this masterly and essential work of history.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of Founding Brothers and His Excellency brings America's preeminent first couple to life in a moving and illuminating narrative that unfolds in the context of America's birth as a nation.
About the Author
Joseph J. Ellis won the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers. His portrait of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx, won the National Book Award. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and their youngest son.