by David McCullough
A review by Adrienne Miller
GIST: David McCullough, probably our greatest historical biographer, turns his nimble, penetrating intelligence to Founding Father John Adams. McCullough possesses a novelist's fascination with human nature, and through this perspective
has created a grand, dazzling portrait of a most complex and brilliant man – the man who was largely responsible for the Declaration of Independence (although Jefferson would surely have disagreed), who was the author of the original Constitution, and who fathered a president.
DETAILS: Given that your average American learned much of his country's history at that show at Disney World with the scary automatons in goofy Amadeus-era tights, it's no small feat that this narrative succeeds so marvelously well at rendering all these players of early American history human. Jefferson went out to buy ladies gloves after the Declaration of Independence was written in Philadelphia. Voltaire and Franklin hugged at the Academy of Sciences in Paris. John Hancock had gout. John Adams was a portly man, of average height, had a tremendous sense of humor, said to his son (the future president John Quincy Adams) "a taste for literature and a turn for business, united in the same person, never fails to make a great man," loved Cicero, was deeply opposed to slavery (Washington and Jefferson, in contrast, owned about 200 slaves each), and prized erudition and education above all else. "His understanding lies," in the words of a British spy named William Alexander, "in seeing large things largely." Adams was very much in love with his intelligent and headstrong wife Abigail, who addressed her letters to him, "My dearest friend." Here is a book that's so good it'll make you shiver.
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