John Adams as a subject and David McCullough as a biographer were made for one another. Adams was a prolific letter writer and essayist whose wife, family, and friends also wrote a great deal. With so much raw material from and about Adams to choose from, McCullough could emphasize his obvious talent for creating a smooth narration through simply connecting the most pertinent written materials authored by the key figures.
Most people who read this book will gain three important lessons:
(1) even the most successful people look to their personal lives for their real satisfaction;
(2) exploring deep relationships with remarkable people is far more rewarding than knowing lots of people; and
(3) serious mistakes and antagonisms will dog even the most successful person, so you have to take yourself with a large grain of salt.
John Adams is eclipsed in most histories of the Revolutionary period by the story line of building the new republic, and the lives of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As a result, your perception of John Adams probably is limited to his role in defending the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre, encouraging the break with Britain, his ambassadorships, and the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts during his presidency. From that, you will have a perception of a man who saw his best days in 1776 and may wonder vaguely how his son became the 6th president.
If you are like me, this book will totally change that perspective. His best days were clearly those after he left the presidency when he could enjoy private life as a farmer. His son was raised from a small boy for public life, accompanying his father to France for diplomatic service during the Revolution. John Adams also had a talent for making tough decisions that showed up well in his encouragement of George Washington to become commander-in-chief, his advocacy for the Revolution, selecting Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence, his steadfastness in finding allies in Europe regardless of protocol, his steady focus on getting sea power for the United States, and his attempts to avoid war with France while president.
On the other hand, his style made him frequently misunderstood. He believed so passionately in his ideas that he often offended people by the vigor of his pursuit of them. From those extreme actions, people assumed that he had secret, extreme views in favor of authority and monarchy . . . which was probably not the case. Mr. McCullough is probably a little too gentle in forgiving Adams for his sometimes offensive ways because of the purity of his intentions.
His life also helps anyone better understand American history because he was bedeviled by communications and travels delays more than any other American of his day. Decisions about politics normally had to be made in light of limited and out-of-date information. So the man on the spot had to use his best judgment. Many interesting examples of this are well covered in the book.
In many ways, this book is almost a triple biography of Adams, his wife Abigail, and Thomas Jefferson. The interactions of the three are the most interesting parts of the book. Clearly they were among the very most talented of their age, and you get to see how the relationships formed, were put under pressure by public life and politics, and reasserted themselves with leisure and retirement.
My main complaint about the book is that Mr. McCullough could have included a lot more about the implications of what Adams believed and did. For example, although Adams was like Washington and wanted there to be no political parties, his presidency saw that unhappy event occur. How could Adams have helped maintain the consensus that there should be no parties? Clearly, he would have had to have been more active in cleansing his own Federalist supporters . . . which would have required a break with Washington's choices. Adams also kept us out of a war with France. However, would such a war have likely been very serious for the United States? France was well occupied at the time fending off every monarchy in Europe. So, although the book raises many delicious subjects like that, you will have to think them through on your own. That's a good way to learn to think independently, so this is a blessing in disguise.
Another limitation of the book is that Adams is forgiven too easily for the Federalists passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which clearly could have destroyed our civil liberties. How could someone who had fought for liberty do anything other than oppose such legislation with every ounce of his strength?
After you finish reading this fine history, I suggest that you think about how you could learn from the example of John Adams. What did he do well that you need to do better? What virtues do you have that he lacked?
Even in the midst of crisis, be sure to notice and enjoy the wonder of life all around you!
am 21. Dezember 2001
Nach Truman und Mornings on Horseback (über T. Roosevelt) ein weiteres Meisterwerk von McCullough. Faszinierend erzählt. Nicht einfach trockene "history" sondern eine lebendige Geschichte. McCullough ist eine Kapazität auf seinem Gebiet, US history im XIX. und frühen XX. Jahrhundert. Sehr unterhaltsam geschrieben, mit einer Fülle aufschlussreicher Anekdoten.
am 17. März 2006
Bezüglich des Audiobooks: Diese Audiobook ist eigentlich nicht gerade auszuhalten! Das Problem ist wahrscheinlich auch, dass ich gerade 'Lincoln's Melancholy' gehört habe, bei dem der Sprecher Shenk wirklich die grösste verbale leistung und sensibilität erreicht. Aber was der Sprecher Herrmann bei diesem Audiobook veranstaltet ist eigentlich eine katastrophale Verunstaltung, bei der er im 'Schweinegalopp' über die Sätze geht als wenn er es eilig hat in die Mittagspause zu kommen und dazu auch immernoch die Betonungen im Satz vollkommen falsch legt, als wenn er dem Hörer ein Strafmandat vorlesen würde.
Am Ende steht man dann auch da und weiss wirklich nicht wofür John Adams eigentlich in seiner Präsidentschaft stand. Der Hohn dieses Buches ist , dass im detail die Szene beschrieben wird, in der seine Frau Abigail Adams von Paris wieder nach Boston umzieht und ihr Singvogel im Käfig so aufgeregt flattert,dass Sie es mit der Angst bekommt ( während in der Heimat wohl tausende Kriegsveteranen versuchten Ihrem lebens einen Sinn zu geben und das zu schaffen, was man heute USA nennt!). Aber: kein wort davon in diesem Buch, aber dafür: Was Abigail adams von der Einrichtung des Weissen Hauses hält--- natürlich alles unter ihrer würde- Ungewollt beschreibt McCullough hierbei wohl wie sehr der Adams-Clan ( wahrscheinlich wie der Bush-Clan) entrückt von Ihrer zeit und Ihren Menschen war.
Diese Buch ist eine sehr schöne patriotische Gute-Nacht geschichte, aber wie es den Pulitzer-preis gewinnen konnte ist mir schleierhaft, Der Leser möge es mit '1776' vom selben Autor vergleichen, was ein unterschied ist wie Tag und nacht ist.
Die beste Stelle in diesem Audiobook ist eigentlich der Punkt and dem die Stimme erschallt 'This is the end of the CD'...
...Oh nein, Freunde, dies sind höchsten, und mit aller Liebe 2 Punkte ( gottseidank war die CD so billig)