John Adams by David McCullough follows the life and times of the second, and commonly forgotten, president of the United States. It always struck me as bizarre that everyone tends to know about Washington and Jefferson, but that John Adams is generally only appreciated by history nerds like myself. Clearly, the man is no Millard Fillmore, but he does deserve more recognition than he often receives.
McCullough’s writing style is fantastic. The book, which is ample in length, seems to flow in such a way that I could easily read for long stretches at a time. McCullough’s research is exemplary, and his insights into Adams’ character successfully humanize his subject. McCullough does not fawn over Adams the way many biographers tend to do with their subjects. He provides criticism where appropriate, but his overall tone is certainly positive.
Without mentioning every incident in John Adams’ life, all of which make for engaging reading, one of the most fascinating incidents involves his legal defense of the perpetrators of the “Boston Massacre.” Additionally, his role as a diplomat during the American Revolution is at times unintentionally humorous as he tries to come to terms with the French and watches Benjamin Franklin become an automatic hit in Paris. I do not think that many Americans at the time (or today) could properly understand the French, but John Adams’ talents certainly would have been better employed elsewhere.
John Adams’ presidency is equally fascinating, and I would be remiss not to mention that he avoid a war with France, which would have likely had disastrous consequences, when the popular opinion tended toward war. I cannot help but draw a comparison between Adams and George Bush (the first) and his decision not to escalate the Gulf War. Both are one-term presidents who do not receive proper recognition from history. Adams’ ability to follow his own conscience, with the help of his wife Abigail, is one of the main traits that I admire about him.
I suppose the HBO show John Adams (which was based on McCullough’s book) did a bit to remedy the public perception of Adams. Incidentally, the medieval documentary Games of Thrones is also a fascinating bit of history, but I digress.
John Adams is one of the most engaging and thought-provoking biographies that I ever read. I highly recommend that readers pick up a copy and follow John Adam’s on his journey through America’s most pivotal history.
Click to purchase John Adams