09 August 2011

Book Review: John Adams

Title: John Adams
Author: David McCullough
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster / 2001
Date Finished: 8 August 2011
Source/Format: Grandpa / Print
Book #: 70

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

The Short and Sweet of It
John Adams is one of the most influential and important men in American politics. One of the founding fathers, Adams was instrumental in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and in the American Revolution. He served as the nation's first Vice President and second President. And he was a dedicated husband and father. McCullough relates Adams' life and reveals a turbulent and admirable time in American history.

A Bit of a Ramble
That's right. I finished it. Wallace at Unputdownables hosted a readalong of this historical tome, but said readalong was supposed to end June 24th. Way back in April, I read the first four chapters, and then in May I read chapters five and six. My chapter seven post was put off due to the Armchair BEA, and then the reading/blogging hiatus happened. In other words, I am so far behind posting this, it's rather obnoxious. Yet, I am thrilled I finished the book.

At 751 over-sized historically dense pages, John Adams is not for the faint-of-heart. And yet, it is amazingly readable. McCullough does a wonderful job of bringing the time, culture, and characters to life while simultaneously delivering a wealth of information regarding a complex political climate. The time in which Adams lived was a time of revolution, a time of change, and the book includes many of the notable figures of the time. Thomas Jefferson, of course, features prominently throughout the story, and I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of these two powerful, intelligent, diverse men. I also liked hearing about Benjamin Franklin, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, and most importantly Abigail Adams.

Abigail is a fascinating person. Highly intelligent, vocal in her opinions, and an absolutely perfect companion for John, she captured my interest from the very first, and I've already started looking for books focused more directly on her. This book does more than reveal history; it forms a connection between the readers and the Adams' family.

At the end of the book is a Conversation with David McCullough in which he answers the following question: What do you want readers to get out of this book? McCullough answers, "I want readers to gain an appreciation of the singular, colorful, and immeasurably important man who had so much to do with how we all live." I really, truly did. Adams came alive for me in this book in a way not many "characters" in nonfiction have for me. I feel I knew him.

McCullough also hopes that readers "will get a feeling of having been alive in that vanished time. There's a widespread sense among people today that our founders were just like we are. In part, of course, that's true, but in many ways they were very different from us. I hope people will come away from this book with a far greater understanding of them, and a greater measure of respect and admiration for what those men and women went through and how much we owe them for all they endured and all they achieved."

Absolutely. Reading this book gave me chills. Knowing the facts of the American Revolution in no way compares to knowing the people of it, and McCullough does a fantastic job of creating deep characters the reader can both relate to and admire. These people were deep thinkers, strong in their convictions, and willing to fight to be heard in a way we now lack. I even got teary-eyed from time to time with that sort of national pride people feel for their forefathers.

I definitely recommend reading this book.

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

Unputdownables; Care's Online Book Club;

Question: Has anyone read other McCullough books? Should I give any one in particular a try?


  1. I'm glad you finished it, even if it took awhile! I've never read David McCullough, so I'll be curious if you get any good recommendations.

  2. I have always wanted to read history, but can't seem to get over the impression that it will be dry and dusty. I am sort of a nonfiction baby, and will only read the most weird or wild things. I really like science or nature writing, but would love to one day try history. Kudos to you for finishing this one!

  3. I read his book on the Johnstown Flood and loved it. He's a highly readable author. The Johnstown Flood book is much shorter than this one is. I know some people are intimidated by longer history texts.

  4. My husband read this and felt it was a bit biased since almost all the footnotes referenced writings of Abigail or John. I didn't read this one, but I did catch a bit of the HBO series since I love Laura Linney (and she was just luminous). I did try reading McCullough's book on the making of the Brooklyn Bridge, but I got bored and DNF'ed it....

  5. I adored his book on Harry Truman. I had just moved to Missouri and thought it a good idea to learn a bit abt their favored son. What a guy!

  6. Fantastic review!! I've been getting more into non-fiction lately... and I have a renewed sense of interest in politics, historical figures, etc. after my recent trip to DC so this review was very timely for me, lol. I would just be worried about the density of it though. I have Abigail and John: portrait of a marriage that I bought at the Library of Congress so maybe I'll start with that but will definitely keep this one in mind if/when I decide I want to read more!

  7. This sounds really good. I've been meaning to read a David McCullough book for quite awhile, but I just haven't gotten around to it. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. I fell apart on the readalong but I am determined to read this book before I go to Boston in October!

  9. I was participating in the read along as well, but got caught up with finals and now I am trying to get back into the groove of reading it.

  10. Kim - I feel I can safely recommend him just on reading this one book.

    Heather - This one was far from dry because John was just such an interesting character (and the subject matter is so well revolutionary). :)

    James - I actually have that one on the shelves from my grandpa, so I'm super excited to have it recommended!

    Jill - Bias in history doesn't really bother me because I, in no way, believe in unbiased history. Historiography was a passion of mine in college. :)

    Care - I will add the Truman one to my list!

    Jenny - I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the Abigail and John book. I could definitely read more on their marriage.

    MJ - This is definitely one his longer books, and it took me awhile to read, but it was worth it.

    Jill - I would give it another try. Little bits at a time is how I recommend reading this one.

    Book Snob - Finals can definitely throw you off your reading game! I hope you pick it up again.

  11. Wow, great review! You have me curious about this book and I never give too much thought about our forefathers in a concentrated way. I shall have to get around to reading this.



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