America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses by Brookhiser (Presidential Bio Series)


This volume is like presidential biography plus. You get President John Adams as well President John Quincy Adams. It doesn’t stop there as you will trace the family to its dissolution too. Living up to its title “America’s First Dynasty”, Richard Brookhiser gives us another of his fast-paced, brief biographies that are a joy to read.

Brookhiser writes well on John Adams, though I found him to be less sympathetic than David McCullough. The political and historical side were adequately presented, but his niche is clearly familial. This family with two Presidents certainly had a cadre of failures too.

John Quincy Adams was shown as the striking, successful character he was. It is interesting that John Adams had only one good son (John Q) and John Quincy in turn had only one too. It seemed to me that Brookhiser missed what made for the success in these cases: time from a father. This was clearly missing in the others who failed.

The rest of the book is almost depressing. Each generation lost sons (often to alcohol) who went really bad. The last Adams was Henry and his story was one of despairing of life. He had no children and the dynasty ended, though as you read, you will see it actually ended before.

This is a fine book and the succeeding generations do not, at least for me, take away any admiration for our two President Adams.

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John Adams by David McCullough (Presidential Bio Series)

adams MMC

Here is a superb presidential biography by master writer David McCullough. Mr. McCullough could not be dull if he tried and this is one of his most popular books. This volume brought him his second Pulitzer Prize and I can see why. This biography has the distinction of rescuing a stalwart founding father from the oblivion he was sinking into. It was an undeserved retreat, which McCullough likely realized, and Adams has a 200-year history of competing with Jefferson and coming up a little short. It took McCullough to put Jefferson on the defense!

McCullough did not create something from nothing. Adams is the real deal. He is no Washington, but who is? He need not feel inferior to any other of our Founders. Perhaps a better Founder than a President, but he did as well as any one could following Washington. He had a few blunders, but some successes too.

He could be quite crusty, but he had an honest foundation that never let him down. He was far more moral in his private life than Jefferson. He was not into intrigue or political maneuvers, even to the detriment of his career, but I found myself appreciating it as I read. He wouldn’t just lie when he hit a rough spot either. That it is not to say he didn’t have his flaws. Vanity, and at times ambition, damaged his career. In his defense he realized it to some degree and even made a few attempts to improve.

This volume does a particularly good job at tracing the ups and downs of his relationship with Jefferson. As you read, you will actually rejoice to see the two improve the relationship in old age.

This volume also well explains that the seeds of the Civil War were sown at the very beginning. Adams hated slavery.

It is clear too that Adams was a believing Christian. He is not one of the Founders like Jefferson or Franklin who can be put in the Deist camp. Seeing him as a father was instructive too. Two of his children did not turn out well and his neglect was probably a contributing factor. He put much more input into John Quincy Adams’ life to better results.

This book is simply one of the great ones.

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