Tuesday, March 10, 2009
John Adams by David McCullogh
Noted historian David McCullogh's masterpiece John Adams is one of the most appealing autobiographies I've ever read, because it's written in a style any historical fiction author would envy. From pre-Revolutionary New England and the tiny town of Braintree, to the gardens of Paris on the eve of a turbulent revolution, McCullogh brings to life the vibrancy of the second US president. His Adams is a learned man, who enjoyed the works of the Roman statesman Cicero and loved to read Greek classics in the original. Not to be outdone, his wife Abigail often quoted poetry to him in their wonderful exchange of letters, from memory alone. It is the abiding love and hints of great passion between the couple which really endures throughout the book.
Adams is an ardent patriot. When he meets with fellow delegates at the first Continental Congress, his concerns about breaking with the colonial power weigh less compared to his belief in self-determination for the new US government. He shared an uncertainty with others that the new nation would last and worried that the effects of slavery might tear America apart. The Founding Fathers of America have always fascinated me; my favorite is Thomas Jefferson, as much for his convictions as the contradictions of his life. He's well-represented in McCullogh's book, with correspondence between both Adamses and him, that show how he and John Adams respected each other for a time, and Abigail Adams's strong affection for Jefferson daughter Polly. The break between the lifelong friends is bitter but McCullogh's shows Adams didn't triumph in Jefferson's troubles, unlike Jefferson during the Adams presidency. It's also remarkable that both men died on the same date; July 4, 1826, fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, through which both men helped shape the ideals of the American Revolution. Readers who love American history, autobiographies and authentic memoirs will enjoy McCullogh's John Adams.