John Adams, by David McCullough ★★★★★
John Adams is a biography of the man who would serve as the second president of the United States, and who played a seminal role in instigating the Revolutionary War, writing the constitution, and forming the character of our new nation. It never seemed as though John Adams would be a particularly interesting person, but McCullough successfully paints him as a most fascinating character. The book starts with him in childhood, through growing up, starting a law career in Boston, only to be sidetracked by the cry for independence from Britain. Adams led the charge, helped get Washington appointed as commander in chief of the army, and then became the American ambassador to France during the war, and later, to Britain after the war. Serving two terms under Washington as vice-president, he eventually was voted in to the presidency for one term, losing then to vice-president Thomas Jefferson in his bid for a second term. His life afterwards was spent in mostly retirement, working his farm south of Boston, and writing lots of letters. He was eventually able to see his son John Quincy Adams win the presidency. Adams and Jefferson both died on the same day, the 4th of July, both being several of the last living singers of the Declaration of Independence.
McCullough spends much time exploring many personal details of Adams’ life, including his Christian faith, and how that faith affected the writing of the constitution. You learn that in spite of common goals, the rancorous differences between personalities leaves one wondering how we ever survived as a young nation, though it seems that enough commonalities acted as the glue that held a fragmented society together. Particularly noxious was the fighting between the two parties, the Federalists and the Republicans. The salvation through it all was that even the two parties had grave divisions, with many party members not strict to their own party. The extensive scholarship of those in governmental service, like Adams and Jefferson, is also noted, at a time when CP Snow’s “two cultures” did not exist, and the arts and sciences were often found mixed in all men of letters. The love of books and reading was assumed among the educated class, and many large personal libraries were noted.
Most notable was the reading style of the book. McCullough has a wonderful way with words, and holds the reader’s interest, leaving the book void of dry spells. I appreciated the extensive research that was performed in forming this book, with virtually every page packed with subtle details and information that would have never been brought out without the remarkable scholarship of McCullough. The author cannot be faulted for not having done his homework. John Adams is an important and valuable read for anybody that loves the USA and it’s history.