John Adams


featured in Macworld, one of the 5
best history sites on the web

Bookstore | Exhibits | HistoryWiz | Primary Source Archives | Search

John Adams
by David McCullough

Buy

This is the paperback edition. The hardcover is also available.

Pulitzer Prize Winner 2003

Book Description

THE NATIONAL BESTSELLER
TIME BEST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR

In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second President of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as "out of his senses"; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history.

This is history on a grand scale -- a book about politics and war and social issues, but also about human nature, love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, friendship, and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, John Adams is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.

New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Winner of The American Academy of Diplomacy Award
Winner of the Christopher Award
Winner of the Revolutionary War Roundtable Prize

About the Author

David McCullough was born in 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, educated there and at Yale. Author of Truman, Brave Companions, Mornings on Horseback, The Path Between the Seas, The Great Bridge, and The Johnstown Flood, he has received the Pulitzer Prize (in 1993, for Truman), the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and is twice winner of the National Book Award, for history and for biography.

Reviews   Excerpt From Book   Book Description   Author   Buy

Editorial Reviews

American Revolution Books

David McCullough

American History Books

HistoryWiz American Revolution

These United Colonies: The American War of Independence a HistoryWiz exhibit

Amazon.com's Best of 2001
Left to his own devices, John Adams might have lived out his days as a Massachusetts country lawyer, devoted to his family and friends.

As it was, events swiftly overtook him, and Adams--who, David McCullough writes, was "not a man of the world" and not fond of politics--came to greatness as the second president of the United States, and one of the most distinguished of a generation of revolutionary leaders. He found reason to dislike sectarian wrangling even more in the aftermath of war, when Federalist and anti-Federalist factions vied bitterly for power, introducing scandal into an administration beset by other difficulties--including pirates on the high seas, conflict with France and England, and all the public controversy attendant in building a nation.

Overshadowed by the lustrous presidents Washington and Jefferson, who bracketed his tenure in office, Adams emerges from McCullough's brilliant biography as a truly heroic figure--not only for his significant role in the American Revolution but also for maintaining his personal integrity in its strife-filled aftermath.

McCullough spends much of his narrative examining the troubled friendship between Adams and Jefferson, who had in common a love for books and ideas but differed on almost every other imaginable point. Reading his pages, it is easy to imagine the two as alter egos. (Strangely, both died on the same day, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.) But McCullough also considers Adams in his own light, and the portrait that emerges is altogether fascinating. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly
Here a preeminent master of narrative history takes on the most fascinating of our founders to create a benchmark for all Adams biographers. With a keen eye for telling detail and a master storyteller's instinct for human interest, McCullough (Truman; Mornings on Horseback) resurrects the great Federalist (1735-1826), revealing in particular his restrained, sometimes off-putting disposition, as well as his political guile. The events McCullough recounts are well-known, but with his astute marshaling of facts, the author surpasses previous biographers in depicting Adams's years at Harvard, his early public life in Boston and his role in the first Continental Congress, where he helped shape the philosophical basis for the Revolution. McCullough also makes vivid Adams's actions in the second Congress, during which he was the first to propose George Washington to command the new Continental Army. Later on, we see Adams bickering with Tom Paine's plan for government as suggested in Common Sense, helping push through the draft for the Declaration of Independence penned by his longtime friend and frequent rival, Thomas Jefferson, and serving as commissioner to France and envoy to the Court of St. James's. The author is likewise brilliant in portraying Adams's complex relationship with Jefferson, who ousted him from the White House in 1800 and with whom he would share a remarkable death date 26 years later: July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration. (June) Forecast: Joseph Ellis has shown us the Founding Fathers can be bestsellers, and S&S knows it has a winner: first printing is 350,000 copies, and McCullough will go on a 15-city tour; both Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club have taken this book as a selection.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
This life of Adams is an extraordinary portrait of an extraordinary man who has not received his due in America's early political history but whose life work significantly affected his country's future. McCullough is here following his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Truman, and his subjects have much in common as leaders who struggled to establish their own presidential identities as they emerged from the shadows of their revered predecessors. The author paints a portrait of Adams, the patriot, in the fullest sense of the word. The reader is treated to engaging descriptions and accounts of Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, among others, as well as the significant figures in the Adams family: Abigail, John's love and full partner, and son John Quincy. In tracing Adams's life from childhood through his many critical, heroic, and selfless acts during the Revolution, his vice presidency under Washington, and his own term as president, the full measure of Adams a man widely regarded in his time as the equal of Jefferson, Hamilton, and all of the other Founding Fathers is revealed. This excellent biography deserves a wide audience. Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --

From AudioFile
As president, John Adams was sandwiched between two Virginians of wide renown, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. But as historian and writer David McCullough shows, Adams was able to stand his own ground, and any neglect of his contribution is our fault, not his. McCullough, the author of the widely acclaimed and eminently listenable biography Truman, writes to be heard as well as read. This makes his books a joy to listen to. While the distinctive-voiced McCullough isn't heard on John Adams, he is replaced by Edward Herrmann, a veteran reader. His New England accent adds just the right flavor, and his excellent diction makes the material easy to understand. Adams left a diary, journal, and thousands of letters. McCullough quotes from them to great effect, and Herrmann reads them as if he had written them himself. R.C.G. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist
John Adams and George H. W. Bush share a unique place in American history: both were presidents themselves, and both fathered presidents. McCullough's masterpiece of biography--his first book since the equally distinguished Truman (1992)--brings John Adams pere out from the shadow of his predecessor in the presidency, the Founding Father George Washington. Of hardy New England stock and blessed with a happy upbringing, Adams led an adult life that paralleled the American colonies' movement toward independence and the establishment of the American republic, a long but inspiring process in which Adams was heavily involved. Adams' historical reputation is that of a cold, cranky person who couldn't get along with other people; McCullough sees him as blunt and thin-skinned--and consequently not good at taking criticism--but also as a person of great intelligence, compassion, and even warmth. According to McCullough, Adams' drive to succeed influenced nearly every move he made. He was a lawyer by profession, but when rumblings of self-governance began to stir, Adams' inherent love of personal liberty inevitably drew him into an important role in what was to come. Interestingly, McCullough avers that Adams did not view his election to the presidency as the crowning achievement of his career, for he "was inclined to look back upon the long struggle for independence as the proud defining chapter." But Adams' greatest accomplishment as president, so he himself believed, was the peace his administration brought to the land. This is a wonderfully stirring biography; to read it is to feel as if you are witnessing the birth of a country firsthand. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review
Michiko Kakutani The New York Times Lucid and compelling...[Written] in a fluent narrative style that combines a novelist's sense of drama with a scholar's meticulous attention to the historical record.

Excerpt from John Adams - this is copyrighted material

Chapter 1: The Road to Philadelphia

You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator....We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.
— Abigail Adams

In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north. A foot or more of snow covered the landscape, the remnants of a Christmas storm that had blanketed Massachusetts from one end of the province to the other. Beneath the snow, after weeks of severe cold, the ground was frozen solid to a depth of two feet. Packed ice in the road, ruts as hard as iron, made the going hazardous, and the riders, mindful of the horses, kept at a walk.

Nothing about the harsh landscape differed from other winters. Nor was there anything to distinguish the two riders, no signs of rank or title, no liveried retinue bringing up the rear. It might have been any year and they could have been anybody braving the weather for any number of reasons. Dressed as they were in heavy cloaks, their hats pulled low against the wind, they were barely distinguishable even from each other, except that the older, stouter of the two did most of the talking.

He was John Adams of Braintree and he loved to talk. He was a known talker. There were some, even among his admirers, who wished he talked less. He himself wished he talked less, and he had particular regard for those, like General Washington, who somehow managed great reserve under almost any circumstance.

John Adams was a lawyer and a farmer, a graduate of Harvard College, the husband of Abigail Smith Adams, the father of four children. He was forty years old and he was a revolutionary.

Contact Us