4/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, F, Non-Fiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2019

Review: John Adams: A Life by John Ferling

John Adams: A Life
by John Ferling

John Adams-A Life

Copyright: 1992

Pages: 454

Read: April 20 – May. 19, 2019

Rating: 4/5

Source: Abebooks.com

 

 

Blurb: John Ferling’s masterful John Adams: A Life is the most comprehensive single-volume biography of the man who succeeded George Washington in the presidency and shepherded the fragile new nation through the most dangerous of times. Drawing on extensive research, Ferling depicts a reluctant revolutionary, a leader who was deeply troubled by the warfare that he helped to make, and a fiercely independent statesman.


Review: This is my 4th book on John Adams. And I have to say, if you are looking for a really good single-volume biography of Mr. Adams – read this one! I wish I had read this book first, because it was extremely readable and provided just the right amount of information to give a pretty good broad overview.

I personally thought this book was easier to read than David McCullough’s work. But I think that is just my personal preference – I struggled that McCullough’s book kind of jumped around here and there at times. Ferling’s book was linear in the timeline and I just preferred the writing style of this one.

For the most part I found Ferling to be quite fair in his analysis of John Adams. I was glad that I finally read a book where the author finally called Adams out for basically being an absent husband for a good 3/4 of his married years. I wouldn’t say that he was over-critical of that, but it was refreshing to finally have it pointed it, not just swept under the rug like it was no big deal.

The book itself reads easily. I personally struggled to get through the diplomatic years. But that has nothing to do with this book. I struggled with those same years in the previous books I’ve read. (Just like I struggled through the war years in the George Washington books I read).

Honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s well-researched and well-written. I think it can appeal to casual readers as well as students of history. This one is definitely going to be a stand-out for me as far as the John Adams books I’m reading go. And like I said – if you’re looking for an easy-to-read single-volume biography on John Adams, I would highly recommend this one.

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4/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, Non-Fiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2019, S

Review: John Adams Vol. 2 (1784-1826) by Page Smith

John Adams Vol. 2 (1784-1826)
by Page Smith

John Adams (Smith)

 

Copyright: 1963

Pages: 537

Read: March 21 – April 19, 2019

Rating: 4/5

Source: abebooks.com

 

Review: This book is the second in a two-book series by Page Smith. Volume 2 covers Adams’ life from the point when Abigail joins him in Europe during his overseas diplomatic years until his death on July 4, 1826.

I personally felt like this book was the stronger of the two books. I think that was more because I had a lot more interest in the time period it covered than the first book. I can say that I enjoyed learning more about his vice presidency and presidency.

Overall, I enjoyed reading these two books. It gives a lot more detailed information on Mr. Adams. There were times when it wasn’t necessarily easy reading, but I thoroughly appreciated getting a more in-depth look into John Adams, his personal life and public career.

Even though these books were written in the 1960s, I feel like they are still easily read and highly informative and enjoyable. I would definitely recommend these two books for those wanting more information on John Adams than a single volume can provide.

4/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, Non-Fiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2019, S

Review: John Adams Vol. 1 (1735-1784) by Page Smith

John Adams Vol. 1 (1735-1784)
by Page Smith

John Adams (Smith)

 

Copyright: 1962

Pages: 599

Read: Feb. 21 – March 20, 2019

Rating: 4/5

Source: abebooks.com

 

Review: This book is the first in a two-book series by Page Smith. I personally enjoyed it quite a bit. Volume 1 covers Adams’ life from his birth to the point when Abigail joins him in Europe during his overseas diplomatic years.

While this book was originally published in the 1960s, I had no issue whatsoever with the writing style. I found it to be quite easy to read and very informative. In fact, it was almost mesmerizing in some points – Mr. Smith certainly had a way with words.

One thing that I did greatly appreciate as a reader is that I felt like the author kept things relatively balanced. Sure, you can definitely tell that he is definitely a John Adams fan, but I didn’t feel like he bent over backwards to place him on an unnecessary pedestal.

After having read the David McCullough book I greatly appreciated this book in that it could expand on things that Mr. McCullough only merely touched upon. For a more casual reader this book would likely give you more information than you could ever want, but as a follow-up, I found it to be quite enjoyable.

As stated, this is only a review of the first volume of the two-volume set. I am getting ready to start on Volume 2 and I look forward to learning more about the second half of John Adams’ life – that of his Vice Presidency, Presidency and retirement years.

4.5/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, M, Non-Fiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2019

Review: John Adams by David McCullough

John Adams
by David McCullough

John Adams

Copyright: 2001

Pages: 651

Read: Jan. 4 – Feb. 19, 2019

Rating: 4.5/5

Source: Goodwill

 

Blurb: 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.


Review: After having read seven books on George Washington, I was ready to continue on to John Adams (although I am still kicking myself for not buckling down and reading the Ron Chernow book…ugh!). I chose this one to begin with since I figured it would be the easiest to read and a good jumping off place for me.

First I need to state that I knew very little about John Adams other than the fact that he was instrumental to the creation and execution of the Declaration of Independence, was our first Vice President, and our second President. Other than that I knew next to nothing. I mean, I didn’t even realize he was a one-term president! Oops? So I was eager to dive right in.

I have to say that I was really struggling with my decision to start with this book until I got about 200 pages in. I just found it really difficult to get into at first. I think it was the style of writing that really threw me for a loop. This is not your typical biography. At all. And on one hand I can really appreciate that, and as the book moves forward, I enjoyed the way the writing style handled everything. But at the beginning I had issues with it. I wanted more of a “John Adams was born on…” introduction. I guess more linear in timeline than what was introduced here. But I kept going and in the end I was pleasantly surprised.

I also struggled with the fact that Mr. McCullough made it appear to me that Mr. Adams could do no wrong. Everything seemed to be spun in a very positive light. As a student of history (literally, my bachelor’s degree is in history), I had issue with that. Not everything can be all sunshine and rainbows. There has to be some criticism at some point. Unfortunately, I did not see any criticism whatsoever in this book. That’s not to say that I wanted Mr. McCullough to rip Adams a new one – but I think it would have felt a little more realistic had some of the not-so-popular things about Adams been brought into a different light.

Overall this was a very good and well-researched book. If you can get past the informal writing style (or if that’s what you want in a biography), then this book will be quite enjoyable to you. I however wanted a little more analysis than this particular book provided. I can definitely see how and why it won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for Biography/Autobiography. And it definitely earned a high rating from me. I just wanted a bit more out of it than I got.

3.5/5, AUTHOR, B, Book Review, Non-Fiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady

Martha Washington: An American Life
by Patricia Brady

Copyright: 2005

Pages:236

Read: Nov. 2 – 13, 2018

Rating: 3/5

Source: Abebooks.com


BlurbMartha Dandridge Custis was a wealthy, good-looking widow and the mother of two young children when, in 1759, she started a new life as Martha Washington. Thus began an ardent love affair and one of our country’s most influential partnerships. George Washington’s career might have been very different without his marriage to his “dearest Patsy.” Her fortune ensured the success of his Mount Vernon, but much more important was the emotional support she brought to their marriage. Under his glacial exterior, George Washington was often insecure, indecisive, and prone to fits of temper. His wife was the person who truly knew and loved the complex man behind the noble mask. 

Martha Washington’s name is one of the most recognizable in American history and yet Martha herself is the invisible woman in American history. She burned her private correspondence after George’s death, but with painstaking research, Patricia Brady has finally recovered the real person. Never the kindly frump of popular mythology, she was an able landowner, an indomitable patriot, and her husband’s confidante in military, political, and personal matters for four decades. 

Martha’s world extended from the Virginia plantation aristocracy into which she was born to the rugged battlefields of the Revolution. For eight long years, her husband stayed in the field – the only way he could hold is army together, though he was homesick and desperately worried about Mount Vernon. And every year, she joined him at Valley Forge and other winter camps, providing the loving comfort that allowed him to keep going. In the new capitals of New York and Philadelphia, she used her charm and humor shrewdly to help George negotiate the churning political waters of the new country. She was at his side and on his side as political enemies like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison unleashed vicious tabloid newspaper attacks against Washington. 

This superb work vividly portrays her remarkable life, her unusual achievements, and her great contribution to America. Because she was the first, Martha Washington had no role model, no precedent, and she set a standard for every presidential couple for the next two and half centuries. 


Review: So as part of my personal Presidential Reading Challenge, I have decided that I would also try and read a single work on each First Lady as well. Having read six books on George Washington (I skipped the Ron Chernow book… I just couldn’t face another 900 pages of Mr. Washington at this time – however I am keeping it on my shelf for future reading), I was ready to move on to his First Lady. To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about Martha Washington, so I was eager to learn a little bit more about her. 

Overall, I found this book to be quite readable. The only struggle I had was the sheer number of people mentioned. Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, in-laws, random friends .. near the end it was quite difficult to keep them all straight when they all seemed to share the same name. 

Martha Washington is somewhat of an enigma in our nation’s history. She destroyed most of her and her husband’s intimate correspondence after his death and so a lot of her has been lost to the ages. That’s really a shame for historians and history buffs alike. However I can respect and understand the want and need for that privacy after so much of their life was lived in public life. I feel like Ms. Brady did a remarkable job in piecing together Martha Washington, even without the help of the marital correspondence that would have made things infinitely more useful. 

While we all know what George Washington did for our country, we never really think much about the sacrifices that Martha Washington made as well. She basically gave up her private life with her husband so he could fulfill his sense of duty. He did quite a few things without her true blessing, but she was still very supportive and followed him nearly everywhere she could.

I was really intrigued by the descriptions of Martha Washington as a pretty independent woman who got what she wanted. She basically confronted her future father-in-law and demanded him bless the marriage of her and his son, her first husband. After the death of her first husband, instead of immediately bowing down to another man, she took matters in her own hands and took care of all her affairs until she decided on another husband. As a very wealthy widow, she had the cream of the crop coming to her for courtship, and yet she chose George Washington. I have to believe that she knew what (and who) she wanted and was determined to get it and not settle for less. That sort of independence goes against everything I “know” about women in her time period – I just loved that about her! 

I’m glad that I have decided to also learn more about the First Ladies during this journey. It will be interesting going forward to see how the subsequent First Ladies compare to Martha Washington. Being the first First Lady she had no idea what precedent she was setting for the “job.” I personally think she did a wonderful job and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about her.