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. 

4/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018, U-V-W

Review: An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America by Henry Wiencek

An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America
by Henry Wiencek

An Imperfect God

 

Copyright: 2003

Pages: 362

Read: Oct. 13-22, 2018

Rating: 4/5

Source: Paperbackswap

 

Blurb: In this groundbreaking work, Henry Wiencek explores the first president’s life, his work, and his engagement with slavery. Born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people, Washington and his wife had blood ties to the slave community. Yet as a young man, he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off children to collect debts. Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington’s attitudes began to change. This revelatory narrative documents for the first time the moral transformation that led to his decision – unique among the Founding Fathers – to emancipate his own slaves. Washington’s heroic stature as Father of Our Country is upheld in this superb portrait: now we see him in full as a man of his time and ahead of his time.


Review: Wow, can I just say that this was a really enjoyable read! It may be non-fiction and dealing with a pretty heavy subject matter, but it read so fast and was so good that I hardly even noticed… I was so drawn into it!

Now with that being said, I have to say that I’m not entirely sure that Mr. Wiencek completely hit the mark on what he was trying to accomplish in this book. Reading the blurb I went into this book thinking that he was really going to unravel George Washington and show a little bit more than what I had read in previous books. To some extent he certainly did accomplish that. However, there were multiple places that I felt like I could have been reading about slavery in general, not necessarily slavery as it related to George Washington.

I have never made any type of serious study into slavery and so a lot of things that I read in this book were just gut wrenching to me. I mean, I’m aware of the overall aspect of slavery as a whole, but there were a lot of things that I really didn’t know. It proved to be quite a difficult read at times. To think that people could actually treat other human beings in the manner that they did was just unfathomable to me. I still shudder at some of the stories and descriptions in this book.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s eye-opening and quite informative. If you’re looking for a basic overview of slavery during George Washington’s time, I feel like this is as good a place as any to start. I think that it’s a good place for people interested in learning more than just the basics of George Washington to learn some new information as well. It has definitely piqued my interest in studying more about slavery as a whole in the future.

Definitely recommended.

4/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, F, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (1793-1799) by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (1793-1799)
by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington Anguish and Farewell.jpg

 

Copyright: 1969, 1972

Pages: 503

Read: Sept. 14 – Oct. 11, 2018

Rating: 4/5

Source: Powells.com

 

 

 

Blurb: George Washington: Anguish and Farewell is the fourth and final volume of one of the most distinguished American biographies of our generation. Covering the tumultuous years of Washington’s second term as President, his retirement, and his death, the book reveals the almost shattering pressures under which Washington struggled to maintain America’s unity during its first great peacetime testing as an independent nation.

The testing was regional: North versus South, East versus West. It’s a philosophical and political: Federalists versus Republicans, Hamilton versus Jefferson. And it was international: the upheaval accompanying the French Revolution, which threatened to draw the United States into a world war that would have stifled the growth of the infant republic and perhaps ignited civil conflicts on the streets and farms at home.

Disproving the contention that Washington allowed himself to be used by Hamilton, James Thomas Flexner has discovered unexpected dimensions in the stormy relationship between Washington and Jefferson. And Mr. Flexner’s exploration of Washington’s attitude towards slavery breaks significant new ground. He demonstrates that Washington’s growing unhappiness with slavery – he eventually freed his own bondsmen – was an important reason why Washington would not support Jefferson’s Virginia agrarianism to the exclusion of the alternative economic system espoused by Hamilton.

The book is intensely dramatic. It is also tinged with sadness, portraying Washington at a time when his struggle to keep the nation together was weakened by his own infirmities. With Washington’s retirement, his former brilliance became increasingly clouded by periods of confusion. When the time came, he was glad to die.

George Washington: Anguish and Farewell provides a brilliant counterpoint between Washington’s public and private lives. It is a narrative in which Washington not only thinks and acts, but lives. It takes the final measure of the great president as a hero – and as a man.


Review: This is the fourth and final book in James Thomas Flexner’s George Washington series. And honestly, I found it to be the best book of the series.

This particular book covers the time from the beginning of Washington’s second term up until his death. Perhaps it is because this time period was a little more interesting to me than that of Washington’s earlier years, but I definitely had a lot more interest in reading this book than I had the previous three.

As with the previous books in the series, this one was well-written and extremely well-researched. I also felt like this book was put together a little bit better than the last book (where I distinctly remember that there were things that felt a little out-of-place in certain areas).

I can’t say that reading this 4 book series was an easy road (it totaled up to 1,825 pages!), but I’m overall glad that I stuck it out and finished it because it definitely is a work of art in itself. It’s probably not the series for everyone, and definitely not for just the average reader. But if you are interested in taking a serious stab at learning more about our first President, this series is an amazing resource.

For quick reference, my reviews of Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3

 

Presidential Reading Challenge

Presidential Reading Challenge Sept 2018 Update

Ok … so I am now 9 months into my Presidential Reading Challenge and I thought it would be a good time to update you on how I am doing. I am still working on George Washington … yep, 9 months in and I’m still on President #1. Oops?! I knew this would not be a fast venture, but I expected to at least get through Washington & Adams this year.

So I have just started my 5th Washington book. I’m on book 4 of James Thomas Flexner’s 4-book series. The books are quite long and in some spots, quite dry. So it is definitely slow going. But slow and steady wins the race … right?

I technically have 2 more Washington books on my shelf. I have the Ron Chernow book and I also have recently acquired Henry Wiencek’s An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. I’m a little on the fence about whether or not I really want to tackle the Chernow book to be completely honest. I hate to skip it, but at the same time I’m not really excited to take on nearly 1000 pages in one book. If it reads like these last few books have read, it will take me a year just to get through that one. So the verdict is still out on that one. The Wiencek book was an impulse purchase because I’ve been quite intrigued about Washington’s entire view on slavery and am eager to dig more into that aspect of his life.

I have also recently been thinking about adding on a book about each President’s wife after I finish with the President. I just ordered a Martha Washington biography, so I will probably incorporate that into this challenge as well.

I probably need to make a list of other things I’d like to explore in the future, because there have been numerous people mentioned in these biographies that I’ve read that I would like to learn more about at some point. I’ve also considered hitting the pause button, so to speak, to read a book or two about the early years of our government. There’s been so much not mentioned in these biographies of Washington that I feel like I should buff up on my history a little bit more. But again … that just adds more to my load. I’m making this wayyyyyyy too complicated!

So yeah … I’m still chugging along. And of course I want to make this so much harder than it really needs to be. I probably should have just kept it to one book per President … but nope, I had to go and purchase a 6 book series on Thomas Jefferson….

But I’m still having fun, so I suppose that’s the most important part!

3.5/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, F, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: George Washington and the New Nation (1783-1793) by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington and the New Nation (1783-1793)
by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington and the New Nation

 

Copyright: 1969, 1970

Pages: 425

Read: July 13 – September 11, 2018

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: Powells.com

 

 

Blurb: George Washington and the New Nation begins with Washington’s return to Mount Vernon, a victorious, but exhausted soldier eagerly seeking the pleasures of a quiet country life. Free of heavy responsibilities, his character expands in genial, often unexpected ways. All too soon, however, the idyll is broken. Washington is called to lead the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Popular confidence in him secures the ratification of the new government by the states. He is unanimously chosen our first President.

In the face of growing faction and division, Washington helps mold our major governmental institutions and gives durable shape to the Presidency. He is accused of many failings. He is guilty of some. His personal life is strained by countless pressures. But at the end of four years, Washington has seemingly proved the viability of the republican form of government to a watching world of kings.

Even as Washington dreams of final retirement, however, the storm raised by the French Revolution threatens to overwhelm the United States. Now Jefferson and Hamilton – the two men who have, throughout our history, epitomized the polarities of American political thought – join in begging Washington to stay on. They warn that, if Washington relinquishes the Presidency, the country may well pull apart.


Review: This is the 3rd book in Mr. Flexner’s 4-book series on George Washington. Having enjoyed the first book and feeling somewhat lukewarm about the second book, I was looking forward to getting to this one. I was excited to learn more about how the country’s government was shaped and Mr. Washington’s first term as President. It also made me realize (AGAIN!) that my memory of the history of our country’s early years is really severely lacking. I keep reading and realizing that there’s so many other things that I need to brush up on … more reading I suppose 🙂

This particular book was again extremely well researched and it read quite easily. Even though these books were written in the 1960s and 1970s, they read as easily as any contemporary biography would. That definitely makes things a lot easier for me. My one and only complaint on this book was how the feud between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton basically took over the last 100 or so pages. I had to remind myself that yes, I was reading a biography on Washington … not Jefferson and/or Hamilton.

Overall, a really good book that I enjoyed. I’m definitely looking forward to the fourth and final book in this series. The final book covers Washington’s second term up to his death. It’s a chunkster for sure … but I’m eager to learn even more about Washington!

3/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, F, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: George Washington in the American Revolution (1775-1783) by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington in the American Revolution (1775-1783)
by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington in the American Revolution

 

Copyright: 1967,1968

Pages: 552

Read: March 20 – July 10, 2018

Rating: 3/5

Source: Powells.com

 

Blurb: History has blinded us to the all-too-human character of George Washington; in doing so, it has blinded us to the true nature of his greatness. We have urgent need to know this man we call the Father of Our Country. And now, at last, James Thomas Flexner has given us the biography that fully meets our need.

In George Washington in the American Revolution (1775-1783), we are witness to eight fateful years, as Washington lived them day by day and month by month. We see a Virginia officer catapulted – despite his obvious military limitations and his own protestations of inadequacy – into the command of an amateur army opposing an experienced European force under elite leadership. The fact that Washington was at first out-generated is not suppressed. His failures and reverses are not diminished or excused.

Yet even as we share the anguish of his unsuccessful battles – and the political unrest and uncertainty that marked the Revolution – we understand the slow but sure process by which Washington taught himself, through trial and error, to become the clear master of his English foes.

As James Thomas Flexner so brilliantly demonstrates, Washington’s command of the Continental Army was deeply marked by the extremes of his own complex personality: his compassion and his towering rages; his short-term pessimism and his abiding belief in the virtue of the American cause. By turns indiscreet, impulsive, and artfully dissembling, the General’s ruling mood was – as his wife Martha wrote – unhappiness: the troubled mind of a civilian in uniform, yearning for Mount Vernon, for his hearth and home.

When the war ended, it was as a civilian, too, not as a man of war or bloodshed, that Washington risked his personal leadership to turn back a movement that might well have (as has so often happened in history) resulted in a kind of fascism as cruel as the tyranny which it would have replaced.

To read George Washington in the American Revolution is to be in the vital presence of human aspiration and to enter into a drama of transcended interest and excitement. This is the story of America’s great hero revealed as all the greater because his human faults and foibles have not been denied their rightful place in the record of his leadership.


Review: This is the second book in Mr. Flexner’s four-book series on George Washington. I knew going into this one that I would struggle with it. I do not like to read about battles and wars, so I knew that the mere fact that this entire volume revolved around the American Revolution was going to slow me down. However, I didn’t anticipate it to take me 4 months to finish it either. And to be honest, near the end, I was definitely  skimming. I just couldn’t make myself sit down and read much at a time.

That’s not to say that the book wasn’t well written, because it most certainly was. The writing was easy to read. It’s just that my interest was not there for the subject matter. I didn’t really want or need such a detailed account of the American Revolution. I know that this time period is crucial to understanding who George Washington was, as a person and an American. However, it just ended up not being my cup of tea.

I am definitely looking forward to moving on from here in this series. Mr. Flexner definitely has a writing style that I find enjoyable. Hist attention to detail and research is superb. And while I’m sure that in the end this particular installment will be the “weakest” of the four books for me personally, it certainly is a good book.