Back in March, I mentioned that I was reading John Adams: Party of One by James Grant, and I half-promised to review it when I was done. I've actually been done for a while, but I've held off with the review until today for a reason. According to the U.S. Mint's web site, the new presidential dollar coin featuring John Adams makes it debut today. And I thought it would be appropriate to post my review on the book the same day the coin made its appearance.
Let me begin by stating I enjoyed Grant's book very much. But then I enjoy most books about John Adams very much. (I've been told by certain people that they can't believe I learn anything new about the man - but more on that in a bit.) I will say that while I didn't find Grant's style as engaging as some earlier biographers, it was still a worthwhile read. And while I did occasionally feel that some portions of Adam's life were given short attention, those parts that were covered were covered well. And there were enough quotes from Adams' papers to add insight in those areas.
I think what I found lacking was a sense of "warmth" in Grant's treatment of Adams. By this I do not mean that Grant did not find the subject interesting. Nor do I refer to the way Adam's reserve is portrayed. Adams was, if nothing else, a man of passions but passions held in check. He had strong beliefs and brooked little compromise. His feelings were abundantly clear in letters to his wife and friends, and in his public writings as well. But he held such a high esteem of the clear, cogent argument (a hold-over from his legal training) that he seemed to lack feeling.
This aspect is perhaps heightened by Grant's treatment of Adams' strongest accomplishment, that being the securing of financing for the fledgling colonies when they were still fighting for their existence. In my opinion, it is about Adams' career as a foreign diplomat where we probably see Grant's best work. As a financial writer, Grant has a comparative advantage in developing the economic and financial story. It is during the period that Adams is in Europe, negotiating loans and treaties (especially commercial aspects of treaties) that I learned the most. One who was not well acquainted with John Adams through other biographies could, in my opinion, walk away with an impression of a somewhat colder, more calculating individual than was the case. Adams was a pragmatist. I'm not sure other readers of this book would clearly understand that.
Yet, Grant does a very good job illustrating the rekindled friendship between Adams and Jefferson in their later years. One clearly imagines these two leaders, one in Quincy, one in Monticello, ensconced in writing chairs (or in Adams' case, dictating as his eyesight failed) commenting on the issues of the day.
For those who would better understand the fledgling United States, and one of its least understood founders, I recommend this book. I would hope it move you to want to learn more.
Your comments are appreciated.
Posted by TSchilling at 8:00 AM Comments (0)