Book Review: John Adams by David McCullough

I finished winding my way through another 500+ page biography as I continue to try to satisfy my appetite for vivid portrayals of America’s founders.

This time it was David McCullough’s masterful biography of John Adams. Adams was a fascinating figure. From his relationship with Jefferson and Franklin, to his arduous journeys to Paris, to his parenting of John Quincy Adams, to his amazingly romantic and touching relationship with his wife Abigail, Adams’ life is more than worth an in-depth look. Not only was his life interesting, but because of his prolific letter-writing and journaling he left more source material for biographers to work with than perhaps any other founding father.

An image I’ll never forget — I also saw it portrayed on Friday at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science‘s special exhibit on Ben Franklin — is Adams and Franklin in bed together at a tavern. They are both exhausted. But before going to bed, they argue over whether to keep the window open during the night. They argue and they argue. Franklin won’t shut up, seeing as he believed in the healing qualities of the night air. Adams eventually falls asleep while Franklin continues making his point. I love it.

It’s hard to go wrong with a David McCullough biography.

2 comments on “Book Review: John Adams by David McCullough
  • Hi Ben,

    My first exposure to McCullough came when I noticed a cute Indian girl in my philosophy class my Junior year. She had a copy of “Truman” under her arm.

    When I asked about it, she eventually told me she was reading it because she had just won a Truman scholarship. I loved that girl, and she deserved the award, but my immediate mental reaction was, “bitch”. It was just kind of funny.

    I saw McCullough at the JFK library in Boston giving a speech on the Adams bio. If you get a chance he’s every bit as good a speaker. Heck, I should go google-video him now.

    Still, the only work I’ve yet finished is “Mornings on Horseback”. This is an unusual biography because it covers Teddy Roosevelt from birth to age 25, and unlike other biographies covering a young boys life, it is not a part of a series. It was more to answer “how did this creature ever get formed?”

    The point of the book is to investigate in depth what a fascinating development Teddy had including:
    **A year long world tour with his family at age 14.

    **Prayers by young Teddy asking God to “crush the Confederate Army to dust”

    **Near professional level taxidermy skills, especially useful when he was allowed to hunt alongside the Nile (as his family riverboated down), um… blasting everything in sight? heh

    **Intellectual development spurred on by a mental giant of a spinster sister, along with weekly visits by the great figures of the day to his father’s household

    **His mother and new wife dying within a week of each other, the wife while giving birth, leaving a young Teddy with a baby girl, Alice.

    But, interestingly McCullough spends special attention on the young boy’s severe asthma. It caused him to get doting attention and support by both parents. At the same time, controlling it involved exercising *emotional* control, in the face of shortening breath. He seems to think this was the key driver in this man developing unbelievable self-confidence.

    And my own life experience is that self-confidence is the number one driver of success. Good thing I started developing it, oh… in my late 20s? heh.

    Teddy is also the poster child for home schooling as he spent a total of 48 hours in a (private) school. So much for the “kids need the socialization” argument.


    Robert Holzbach

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *