John Adams (book review)

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I find David McCullough to be one of the most thorough, impartial, comprehensive, and engaging historians that I have read. These attributes—and many others—are on full display in his biography of our second president John Adams. 

Many have rightly called Thomas Jefferson the pen of the Declaration of Independence and John Adams the voice of the Declaration. But it’s not just this historic document for which Adams should be remembered, but the very form of government which we enjoy right now is a living tribute to his forceful and persuasive genius. 

This biography is brilliantly told by McCullough through the first-person accounts of Adams’ vast quantity of letters, as well as the letters written to and about him, and the contemporary newspapers of the day. McCullough takes us back to Adams’ boyhood home to give us a good understanding of the upbringing and family heritage that fueled his quest for learning and leading. From his first elected office, through his time in Europe advocating for the newly created United States of America, into his presidency, and then through his long retirement, Adams was tireless in his efforts to make this country the best it could be. 

For students of history or leadership, this is a remarkably insightful look into a man that was at the heart of so much of what characterizes our great nation today. I have other books about John Adams in my library, but David McCullough’s lengthy work is, in my opinion, the definitive source. 

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