Book Review: John Adams by David G. McCullough (2001)
Biographies, when written of historical figures whose ideologies and efforts shaped societies beyond their borders, provide the present and future generations to relive the past through the eyes of the authors. When epically written like John Adams by David G. McCullough, they recreate surrealistic picture of years gone by. The 751-paged biography published in 2001 by Simon & Schuster in a non-fictional narration of more than John Adams’ history-changing quest independence. It also focuses on key events in American history including American Revolution, independence and the origin of party politics in the United States.
In the biography, David G. McCullough delivers a Pulitzer-award winning recreation of the life of John Adams; one of the country’s Founding Fathers. In the book, McCullough lives up to his reputation as a master historian by successfully merging formal, scholarly with drama to create a gripping narrative of Adams’ life from birth his death on same day as Thomas Jefferson who had fiercely differed with after founding the nation. The overriding theme in the book is Adams’ centrality in the success of the American Revolution, Independence and post-independence social, economic and political successes He gives a blow-by-blow account of John Adams’ life and key moments that shaped his and the history of a nation that he later served as its first vice president then as the second president. McCullough’s narrative expertly weaves Adams’ life, whose son John Quincy Adams served as the country’s sixth president, with those of key historical figures such George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. By intertwining the personal and public lives of these figures into John Adams’ biography, McCullough creates a mosaic of biographies within a biography. He creates a drama in which Adams is the main character but his successful playing of his role in McCullough depends on other minor characters he interacted with.
McCullough’s narration is gripping and meticulously presented and breathes life into the character of John Adams and those he interacted with in his zealous quest for nationhood for Americans. He biased biography recreates John Adams as a larger-than-life figure who single-handedly saved a country from engaging in war and whose zeal helped Americans win the American Revolution war that ushered in a new nation. It details every journey locally and abroad that Adams made and his political ideologies and decisions that were integral in shaping the American society. Every journey made by John Adams to France, Holland and London are well detailed including details of what transpired in his personal life during such journeys. However, David McCullough’s favorably depiction of John Adams did not affect the quality of his work. While he presented Adams’ contribution to the birth of a new nation, McCullough inevitably acknowledges other players by highlighting key moments in the lives of other Founding Fathers that directly or indirectly helped in establishing and building a new nation. This turns the biography into a concoction of history of a nation and other personalities.
John Adams by David McCullough is one of the best biographies I ever read. Its topical presentation of John Adams’ life made it easier to read and understand. It used interesting yet dramatic language and style that made it difficult to put down. It was rich with history that equipped me with knowledge on a wide variety of topics beyond John Adams. It expanded my knowledge on the country’s history including its longstanding diplomatic relationship with countries such as France and Holland. I would therefore readily recommend it to anyone interested on U.S. history or the life of John Adams.