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John Adams, by David McCollough - Book Report/Review Example

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History and Political Science: Book Review. John Adams by David McCullough, New York: Simon and Shuster/Touchstone, 2002. McCullough’s book is a biography of the second president of the United States, John Adams, (1735-1826) as the title suggests. The author is an experienced biographer, having previously completed a biography of Harry Truman, and this connection reveals an interest in presidents who were perhaps not regarded as the very greatest, but nevertheless had successful careers and contributed positively to the development of the United States…
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John Adams, by David McCollough
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John Adams, by David McCollough

Download file to see previous pages... He is a well-respected author who has been awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and other awards including the National Book Award which he received twice. The fact that a history book has been so well received at a national level suggests that it has features which make it popular beyond a narrow, specialist audience, and indeed the book is very readable, with plenty to interest someone who is reading for pleasure as well as for academic purposes. In John Adams, McCullough seems most concerned to convey the character of his main subject, and to bring to life this period in history and this individual, showing how precisely this man in this time came to act in the way he did. The approach is to describe the surroundings and the debates of the time as realistically as possible, bringing to life an age that modern readers may not know much about. It is clearly intended to be an accurate representation of events, but at the same time the book has a strong narrative storyline, making it somewhat easier to read than a dry factual textbook. The author presents both Adams and his wife Abigail in a positive light, which may mean that there is an inherent bias, but on the other hand the author does also mention some character weaknesses, such as brusqueness and a tendency to talk too much. McCullough presents a very thorough picture of the man’s origins, his life, and some of his writings. The book is structured in three parts, entitled “Revolution” (pp. 17-166), “Distant Shores” (pp. 167-388) and “Independence Forever” (pp. 389-652). These sections equate roughly to the early part of Adams’ life, his travels abroad to Europe, and his later life and ideas on American independence. The emphasis is on the last section, which is the longest and the most detailed, suggesting that the earlier phases are in preparation for his greatest contribution, which was in the establishment of America’s independence in a form that would prove to be permanent. The narratives in Part II relating to the personalities and customs in London and Paris of the time are an interesting dimension to the book, because they allow the author to present a view of the emerging independent United States from the colonialist perspective. The way that King George III of England is described, for example, highlights his similarity with Adams in appearance and habits: “though taller, he had a comparable ‘inclination to corpulence’. Like Adams, he was an early riser, often out of bed before five. He, too, kept to a rigorous schedule and was an exuberant talker.” (McCullough, p. 334) The similarities are heaped up, including each man’s deeply religious nature, his commitment to his wife and children, and his patriotism. This personal affinity is then contrasted with a sharp description of their social and political differences: “Yet for all they had in common, the principal difference between the two was vast and paramount. One was the King of England, the other a Yankee farmer’s son – John Yankee – who spoke now for an upstart nation the survival of which was anything but assured.” (McCullough, p. 334) This juxtaposition of description and analysis crystallizes the main historical dilemma of ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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