America’s First Dynasty: the Adamses, 1735-1918 by Richard Brookhiser

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Having read John McCullough’s wonderful biography John Adams, and having read one of the most celebrated of all autobiographies, The Education of Henry Adams (the great-grandson of John Adams), I was hungry to fill in the gaps in the Adams’ family history, and thus my motivation for reading this volume.

Brookhiser gives equal time to the star members of four generations of Adamses: John, John Quincy (both United States Presidents), Charles Francis (ambassador to Great Britain and almost President) and Henry who shunned politics and devoted his time to taking potshots at life and writing history and novels.

Compared to the other two books mentioned in the opening paragraph America’s First Dynasty is not a particularly great book – of course it is running in elite circles. Brookhiser had far too many opinions, many of them about as cynical as any Henry could come up with, to make this a good book of history. But it is interesting and provided a good overview of the lives of the four best known Adams men (Abigail deserves her own book). It was just too bad that the author didn’t like the Adams boys a little better – or at least was not so free to place his negative spin on their lives. Overall the book accomplished what I had hoped, but if you want just one book on the Adams’ family, skip this one and go straight to McCullough’s.

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