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There has never been any doubt that the Adams family was America's first family in our politics and memory. This research-based and insightful book is a multigenerational biography of that family from the founding father, John, through the mordant writer, Brooks.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674198296
ISBN-10: 0674198298
Format: Paperback
(229mm x 152mm x 29mm)
Pages: 414
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 5-May-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Little by little, the distinguished Adams family has been yielding up its dark secrets. Henry Adams' adored, unsteady wife, a suicide whose name never appears in The Education of Henry Adams, is the subject of Otto Friedrich's Clover (1979). John Quincy's refractory spouse Louisa, who observed that the Adams men were hard on their women, shares top billing in Jack Shepherd's Cannibals of the Heart (1981). And one tan easily understand the lute, to Nagel, of the long-closed Adams Papers in conjunction with the stark acknowledgement by Charles Francis Adams, son of John Q. and Louisa (and father of Henry), that "the history of my family. . . is one of great triumphs in the world but of deep groans within, one of extraordinary brilliancy and deep corroding mortifications." Yet the resultant airing of four generations' miseries has in its favor only some psychological resonances, echoing current views of parent-child relationships, and a single, drumming theme: that "the Adamses' determination to be realistic about the weakness within mankind and society," which made them congenital skeptics and social critics, also caused them "to see with painful clarity the shortcomings within themselves and those about them." The dilemma is most poignantly visible in progenitors John and Abigail, none of whose four children - faced with "a bewildering mixture of affectionate support and cruel distrust," burdened with duty and guilt - made a comfortable adjustment to life. Daughter Nabby married just such an "adventurer" as her parents sought to protect her from (and resolutely, to their astonishment, stuck by him); sons Charles and Thomas became ineffectual alcoholics in the "struggle against parental domination"; only John Quincy succeeded - at a price. "His emotional battles left him wounded almost as severely as Thomas was," is Nagel's dire pronouncement. And, after a "bruising" courtship with Louisa, he "outdid his own parents' fervor in seeking to keep his children from succumbing to human frailty." (This was the generation that most bitterly and self-destructively rebelled.) But it is too much: a litany of dissolution and other disgraces, traced unto distant relations, that comes to seem like a string of soap-opera synopses - and to which Nagel brings only the conventional judgment of the time and, in retrospect, only the curse-of-the-Adamses. Weakest of all is the treatment of those two brilliant fourth-generation eccentrics, Brooks and Henry, whom Nagel - misconstruing both - distinguishes as lacking religious belief. The material has great if only partially realized potential - and that, plus the attraction of the misfortunes of the well-placed, will likely draw readers. But it makes disappointing, often dismal reading. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Paul C. Nagel

Paul C. Nagel is former Director of the Virginia Historical Society, a trustee of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a cultural laureate of Virginia, and a contributing editor of American Heritage.

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