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30 review for The Education of Henry Adams

  1. 4 out of 5

    William2

    Epistemological inquiry in the form of self-denigrating autobiography. Written in the third person, at times overbearingly acerbic. Author Henry Adams was grandson of President John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of President John Adams. He was a Boston Puritan born in 1838 who at sixteen attended Harvard College—severely berated here—and went on to pursue a career as a journalist, novelist and historian. His historical gamut stretches from the American Revolution to the years just before World Epistemological inquiry in the form of self-denigrating autobiography. Written in the third person, at times overbearingly acerbic. Author Henry Adams was grandson of President John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of President John Adams. He was a Boston Puritan born in 1838 who at sixteen attended Harvard College—severely berated here—and went on to pursue a career as a journalist, novelist and historian. His historical gamut stretches from the American Revolution to the years just before World War I. His writing is wry with patches of brilliance and, less often, turgidity. There are some extraordinary scenes. In one it's 1860 and Henry Adams travels as a courier for the American consulate to Sicily to find Garibaldi "in the Senate house toward sunset, at supper with his picturesque and piratic staff, in the full noise and color of the Palermo revolution." He also meets William Makepeace Thackery, Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, Charles Lyell, Ulysses S. Grant, Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few. It was fascinating for me to learn that in 1861, when the author arrived in England as a private secretary to his U.S. diplomat father, that the British recognized the legitimacy of the Confederate belligerency and came close two years later to recognizing the Confederacy as a state. Then came the Trent Affair in which two Confederate diplomats (Mason and Slidel) were seized by a U.S. vessel from a British mail steamer—clearly an act of war. The author describes the tentativeness of their position in London at the time. Mostly the first half of the book is a merciless dissection of British royalty, society, manners, dining (ugh), and eccentricity in general in the latter half if the 19th century. Adams views it as wholly self-centered and self-regarding, a closed world without lessons to offer him. He's says so in a singular, scabrous overview that's at times very funny. It occurs to me that the The Education of Henry Adams (1906)—whether intentionally or not—serves as a kind of corrective to James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson (1819). In it many of the assumptions underlying that earlier work are called into question. Dr. Johnson's famous bromide—"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."—gets a thorough refutation. Adams' insights come at the expense of himself and anyone nearby. His irony morphs at times into vitriol. Lauded as a unique view on the American story. I think it very well may be. This has for me been one of those great interstitial reads, in which, using the framework of autobiography, the writer is able to cover many of the nooks and crannies of history often overlooked in more general texts. Neil Sheehan does much the same thing but with biography in his Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. I recommend both books highly, though from a literary point of view Sheehan's is the better written work. Time has not been kind to Adams' style. Though there must have been a day when it was considered muscular, its phrasing today strikes one as slightly archaic and stilted at times. Its historical insights may be unique, but the text's omissions are as telling as its inclusions. Indeed, Henry Adams' world seems strangely Islamic with half its population going unmentioned. Women had virtually no role in the society of his day—they certainly did not have the vote—except as helpmeets and incubators of heirs. It's very strange to read historiography which excludes them so painstakingly. (Tellingly, Clover, his wife of many years, is completely written out of the book. This seems truly strange when one learns by way of a Wikipedia search that in 1885 she killed herself by drinking darkroom chemicals. Adams takes a page or two to rhapsodize about the Augustus St Gaudens' statue he commissioned for her grave, in Rock Creek Cemetery, but he never tells us it's for his wife. This we must learn by independent means.) It is the ultimate form of self-denigration to declare that one is beyond education. The kind of almost omniscient learnedness that Adams pursues is a literary convention that dates to the ancients. He returns to this hobbyhorse over and over. It wears thin, for he is only able to keep to his steed by views increasingly abstract. The writing—always a challenge—grow less coherent the deeper into the book we go. So an at times fascinating if ultimately problematic read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    Amazing. There are a just a few books (Meditations, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Brothers Karamazov) that I feel every person on the planet should read. This is one of those books. If you are a historian, a diplomat, a Civil War buff or an amateur philosopher, this book will strongly resonate.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    One of the oddest books I've ever read, and am ever likely to read: an autobiography written in the third person, which tells us almost nothing at all about the author/central character, this seems more like a pre-modernist bildungsroman than anything else. The weirdness doesn't end there- Henry Adams spends much of his time philosophizing about history while the narrator (call him Mr Adams) spends most of his time explaining that Henry Adams is a fool who has no idea what he's talking about; He One of the oddest books I've ever read, and am ever likely to read: an autobiography written in the third person, which tells us almost nothing at all about the author/central character, this seems more like a pre-modernist bildungsroman than anything else. The weirdness doesn't end there- Henry Adams spends much of his time philosophizing about history while the narrator (call him Mr Adams) spends most of his time explaining that Henry Adams is a fool who has no idea what he's talking about; Henry Adams involves himself in politics, the academy, and Grand Tourism but Mr Adams rants about the uselessness of politics and the academy, and rolls his eyes at Henry's failure to understand or properly enjoy any of the things he sees while Grand Touring. As if that's not hard enough to deal with, Mr Adams' assumes that you've already heard of him and all his friends, and that you know what they were about. Sometimes this works okay (for instance, I know a bit about Swinburne and the presidents he encounters); often it doesn't (Henry, Mr King and Mr Hay were clearly very close friends, but what exactly the latter two did, what they believed, and what impact their actions had on the greater world remains a mystery to me). If you're deeply versed in 19th century American politics, you'll probably find his comments on those men and dozens of others amusing and interesting. I am not so versed. Despite which, this is an amazing, brilliant book, well worth the considerable effort needed to read it, because Mr Adams and Henry Adams are pretty obviously men you would like to spend time with in heaven. One of them, or maybe both, would amuse you with lines such as: "Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces. The men become every year more and more creatures of force, massed about central power-houses. The conflict is no longer between the men, but between the motors that drive the men, and the men tend to succumb to their own motive forces." and "Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds." I don't know, though, if I'd like to spend much time chatting with Adams himself.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    Once more! this is a story of education, not of adventure! It is meant to help young men—or such as have intelligence enough to seek help—but it is not meant to amuse them. Everyone agrees that this book is difficult and odd. An autobiography of an American man of letters, the son of a diplomat, grandson of a president, historian, journalist, secretary, all told in the third person, written for his private circle of friends. At once claiming to be the story of one man’s life, a critique of the Once more! this is a story of education, not of adventure! It is meant to help young men—or such as have intelligence enough to seek help—but it is not meant to amuse them. Everyone agrees that this book is difficult and odd. An autobiography of an American man of letters, the son of a diplomat, grandson of a president, historian, journalist, secretary, all told in the third person, written for his private circle of friends. At once claiming to be the story of one man’s life, a critique of the educational methods of the nineteenth century, a parable of the fin de siècle, and a new theory of history, the book is, in reality, none of the above, and is instead the sigh of an old man looking back on his life. I must admit that I found this book exasperating in the extreme. One quickly gets the impression that, when Adams uses the word “education,” it is meaningless or worse than meaningless. He goes to London with his father, and becomes intimately acquainted with the workings of British politics, all during the difficult years of the American Civil War, and complains that he received no useful “education.” He teaches at Harvard for seven years, a professor of Medieval History, and concludes: “On the whole, he was content neither with what he had taught nor with the way he had taught it. The seven years in teaching seemed to him lost.” He becomes a journalist in the capital, and then works on a seven-volume history of America during Jefferson’s presidency; and still, after all this, he insists he has received no useful “education.” And after every phase of his life, when Adams rings the same gloomy bell, the reader asks: “What on earth would satisfy you, Mr. Adams?” Another exasperating element is the degree to which Adams assumes a familiarity with the intricacies of 19th century politics. Reading the chapters when he was in England felt like reading a grocer’s shopkeeping books. It was disjointed, jerky, and, worst of all, didn’t explain a thing. At first, I assumed this difficulty resulted from Adams’s originally writing the book for his circle of friends; but the obscurity goes even further: it is as if Adams wrote the book only for himself. The book swings wildly in tone from dry note-taking to half-formed and half-coherent abstractions, all written in a prose style lucidly opaque. Adams also gives the impression of being a bit muddle-headed. He spends some time talking about Lyell’s geology and Darwin’s evolution, and it soon becomes apparent he understands neither. He goes on long tangents about “force,” while it is obvious that what Adams means by that word is as meaningless as what he means by “education.” He ends the book on a very confused and seemingly pointless attempt to give a mathematical explanation of history, but never reaches above vague commonplaces, endlessly repeated. I seldom came across an insight of his that was insightful. In short, the impression was that Adams had taken all of the stuff of his life—his doings, his friendships, his thoughts, his career, his background—and left it out to bake in the hot sun, until all the savor and succulence was scorched out of it, leaving only a tough jerky that wearies the jaw in the attempt to chew the husk. Still, after all this, I must admit that this book has a strange power. There were times I could not put it down, even when I felt I wasn’t understanding a thing. Adams always seemed to be only two steps away from a great insight, an astounding thought; but he never quite reaches it, which is why the book can seem so tragic. He was always searching and never finding; and the reader is left in doubt what he was searching for, and whether anyone will ever find it. In his elegant, knotty prose, he turns out aphorism after aphorism—all apparently insightful, but in reality empty—popping like soap bubbles leaving nothing but air. And what saves the book is that Adams knew this, and yet could do nothing better.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mackenzie

    there is no book like this anywhere else in American literature. It annoys, it fascinates, it bores, it amuses... a densely textured, thoughtful, at times exasperating story of growing up in the American 19th Century by the great-grandson of one president and the grandson of another -- who freely admits he should have lived in the 18th Century.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    Henry Adams the Great Grandson of John Adams wrote this Autobiography on his observations growing up in Boston and Quincey Massachusettes. Going to Harvard. As a Diplomatic Attache in Britain during the Civil War. As a newspaper reporter and professor. The narrative is a commentary on Adams bewilderment at the accelerating changes of his time and his struggle to understand the people and events around him. Lost in the landslide of the late 19th century which would only grow larger in the 20th a Henry Adams the Great Grandson of John Adams wrote this Autobiography on his observations growing up in Boston and Quincey Massachusettes. Going to Harvard. As a Diplomatic Attache in Britain during the Civil War. As a newspaper reporter and professor. The narrative is a commentary on Adams bewilderment at the accelerating changes of his time and his struggle to understand the people and events around him. Lost in the landslide of the late 19th century which would only grow larger in the 20th and 21st century. He captures the growing vertigo of modernity and peoples place in a world dominated by great tectonic shifting forces. He had his pulse on the changes that would make his times and the times to come as interesting in the way of the Chinese curse.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    Henry Adams was the original celebutante: famous for nothing other than being related to the two John Adams(es), he was in the unique position of having access to the upper crust of post-revolutionary America without having the burden of any kind of responsibility. This book is a guided tour of 19th-Century America, told with surprising wit and self-awareness-- his description of Harvard as (and I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly) a place where rich children went to drink beer and call themselve Henry Adams was the original celebutante: famous for nothing other than being related to the two John Adams(es), he was in the unique position of having access to the upper crust of post-revolutionary America without having the burden of any kind of responsibility. This book is a guided tour of 19th-Century America, told with surprising wit and self-awareness-- his description of Harvard as (and I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly) a place where rich children went to drink beer and call themselves lawyers is fantastic. It humanizes a period of history that is too often reduced to formality and statues and, more amazingly, provides a picture of life American history that's genuinely fun to read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Manray9

    Nothing I could write would do justice to The Education of Henry Adams. Adams combines erudition, keen observation, wit and clear prose in creating the best example of the memoirist’s art.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Olsen

    I slogged through a Kindle edition of this classic, dodging the typos, and struggled with what to make of it. It wasn't at all what I expected of an American patriarchal autobiography. It was relentlessly, even annoyingly, self-effacing and pessimistic. Chapter after chapter details what he didn't learn in Boston, in London, in Germany.... from the senators and ambassadors he grew up with. I couldn't figure him out until I finally decided that he was really talking to himself the whole time. He I slogged through a Kindle edition of this classic, dodging the typos, and struggled with what to make of it. It wasn't at all what I expected of an American patriarchal autobiography. It was relentlessly, even annoyingly, self-effacing and pessimistic. Chapter after chapter details what he didn't learn in Boston, in London, in Germany.... from the senators and ambassadors he grew up with. I couldn't figure him out until I finally decided that he was really talking to himself the whole time. He didn't seem to care much about his readers (despite his concern about educating the next generation of Americans for the 20th century, etc) and he didn't seem to care much about creating a narrative (the only through-line is chronology and the theme of Failed Educations). He can write beautifully so stretches of description and analysis kept me going to the end, but most of the paragraphs are frustratingly choppy. He'll write a short abstract sentence. Then another one. Then another. And you'll wonder..... what is he talking about?? Despite all this complaining, this book is like nothing else I've ever read. Now I'm interested in reading the new biography of his wife (who is never, not once, mentioned in the autobiography).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    This is my second least favorite book thus far from the Lifetime Reading Plan. My least favorite being the Q'uran. Henry Adams was the grandson and great grandson of Presidents. Although a Bostonian, he inherited an eccentric outsider-dom from his famous forebears, and remained to the end of his life apart from the business community of that city. Adams has the disconcerting habit of speaking of himself in the third person like Jimmy from Seinfeld. "Henry Adams doesn't like this steak! Henry Adam This is my second least favorite book thus far from the Lifetime Reading Plan. My least favorite being the Q'uran. Henry Adams was the grandson and great grandson of Presidents. Although a Bostonian, he inherited an eccentric outsider-dom from his famous forebears, and remained to the end of his life apart from the business community of that city. Adams has the disconcerting habit of speaking of himself in the third person like Jimmy from Seinfeld. "Henry Adams doesn't like this steak! Henry Adams wants you to send it back!" As a part of the family of Founding Fathers, he stands between two centuries, the eighteenth and the twentieth. He wrote this book in 1904, and at age 66 he is still forward-looking, wondering what the twentieth century has in store. He was fly on the wall for the nineteeth. After concentrating the narrative on his education, which includes Harvard, he concludes that the education one picks up accidentally is more valuable then what one received intentionally at even the most respected institutions. After that, the bulk of the heart of the book is spent on Charles Francis Adams' (Henry's dad's)tenure as American Minister in London during Civil War years, and Henry's tenure as his personal secretary (Nepotism? Naaaahh!)At first, the American minister is shunned by members of Parliament, as the predominant opinion was that the Union would not survive the Civil War. But C. F. Adams is persistent, circumstances improve, and the Minister attains victory in the Laird ironclad affair. Adams has little good to say about the character of English politicians in general, but ends up making a few very close friends. When he reaches 1870, he suddenly skips twenty years. It just so happens that during this period was when he met and married his wife, who with Henry, and others, comprised the predominant intellectual salon in the U.S. This was also the period where Adams had his salad days as author and Harvard history professor. Seems to me this would have been prime material to include, but as he felt he wasn't being "educated" during that period, he skips it. Unfortunately, the post 1890 years are anticlimactic. At the end of the book, he tries (IMO unsuccessfully) to articulate his "dynamic theory of history". In reading about this, I couldn't help but think of the closing chapters of Tolstoy's "War and Peace", where the great Count makes a more lucid case for a scientific approach to history. Like Tolstoy, Adams seems to imagine a future figure not unlike Isaac Asimov's Hari Selden, a "psychohistorian" who can use the science of history to predict future events. Also unfortunately, Adams was a clear product of the Victorian Age. Those guys never told the real dirt on themselves. This would have been a good book in which to do so, as one is educated by his youthful maistakes and indiscretions. It's a shame, but one thing you never think when reading this book: "Oh Henry Adams! What kind of crazy shit are you gonna do next?" The style of the book is mannered, curlicued, and sometimes opaque. For those who wonder why, this book is exactly why the world needed a Hemingway.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sher

    The Education of Henry Adams is an exploration of politics and culture in the mid-19th C through early 20th C. The voice is third person, which is odd for an autobiography. The narrative traces Adams' time through the Civil War period when he was in England as a private secretary for his father who was a diplomat. Various American presidents come under Adams's scrutiny Lincoln, Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few. The book doesn't get a five star from me for its clarity, because I found muc The Education of Henry Adams is an exploration of politics and culture in the mid-19th C through early 20th C. The voice is third person, which is odd for an autobiography. The narrative traces Adams' time through the Civil War period when he was in England as a private secretary for his father who was a diplomat. Various American presidents come under Adams's scrutiny Lincoln, Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few. The book doesn't get a five star from me for its clarity, because I found much to question in this book such as why doesn't he ever mention his wife, and why does he portray himself as such a failure, and what does he mean by "education." through each decade of his life? The conflicts between traditional morality and the past generations of Jefferson and Adams and the forces of science and technology are key to being included on his journey into the modern age. Literary critics call this work a unique melding of autobiography, coming of age, and social commentary, and I found it so. It's a work to be read if you are interested in 19th C American Intellectual history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    James

    I have read several great confessional autobiographies over the centuries, Augustine and Rousseau come to mind, but my favorite is Henry Adams' narrative, The Education of Henry Adams. The Preface and four opening chapters provide a solid foundation for the entire book. They focus on his youth in Massachusetts and time spent in Washington, D. C. and at Harvard College through his twentieth year. His attention points to the nature of his own education growing up in a family whose very name was syn I have read several great confessional autobiographies over the centuries, Augustine and Rousseau come to mind, but my favorite is Henry Adams' narrative, The Education of Henry Adams. The Preface and four opening chapters provide a solid foundation for the entire book. They focus on his youth in Massachusetts and time spent in Washington, D. C. and at Harvard College through his twentieth year. His attention points to the nature of his own education growing up in a family whose very name was synonymous with the Presidency of the United States. Born in 1838, both his Great Grandfather and Grandfather had been presidents, while his father looked forward to an Ambassadorship to England during the Civil War. Henry's education would be continued during that period as secretary to his father. But first he narrates the experience of growing up torn by family connections between the small town of Quincy and the metropolis of Boston. The two towns provide just one of the contrasts that concern young Henry; contrasts that include town (Boston) versus country (Quincy), Winter versus Summer, and his own family ties between the Brooks of Boston on his mother's side and the Adams on his father's side. It was the interstices between these and other contrasting experiences that provided young Henry with the "seeds of moral education". Even this early in his life, as he reflects from the view of the twentieth century, he questioned what and who he was and where he was going with his life. The community and culture that formed Henry's mind and being included family friends that would become historical figures for those of us born in the latter half of the succeeding century; figures that included, in addition to his family, Ellery Channing, Waldo Emerson, Richard Henry Dana, and above all for Henry, his hero, Charles Sumner. Henry worshiped the Senator and Orator and looked up to New England statesmen like him that expressed "the old Ciceronian idea of government by the best". People like Daniel Webster and Edward Everett who governed Massachusetts. Henry, however, was destined to move on to Washington with his father as the Adams family had for decades been a part of the national stage. Henry did not like school and rather preferred the free play with his peers. In spite of his opinion of school it is clear that he was continuing his education at home and was soon to move back north to enter Harvard College in his sixteenth hear. His thoughts on his education at that time rang true to this reader as he described his travel to Washington, not as what happened but as what he remembered. And this was "what struck him most, to remain fresh in his mind all his life-time, . . the sudden change that came over the world on entering a slave State. He took education politically." His time in Washington ended with a remark that "he had no education", a continuing contradiction that stemmed from his own reaction to the "official" education he was undergoing in schools that contrasted (once more see above) with the true education in which his experience was creating memories. Harvard does not suit his taste either - the curriculum had no particular quality that could impress the man that Henry was becoming; a man who was not only a reader but a writer. He was impressed by Russell Lowell who "had brought back from Germany the only new and valuable part of its Universities, the habit of allowing students to read with him privately in his study. Adams asked the privilege, and used it to read a little, and to talk a great deal." His friendship with Lowell led him to connections with the transcendentalists although he never became one. He also became friends with one Robert E. Lee at Harvard and enjoyed a coterie of Virginian friends despite their Southern ways. At the end of his formal education he was able to conclude that "As yet he knew nothing." A bit of harsh judgment for the Senior Class Orator, but great minds are sometimes hardest on themselves. The remainder of the autobiography takes him on a journey through Darwin and Chicago and "The Dynamo and the Virgin" into the beginning of the twentieth century. His story is always interesting and his prose is some of the best I have encountered. I may comment further on it as I continue to read and reread about his thoughts on a very particular education.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne Russell

    The "hallelujah" did escape, and loudly, from my lips when this read was finally done, but that reaction was only to the last quarter of the book or so. Otherwise, well worth the read. As the book begins, he vividly and concretely describes his youth, and throughout his middle-aged years also, his ponderings are grounded in specific descriptions and prompts for reflection. Since he has two Presidential ancestors and is part of the Bostonian elite, his access to the most prominent figures of histo The "hallelujah" did escape, and loudly, from my lips when this read was finally done, but that reaction was only to the last quarter of the book or so. Otherwise, well worth the read. As the book begins, he vividly and concretely describes his youth, and throughout his middle-aged years also, his ponderings are grounded in specific descriptions and prompts for reflection. Since he has two Presidential ancestors and is part of the Bostonian elite, his access to the most prominent figures of history during historically significant times makes for fascinating reading (e.g. he serves as the Ambassador to England's secretary during the Civil War). However, as the book closes in on his later years, he starts to replace real life events with postulations about a dynamic theory of history that he has conjured out of his lifetime of humanistic study. At this point, the only life experiences we hear about are points of interest in traveling Europe and health updates about Secretary of State John Hay. The pontificating in this section of the book is laborious reading. Bravo for his section on the power of women and the detrimental effect of Westernized de-sexing of women.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Library Biography #32! I have so many emotions and thoughts about this book. First, props to my reading group that actually inspired me to get through this book!! The Education of Henry Adams is not a quick read. I found it to be like nothing else I have read before. I had to be fully submerged and engaged with the text to get the most out of it. I couldn't get distracted or be in a noisy, distracting environment (usually not an issue for me) to comprehend what Henry Adams was trying to convey. I r Library Biography #32! I have so many emotions and thoughts about this book. First, props to my reading group that actually inspired me to get through this book!! The Education of Henry Adams is not a quick read. I found it to be like nothing else I have read before. I had to be fully submerged and engaged with the text to get the most out of it. I couldn't get distracted or be in a noisy, distracting environment (usually not an issue for me) to comprehend what Henry Adams was trying to convey. I rated this a 3 star because I know I didn't get everything I could have out of this book. Let me put it this way, I know very little about 1800's politics to follow. Adams does have little glowing tidbits along the way that I could relate to and admire. Honestly, Henry Adams deserves more from the American people. He deserves to be heard! He made many remarks about the times in which he lived, that still ring true today! Potential nerdy heartthrob!

  15. 4 out of 5

    J. Dunn

    I'll agree with the ratings of this among the best nonfiction of the 20th century. It is another of my favorite genre, the "books about everything." It covers roughly the period from 1850 to 1905, and hits on almost every major historical and intellectual development of the time, but from a unique personal and anecdotal perspective. Adams was a man of great gifts and cultivation, but with a unique, eccentric, mugwumpishly conservative temperament that makes his collision and confrontation with t I'll agree with the ratings of this among the best nonfiction of the 20th century. It is another of my favorite genre, the "books about everything." It covers roughly the period from 1850 to 1905, and hits on almost every major historical and intellectual development of the time, but from a unique personal and anecdotal perspective. Adams was a man of great gifts and cultivation, but with a unique, eccentric, mugwumpishly conservative temperament that makes his collision and confrontation with the early modernist era he lived through especially instructive and relevant to our own time. The filters of what his worldview did and didn't take for granted reveal fresh insights about our country's rapid and jarring growth from an agrarian experimental republic into a modern industrial superpower.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Perhaps, in another life, Henry Adams would have been a great thinker, one who, like Benjamin or Nietzsche, penetrated the myths of modern society and showed the world a glittering realm of possibility. There's a sense of the doom of modernity that wreaths his thoughts like a fog-- in line with T.S. Eliot, Thomas Carlyle, and other anti-moderns. It's a conservatism that, unlike that of Christians and free marketeers, at least deserves a certain sympathy. Pathetic, perhaps, but ultimately you fee Perhaps, in another life, Henry Adams would have been a great thinker, one who, like Benjamin or Nietzsche, penetrated the myths of modern society and showed the world a glittering realm of possibility. There's a sense of the doom of modernity that wreaths his thoughts like a fog-- in line with T.S. Eliot, Thomas Carlyle, and other anti-moderns. It's a conservatism that, unlike that of Christians and free marketeers, at least deserves a certain sympathy. Pathetic, perhaps, but ultimately you feel bad for its practitioners, realizing that they're just damaged people-- like Mr. Adams, unhappy nostalgics looking for a way out of the alienating, discordant present. He's kinda whiny, but I get the feeling I'd still enjoy a couple beers with him. And with his kinda cash, he'd be footing the bill.

  17. 4 out of 5

    James

    The memoir of a man and a family, Henry Adams was the son of a diplomat/ politician, grandson of a president and the great-grandson of another. The Adams family had produced leaders for the country since its founding and Henry Adams was heir to that leadership. In his Education he produced one of the best autobiographies ever written, chronicling the rapid change of the last half of the nineteenth century while sharing personal experiences with his father, at Harvard, Washington and elsewhere. I The memoir of a man and a family, Henry Adams was the son of a diplomat/ politician, grandson of a president and the great-grandson of another. The Adams family had produced leaders for the country since its founding and Henry Adams was heir to that leadership. In his Education he produced one of the best autobiographies ever written, chronicling the rapid change of the last half of the nineteenth century while sharing personal experiences with his father, at Harvard, Washington and elsewhere. I highly recommend this narrative for all readers interested in good writing and the history of the United States.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 3 out of 5 stars for the Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams. Please note:// There are light spoilers so I marked my review accordingly. I found this definition of education online: ed·u·ca·tion [ˌejəˈkāSH(ə)n] NOUN • the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university • the theory and practice of teaching • the body of knowledge acquired while being educated • an enlightening experience This definition is probably the way most people would define educatio 3 out of 5 stars for the Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams. Please note:// There are light spoilers so I marked my review accordingly. I found this definition of education online: ed·u·ca·tion [ˌejəˈkāSH(ə)n] NOUN • the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university • the theory and practice of teaching • the body of knowledge acquired while being educated • an enlightening experience This definition is probably the way most people would define education, and is the way I would define it myself. Adams challenges this classical definition of education by changing what most people would consider to be a noun (a person, place, or thing) into a verb (action). In this autobiography, I believe his goal was to illustrate to his readers that education is an action or a life long pursuit, not something that simply "is". Adams treated his personal education as a fluid, ever-changing, and dynamic force that was always yearning for renewal. A difficulty I had with his theory of education was that he never seemed happy or content throughout his life - he was ALWAYS searching for something, and I personally believe that at some point(s) one has to take life as it is, or as it comes, and one shouldn't exhaust him/herself constantly pursuing education/knowledge like Adams did in his life. Did this book open my mind to seeing education in a new light? My answer to that is maybe it did a little bit. Adams raises some interesting points in this book and it is interesting throughout. He gets a little heavy handed for me in some parts. He definitely lived an eventful life, though. Henry Adams is the grandson of John Quincy Adams and the great grandson of John Adams. Imagine being descendant to two former presidents! Adams served as personal secretary to his father Charles Francis Adams who served as ambassador to England during the Civil War. The U.S. sent an Adams to England for 3 generations- John brokered the peace with England to end the American Revolution, his son, John Quincy settled with England to end the War of 1812. Charles Francis Adams deftly kept England out of direct interference in the American Civil War, for which he should be highly commended. After serving as secretary, Henry became a journalist for a while, then taught history at Harvard, then became (more or less) a freelance U.S. historian writing "History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison" , among other similar historical works. His life spanned from 1838-1918, so he lived through the American Civil War, saw the turn of the 20th century and even lived through World War I. His life and times were indeed eventful, to say the least. I was personally more interested in reading this autobiography to learn about the Adams family descendants to find out what happened to the family after John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The politics appear to have ceased with Henry Adams. I believed he rebelled against his legacy, which may (or may not) have been his biggest mistake he made during his life. He seemed to blaze his own trail, and for that reason, if nothing else, I would recommend this book for other readers to see how he went about it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mommalibrarian

    Henry Adams was the fly on the wall for many years. His self-report is that he never had any power, his actions had no effect and he never really understood anything. I don't know how true any of that was but he was still complaining at the end. The book made me want to know a lot more about the 'fly-over' parts of US history. I am now certain that we have had several absolutely horrible presidents and survived. You will have to read the book to see who Adams put in that category. Interesting ti Henry Adams was the fly on the wall for many years. His self-report is that he never had any power, his actions had no effect and he never really understood anything. I don't know how true any of that was but he was still complaining at the end. The book made me want to know a lot more about the 'fly-over' parts of US history. I am now certain that we have had several absolutely horrible presidents and survived. You will have to read the book to see who Adams put in that category. Interesting tidbits: - "slave-power [money interest in] overshadowed all the great Boston interests [morality]" -"Average human nature is very coarse, and its ideals must necessarily be average. The world never loved perfect poise. What the world does love is commonly absence of poise, for it has to be amused." [Obama and Trump] - "no one took Harvard College seriously. All went there because their friends went there, and the College was their ideal of social self-respect." - "college drinking was not of lasting negative impact but.. the habit of looking at life as a social relation - an affair of society - did no good. It cultivated a weakness which needed no cultivation." - In Britain during the Civil War, sentiment was that the US Federal government would fail and Jefferson Davis would make a nation. At this time Britain had already abolished slavery but was dependent on southern sources of cotton for its mills. The British public found Lincoln a laughable figure. - the creation of railroads "required all the new machinery to be created - capital, banks, mines, furnaces, shops, power-houses, technical knowledge, mechanical , population, together with steady remodeling of social and political habits, ideas, and institutions to fit the new scale and suit the new conditions." [as tumultuous as the process of computer to AI] - a US Senator pushed for a suit against Britain for aiding the south. He maintained that the British support extended the civil war by two years, cost the US $2.125B and thought we should get Canada as compensation. - "morality is a private and costly luxury" This is a very dense book and if you follow up on every curious side story it will take you forever to read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jon Frankel

    Henry Adams’ The Education of Henry Adams is intellectual autobiography told in a slightly mocking, gently ironic third person. Henry Adams is never off the page. He anatomizes himself with the same acuity, but greater clarity, than the other Henry, Mr. James, analyzes his characters. Adams was born in 1838 and bears witness to the industrial, scientific, cultural, and intellectual revolutions of the 19th century. He is aware that he shares a womb with the future, even as his instinct draws him Henry Adams’ The Education of Henry Adams is intellectual autobiography told in a slightly mocking, gently ironic third person. Henry Adams is never off the page. He anatomizes himself with the same acuity, but greater clarity, than the other Henry, Mr. James, analyzes his characters. Adams was born in 1838 and bears witness to the industrial, scientific, cultural, and intellectual revolutions of the 19th century. He is aware that he shares a womb with the future, even as his instinct draws him to the past, the medieval past of the High Middle Ages, of Dante, and Aquinas, of the cathedrals of Chartres and Mont St. Michel. A provincial boy, he grows into a true cosmopolitan, traveling the world, teaching at Harvard for 7 years, writing about art and politics, and presiding over a legendary Washington DC salon. He wrote a multivolume history of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. He knew everyone. As a very young man he accompanied his father, a congressman, and son of John Quincy Adams, to the court in London, as personal secretary. Their job was to prevent England from entering the civil war on the side of the south. His closest friends were John Hay, who served presidents from Lincoln to Roosevelt, and Henry Cabot Lodge, senator from Massachusetts, cousin of American philosopher Charles Pierce. In The Education the scientific revolution, especially Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also in theoretical physics, provokes a spiritual crisis that Adams resolves into a theory of history. I have never encountered a more fascinating, ruminative mind in action. Adams ponders, is troubled by, and works out the complex philosophical/spiritual/ethical challenge of emerging modernism with the mind of an average person, and this is what is so exhilarating. His very modesty allows you to share his puzzlement. And the thing is, he seems to love the sensation of alienation, he enjoys the antiquation of a world he grew up in (the 18th century is his world in many ways, not the 19th). He gently weaves a thesis out of chaos and perceived order. His mind is deeply, intractably dialectical. He seems to have absorbed Marx. He anticipates Freud. Chaos Theory and Quantum Mechanics would not have surprised him at all. Post-modern skepticism is already in his mental framework. It is no wonder that the great historian of American politics, Walter Lefebre, assigned this book to all of his first year graduate students. This book makes it to number one on all the greatest hits of nonfiction lists. There’s a reason for it. It is totally brilliant from beginning to end, and it is one of the few books I wish had kept going and going and going.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Frederick

    I'll augment my review later, but I'll give my first impression of this book now, having finished reading it yesterday. Adams's life, in itself, is interesting. He seems to have been a man of good grace, kindness and ability. (He was extremely well-placed, being the direct descendent of both Presidents Adams.) As the book progresses, more and more of the education he claims not to have shows, until, by the end, he almost seems to be throwing educational firecrackers at the reader. I learned THIS I'll augment my review later, but I'll give my first impression of this book now, having finished reading it yesterday. Adams's life, in itself, is interesting. He seems to have been a man of good grace, kindness and ability. (He was extremely well-placed, being the direct descendent of both Presidents Adams.) As the book progresses, more and more of the education he claims not to have shows, until, by the end, he almost seems to be throwing educational firecrackers at the reader. I learned THIS. Bang! I learned THIS! Bang! THIS! Crash! THIS! Boom! So, I sense that the story really is about a fellow who served people around him with great humility for most of his life, who finally got to say what he really thought of being the constant servant. I am being a bit unfair. Adams shows, by the end of the book, that he has a tremendous understanding of physics. (He was among the first to witness a demonstration of the X-ray.) This autobiography, published nine years before Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, builds the same way that great novel does. This makes me wonder if Joyce read THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS. [Probably not until AFTER the publication of PORTRAIT, inasmuch as Adams' book was only available in a privately printed edition as of 1906. It was published commercially in 1918, shortly after Adams' death. He won a Pulitzer posthumously. So Joyce would have been aware of him before ULYSSES. But would he have liked him?] Adams is really saying, "I have lived!" But I can't help wondering if he really thought his knowledge of physics was a sign of his gift, or the fact that, throughout his adult life, Presidents and senators called upon him to act as advisor or diplomat. He seems to think this political capacity of his is trivial. Or does he? It is a sly book, with a tone of clarity, but I can't really tell if he believed his own theory of force. I sense he thought building his theory was his life-work. He periodically drew attention to other scientists, which reinforces my concept of him as a diplomat. I'm not sure he would have called himself a scientist, of course. He seems to have preferred to call himself an historian. But if he was an historian, why is his thrust one of theory?

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    The Education of Henry Adams is on my list of books to re-read. I first read it as a senior undergrad in the '75-'76 academic year at the University of Illinois. It was an introductory political theory course. In addition to EOHA, we read Civilization and Its Discontents, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a few others. EOHA was our "conservative book". It was a fluff course that I took to fill in my social science requirements. But the books we were assigned are all worthwhile and I would lo The Education of Henry Adams is on my list of books to re-read. I first read it as a senior undergrad in the '75-'76 academic year at the University of Illinois. It was an introductory political theory course. In addition to EOHA, we read Civilization and Its Discontents, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a few others. EOHA was our "conservative book". It was a fluff course that I took to fill in my social science requirements. But the books we were assigned are all worthwhile and I would love to read them again. I don't remember much from Henry Adams except the lingering impression that, if his intelligence was not so obvious, he would seem almost a crank. I specifically plan to re-read EOHA because some friends have been busting my chops that I am a liberal. I think that I am an old-fashioned moderate and that they are radicals. Not that any of that matters. But I am re-aquainting myself with some of the old conservative chestnuts to gain a sense of how right (or wrong) that I am about my own political leanings.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    An important book for anyone with an interest in American history and literature, by a descendant of two presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams). I especially enjoyed his accounts of British politics during the American Civil War, which he spent in London serving as private secretary to his father, Charles Frances Adams, the Minister to Great Britain. Since Adams did not intend his "Education" to be read by anyone other than close friends and family it can be a bit obscure, so it helps to An important book for anyone with an interest in American history and literature, by a descendant of two presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams). I especially enjoyed his accounts of British politics during the American Civil War, which he spent in London serving as private secretary to his father, Charles Frances Adams, the Minister to Great Britain. Since Adams did not intend his "Education" to be read by anyone other than close friends and family it can be a bit obscure, so it helps to do a little research first if you are not familiar with any of the details of his life. Elegantly written, a wonderful work of intellectual history. The edition I read has an excellent introduction by D.W. Brogan.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    While acknowledging that this book is Important, I respectfully submit that it won't stay that way for much longer. The most interesting aspect of the book - its commitment to something like psychic catastrophism - is also, from a formal perspective, what makes it a tedious read, and the sheer volume of petty political sniping (about slights and missteps that occurred in, like, 1872) is enough to make one almost embarrassed for the aging Adams. Add to that the author's by now pretty untenable co While acknowledging that this book is Important, I respectfully submit that it won't stay that way for much longer. The most interesting aspect of the book - its commitment to something like psychic catastrophism - is also, from a formal perspective, what makes it a tedious read, and the sheer volume of petty political sniping (about slights and missteps that occurred in, like, 1872) is enough to make one almost embarrassed for the aging Adams. Add to that the author's by now pretty untenable conviction that in 1900 THE ENTIRE FABRIC OF HUMAN EXISTENCE WAS PERMANENTLY TRANSFORMED, supported by a very confused version of physics and biology, and you get a book many times the worse for historical perspective - as Adams, to his credit, probably would've predicted.

  25. 5 out of 5

    John

    Even up to the first 200 pages, I was ready to give this work one star but then, I started to get it. After that , every page, every paragraph had to be thought about. I do not think I have ever used the word amazing to describe a book before this but this was amazing..PERHAPS THE NUMBER ONE NONFICTION OF THE 20TH CENTURY. This was self published and not publicly available until after the authors death. He wrote his true thoughts, not just what he thought people would pay to read. HE WAS HONEST Even up to the first 200 pages, I was ready to give this work one star but then, I started to get it. After that , every page, every paragraph had to be thought about. I do not think I have ever used the word amazing to describe a book before this but this was amazing..PERHAPS THE NUMBER ONE NONFICTION OF THE 20TH CENTURY. This was self published and not publicly available until after the authors death. He wrote his true thoughts, not just what he thought people would pay to read. HE WAS HONEST TO HIMSELF as few of us are. A great mind. A great man who did nothing much in his life time but did much in his life time. yeah I know???? LOL

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lisajean

    A third-person autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams is unlike anything I've ever read before. Adams does not come across as especially insightful or even particularly likeable, but I found myself compelled to keep reading. It's a fascinating picture of our country at the turn of the 20th century.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Russell Bittner

    The Education of Henry Adams is just that: i.e., the education of Henry Adams. But as he uses the word, it denotes a never-ending process between the two parentheses of birth and death. In that sense, Adams strips the word of its conventional value and re-dresses it in a habit more befitting a man who genuinely understands that education doesn’t end with formal schooling, but rather continues until he draws his final breath. And in this matter of education, Adams (who here — as in much of this The Education of Henry Adams is just that: i.e., the education of Henry Adams. But as he uses the word, it denotes a never-ending process between the two parentheses of birth and death. In that sense, Adams strips the word of its conventional value and re-dresses it in a habit more befitting a man who genuinely understands that education doesn’t end with formal schooling, but rather continues until he draws his final breath. And in this matter of education, Adams (who here — as in much of this autobiographical work — eschews the first person singular pronoun) is never easy on himself, the evidence for which we find with: “Henry Adams could see easy ways of making a hundred blunders; he could see no likely way of making a legitimate success. Such as it was, his so-called education was wanted nowhere” (p. 139). If this review is annoyingly long, it’s only because I want to cite some of Adams’s more salient points — of which there are many — and then let you be the judge of whether you’ll happily undertake your own reading of The Education of Henry Adams. For myself, I have to confess that the going at times was tough. But good things generally require time and effort — and this book is decidedly one of those good things. Taking all of this in somewhat chronological (or at least page) order, I’d suggest that the section beginning on p. 87 with “Foes or Friends (1862)” and continuing through p. 110 of the section titled “Political Morality” should be required reading for anyone contemplating a career in either politics or diplomacy. For the rest of us — mere observers of world events and of those who strut an hour across its stage — the same should be recommended reading. What may strike you — as it did me, over and over again in the course of my reading—is how little has changed over the centuries on this particular stage. What is it the French famously say? Plus ça change, plus ça reste la même chose. To put some recognizable names to Adams’s scrutiny of things and people Washingtonian, we have this on p. 173: “The idea that, as society grew older, it grew one-sided, upset evolution, and made of education a fraud. That, two thousand years after Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, a man like Grant should be called — and should actually and truly be — the highest product of the most advanced evolution, made evolution ludicrous. One must be as commonplace as Grant’s own commonplaces to maintain such an absurdity. The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin.” And on pp. 182-183, we find this: “Grant’s administration outraged every rule of ordinary decency, but scores of promising men, whom the country could not well spare, were ruined in saying so. The world cared little for decency. What it wanted, it did not know; probably a system that would work, and men who could work it; but it found neither. Adams had tried his own little hands on it, and had failed. His friends had been driven out of Washington or had taken to fisticuffs. He himself sat down and stared helplessly into the future … The political dilemma was as clear in 1870 as it was likely to be in 1970. The system of 1789 had broken down, and with it the eighteenth-century fabric of a priori, or moral, principles. Politicians had tacitly given it up. Grant’s administration marked the avowal. Nine-tenths of men’s political energies must henceforth be wasted on expedients to piece out — to patch — or, in vulgar language, to tinker — the political machine as often as it broke down. Such a system, or want of system, might last centuries, if tempered by an occasional revolution or civil war; but as a machine, it was, or soon would be, the poorest in the world—the clumsiest—the most inefficient.” If Adams finds fault in people and institutions in and around Washington, D. C., however, he spares the location itself any modicum of that same opprobrium—and does so with a prose almost deliriously poetic. On p. 166, we have: “The first effect of this leap into the unknown was a fit of low spirits new to the young man’s education; due in part to the overpowering beauty and sweetness of the Maryland autumn, almost unendurable for its strain on one who had toned his life down to the November grays and browns of northern Europe.” And again on pp. 174-175, we have this: “Education for education, none ever compared with the delight of this. The Potomac and its tributaries squandered beauty. Rock Creek was as wild as the Rocky Mountains. Here and there a negro log cabin alone disturbed the dogwood and the judas-tree, the azalea and the laurel. The tulip and the chestnut gave no sense of struggle against a stingy nature. The soft, full outlines of the landscape carried no hidden horror of glaciers in its bosom. The brooding heat of the profligate vegetation; the cool charm of the running water; the terrific splendor of the June thunder-gust in the deep and solitary woods, were all sensual, animal, elemental. No European spring had shown him the same intermixture of delicate grace and passionate depravity that marked the Maryland May. He loved it too much, as though it were Greek and half human.” I’ve already mentioned Adams’s penchant for self-denigration in this work. It starts early, and he doesn’t let up even as late as p. 203: “Perhaps Henry Adams was not worth educating; most keen judges incline to think that barely one man in a hundred owns a mind capable of reacting to any purpose on the forces that surround him, and fully half of these react wrongly. The object of education for that mind should be the teaching itself how to react with vigor and economy. No doubt the world at large will always lag so far behind the active mind as to make a soft cushion of inertia to drop upon, as it did for Henry Adams; but education should try to lessen the obstacles, diminish the friction, invigorate the energy, and should train minds to react, not at haphazard, but by choice, on the lines of force that attract their world. What one knows is, in youth, of little moment; they know enough who know how to learn. Throughout human history the waste of mind has been appalling, and, as this story is meant to show, society has conspired to promote it. No doubt the teacher is the worst criminal, but the world stands behind him and drags the student from his course. The moral is stentorian. Only the most energetic, the most highly fitted, and the most favored have overcome the friction of the viscosity of inertia, and these were compelled to waste three-fourths of their energy in doing it.” On p. 232, we find that Adams has withdrawn still further in his ruminations: “More than this, in every society worth the name, the man of sixty had been encouraged to ride this hobby — the Pursuit of Ignorance in Silence — as though it were the easiest way to get rid of him. In America, the silence was more oppressive than the ignorance; but perhaps elsewhere the world might still hide some haunt of futilitarian (sic) silence where content reigned — although long search had not revealed it — and so the pilgrimage began anew!” And yet, the cynical Adams remains: “After all, friends had done the work, if not one’s self, and he too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers” (p. 234). But the ever-vigilant Adams also remains: “A seeker of truth — or illusion — would be none the less restless, though a shark” (p. 258). After decades of watching friends and acquaintances rise to high places, Adams remains not singly — but becomes doubly — cynical. “Those who seek education in the paths of duty are always deceived by the illusion that power in the hands of friends is an advantage to them. As far as Adams could teach experience, he was bound to warn them that he had found it an invariable disaster. Power is poison. Its effect on Presidents had been always tragic, chiefly as an almost insane excitement at first, and a worse reaction afterwards; but also because no mind is so well balanced as to bear the strain of seizing unlimited force without habit or knowledge of it; and finding it disputed with him by hungry packs of wolves and hounds whose lives depend on snatching the carrion” (p. 268). On a side note — but with all of this in mind, and knowing that we may well have our first serious female contender for the presidency in 2016 — it might be of interest to read Adams’s observations on the plight of American women in his time (on pp. 282-286). Unfortunately, the citation is a tad too long to lay down here. By way of conclusion, and as a present New Yorker, I’ll cite one of Adams’s concluding paragraphs — and one I feel to be particularly apt as much today, in the year 2014, as it was in 1905 when he composed it under the title “Nunc Age”: “Nearly forty years had passed since the ex-private secretary landed at New York with the ex-Ministers Adams and Motley, when they saw American society as a long caravan stretching out towards the plains. As he came up the bay again, November 5, 1904, an older man than either his farther or Motley in 1868, he found the approach more striking than ever — wonderful — unlike anything man had ever seen — and like nothing he had ever much cared to see. The outline of the city became frantic in its effort to explain something that defied meaning. Power seemed to have outgrown its servitude and to have asserted its freedom. The cylinder had exploded, and thrown great masses of stone and steam against the sky. The city had the air and movement of hysteria, and the citizens were crying, in every accent of anger and alarm, that the new forces must at any cost be brought under control. Prosperity never before imagined, power never yet wielded by man, speed never reached by anything but a meteor, had made the world irritable, nervous, querulous, unreasonable and afraid. All New York was demanding new men, and all the new forces, condensed into corporations, were demanding a new type of man — a man with ten times the endurance, energy, will and mind of the old type — for whom they were ready to pay millions at sight. As one jolted over the pavements or read the last week’s newspapers, the new man seemed close at hand, for the old one had plainly reached the end of his strength, and his failure had become catastrophic. Every one saw it, and every municipal election shrieked chaos. A traveler in the highways of history looked out of the club window on the turmoil of Fifth Avenue, and felt himself in Rome, under Diocletian, witnessing the anarchy, conscious of the compulsion, eager for the solution, but unable to conceive whence the next impulse was to come or how it was to act. The two-thousand-years failure of Christianity roared upward from Broadway, and no Constantine the Great was in sight” (p. 317). Happy reading! Is Henry Adams “lite” reading? No — as I suspect I’ve amply demonstrated here with these direct citations. Is he worthwhile reading? Decidedly — as I hope I’ve also shown with these same citations. RRB 02/13/14 Brooklyn, NY

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ivan Stoner

    A phenomenally brilliant book. Adams was born in 1838 and watched the US rise from a sleepy agricultural confederation to a technologically advanced world power. This is by far the best account I've read of this progression, which Adams tells as a quasi-autobiography. It all works very well because, as Adams was well aware, he was born into a position of privilege it's hard to imagine--direct line of two presidents--but back when families like this had a tremendous civic ethic. He therefore trav A phenomenally brilliant book. Adams was born in 1838 and watched the US rise from a sleepy agricultural confederation to a technologically advanced world power. This is by far the best account I've read of this progression, which Adams tells as a quasi-autobiography. It all works very well because, as Adams was well aware, he was born into a position of privilege it's hard to imagine--direct line of two presidents--but back when families like this had a tremendous civic ethic. He therefore travels around the world and the young USA and interacts with many of the the movers and shakers of the day (e.g., he was attached to his father's diplomatic mission to the UK during the Civil war, he was acquainted with something like 12 presidents in a row). Adams identifies strongly with his eighteenth century roots rather than his 20th century future. The ongoing theme is his effort to become "educated" about the society in which he finds himself. The US was changing at breakneck speed. Adams was not really successful. Well he *was* successful--he was a Harvard professor and wrote the first modern history of the US -- but he wasn't world-beatingly successful as he might have been had he been born in *seventeen* thirty-eight. He observes society changing and at the end of his life has the luxury of spending years just thinking about what it all means. That's what really sets this book apart. You are given an extended window into the mind of an incredibly smart person, who is also a thoughtful and superb writer, as he thinks about the world and life. Sardonic, witty, often profound. Some of his ideas are outdated. Some remarkably ahead of his time (I would say he's a feminist... at least of a sort). Highest recommendation. I wish I could have read it when I was 18, but probably wouldn't have appreciated it at that point.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nick Jordan

    I expected to check off one of those “supposedly Great Books that I’ve never gotten around to,” but this was the best history of the nineteenth century that I’ve ever read. It certainly has all the brushes with powerful men (yes, mostly men) you would expect from a grandson and great grandson of US presidents. But much greater is its grappling with an age of tremendous changes in the world via new scientific discoveries, technological progress, and the squabbles and brawls of nations. Each year I expected to check off one of those “supposedly Great Books that I’ve never gotten around to,” but this was the best history of the nineteenth century that I’ve ever read. It certainly has all the brushes with powerful men (yes, mostly men) you would expect from a grandson and great grandson of US presidents. But much greater is its grappling with an age of tremendous changes in the world via new scientific discoveries, technological progress, and the squabbles and brawls of nations. Each year I set aside only one or two books to reread a few years later, and this is one of that rarest category.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Keehr

    My biggest complaint about this book used to be that every sentence was a topic sentence. I didn't feel that so much this time. I think that to really understand the book the reader would need to be well versed in the politics and science of the 19th century. Many of the sentences are cryptic or at least abstruse. But that is more of a issue of style rather than intentional obscurity. I am interested in Clover Adams, his wife who committed suicide by drinking a chemical she used to process her p My biggest complaint about this book used to be that every sentence was a topic sentence. I didn't feel that so much this time. I think that to really understand the book the reader would need to be well versed in the politics and science of the 19th century. Many of the sentences are cryptic or at least abstruse. But that is more of a issue of style rather than intentional obscurity. I am interested in Clover Adams, his wife who committed suicide by drinking a chemical she used to process her photography. I found a book but I am not interested enough to read an entire book on the woman. I am more interested in John Hay, who, according to Adams, was a brilliant Secretary of State.

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