John Adams tells the story of the birth of the United States of America from the time that Adam’s left his native Braintree for Philidelphia to his death at the age of 90 in 1826. It spans the era when Adams attended the Continental Congress, was an diplomat to France and Amsterdam, ascended to the Vice Presidency, and finally to the Presidency.  A central theme of the work is his relationships with his children, including the grooming of President John Quincy Adams, and the exceptional relationships Adams had with his wife and with Thomas Jefferson.

The book is as well written as it is researched.  Much of the original material was sourced directly from the volumes of letters that Adams wrote during his lifetime, especially to his wife Abigail and Jefferson, that found their ways into archives.  Knowing these personal thoughts give weight to the factual accounts within the book.  Therefore it reads like a life story rather than a chronicling of a great man’s achievements.

One of the more fascinated aspects is seeing the other heroes of the Revolution through the eyes of one of their contemporaries.  We are taught in grade school that Franklin is one of the great men in American history,  but Adams’ description of Franklin during their time as Ambassadors to France suggests that he was nothing more than a manipulative bum.  George Washington was highly respected by Adams, as was, Jefferson.  Although Adams and Jefferson fell in and out of speaking terms through the courses of their lives.

There were a few more aspects that really struck me while reading this book:

Politics in that area was incredibly contentious.  Our “mud-slinging” campaign ads cannot hold a candle to the pamphleteering of that time.  The attacks were so personal that even good friends, like Adams and Jefferson, would stop speaking for decades at a time.

Travel and communication was not an insignificant portion of time.  Traveling between Boston and Philidelphia took days.  It took nearly six weeks to cross from Boston to the coast of France and another week of traveling to reach Paris. Even harder to reconcile with the modern world is that any sort of message took that long as well.  That’s very hard to imagine when anyone in a modern city can reach anyone else in a modern city within seconds by telephone or email.

They wrote really well back then.  The letters between Adams and his wife were great prose.  I guess if it takes three months for your letter to reach the recipient, it probably makes sense to spend the extra few seconds writing “your description made me laugh the hearty laugh of a joyous man” instead of “I LOL’ed”

Overall I found it a fascinating read and something worth reading or perusing if you’re curious about the history of the revolutionary area.  It’s available on, although I’ve seen it at a good discount at Barnes and Noble.  Or, if you’re not the reading type, the biography was made into a very well received mini-series by HBO.