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The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality

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How the father and son presidents foresaw the rise of the cult of personality and fought those who sought to abuse the weaknesses inherent in our democracy, from the New York Times bestselling author of White Trash. John and John Quincy Adams: rogue intellectuals, unsparing truth-tellers, too uncensored for their own political good. They held that political participation dema How the father and son presidents foresaw the rise of the cult of personality and fought those who sought to abuse the weaknesses inherent in our democracy, from the New York Times bestselling author of White Trash. John and John Quincy Adams: rogue intellectuals, unsparing truth-tellers, too uncensored for their own political good. They held that political participation demanded moral courage. They did not seek popularity (it showed). They lamented the fact that hero worship in America substituted idolatry for results; and they made it clear that they were talking about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. When John Adams succeeded George Washington as President, his son had already followed him into public service and was stationed in Europe as a diplomat. Though they spent many years apart--and as their careers spanned Europe, Washington DC, and their family home south of Boston--they maintained a close bond through extensive letter writing, debating history, political philosophy, and partisan maneuvering. The problem of democracy is an urgent problem; the father-and-son presidents grasped the perilous psychology of politics and forecast what future generations would have to contend with: citizens wanting heroes to worship and covetous elites more than willing to mislead. Rejection at the polls, each after one term, does not prove that the presidents Adams had erroneous ideas. Intellectually, they were what we today call "independents," reluctant to commit blindly to an organized political party. No historian has attempted to dissect their intertwined lives as Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein do in these pages, and there is no better time than the present to learn from the American nation's most insightful malcontents.


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How the father and son presidents foresaw the rise of the cult of personality and fought those who sought to abuse the weaknesses inherent in our democracy, from the New York Times bestselling author of White Trash. John and John Quincy Adams: rogue intellectuals, unsparing truth-tellers, too uncensored for their own political good. They held that political participation dema How the father and son presidents foresaw the rise of the cult of personality and fought those who sought to abuse the weaknesses inherent in our democracy, from the New York Times bestselling author of White Trash. John and John Quincy Adams: rogue intellectuals, unsparing truth-tellers, too uncensored for their own political good. They held that political participation demanded moral courage. They did not seek popularity (it showed). They lamented the fact that hero worship in America substituted idolatry for results; and they made it clear that they were talking about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. When John Adams succeeded George Washington as President, his son had already followed him into public service and was stationed in Europe as a diplomat. Though they spent many years apart--and as their careers spanned Europe, Washington DC, and their family home south of Boston--they maintained a close bond through extensive letter writing, debating history, political philosophy, and partisan maneuvering. The problem of democracy is an urgent problem; the father-and-son presidents grasped the perilous psychology of politics and forecast what future generations would have to contend with: citizens wanting heroes to worship and covetous elites more than willing to mislead. Rejection at the polls, each after one term, does not prove that the presidents Adams had erroneous ideas. Intellectually, they were what we today call "independents," reluctant to commit blindly to an organized political party. No historian has attempted to dissect their intertwined lives as Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein do in these pages, and there is no better time than the present to learn from the American nation's most insightful malcontents.

30 review for The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    This s far from a fast read but is worth the effort. In part, it is a joint biography of John and John Quincy Adams, the 2nd and 6th Presidents and the first two Presidents to only serve one term. At this level, the book is very interesting, especially since I learned more about JQA. However the real meat of the book comes when the authors explore why they were both kicked out after one term. Their conclusion (and the problem of democracy in the title) is that they were supremely competent but w This s far from a fast read but is worth the effort. In part, it is a joint biography of John and John Quincy Adams, the 2nd and 6th Presidents and the first two Presidents to only serve one term. At this level, the book is very interesting, especially since I learned more about JQA. However the real meat of the book comes when the authors explore why they were both kicked out after one term. Their conclusion (and the problem of democracy in the title) is that they were supremely competent but weren't good at showmanship. To some extent in Jefferson, and extremely in the case of Andrew Jackson, they were replaced by people who didn't necessarily have their background but were better at self-promotion and myth-making. The authors also point out that the Adams' were more moral men than their opponents. Obviously our present political situation simmers in the background as we again are led by an unprepared and in many ways incompetent person who did a good job of convincing people he was amazing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robin Friedman

    The True Complexity Of The Past Revisited In 2010, the historians Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein wrote a lengthy dual biography, "Madison and Jefferson" which they dedicated to those who appreciate "the true complexity of the past". The book emphasized the difficult character of historical study and warned its readers against the too-ready acceptance of commonplaces and myths. In their new book, "The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality" (201 The True Complexity Of The Past Revisited In 2010, the historians Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein wrote a lengthy dual biography, "Madison and Jefferson" which they dedicated to those who appreciate "the true complexity of the past". The book emphasized the difficult character of historical study and warned its readers against the too-ready acceptance of commonplaces and myths. In their new book, "The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality" (2019) the authors describe their study of Madison and Jefferson as dispelling "the long held illusion that James Madison was Thomas Jefferson's dutiful political lieutenant". They argue many historians have ignored their coequal relationship, overlooked Madison's partisanship, undervalued his presidency, and overstated his role at the Constitutional Convention. The goal of Isenberg's and Burnstein's new book is to show that many students misunderstand the second and sixth presidents, John Adams (JA) and his son John Quincy Adams (JQA), more egregiously than, the authors insist, they misunderstand the relationship between Madison and Jefferson. The authors write in explaining the purpose of their study of the two Adams presidents. "Father and son are seen as obstructionists, stuffed shirts, surly malcontents, who were resistant to the supposed good intentions embedded in Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy. Instead of viewing them as contrarians, we should know them as serious students of a road not taken, two who insisted that competence and rational judgment should supersede hollow celebrity and contrived popularity in a republic where voices ought always to register the choices of an informed citizenry." The authors discuss the lives and lengthy political careers of both JA and JQA, their closely intertwined lives, and their father-son relationship. Commendably, the see the Adamses important less for their tangible accomplishments, important as they are, than for their writings and philosophy. Isenberg and Burstein write: "The best reasons we find for remembering the Adamses are those that concern their stubborn insights into human psychology. They understood the tricky relationship between human nature and political democracy, and how emotionally induced thought often undermined social and political justice." The skepticism, intellectual toughness, and realization of human weakness that the Adamses displayed is an important counterbalance to the story of American exceptionalism and to the easy view of a straight-line advance of democracy. The authors find the Adamses offer compelling insights in understanding "how the United States could have proceeded from its ecstatic opening pledge -- the magnaminous 'spirit of 1776' -- to where it is today as a distressed political system." The book praises the Adamses love of learning and lifelong devotion to study. It seems them as offering a strong critique of the party system which began early in the presidency of George Washington and which led, in the authors' words to "tribalism". The Adams, father and son, were a "party of two". The authors summarize the fundamental commitments of JA and JQA in two succinct phrases: "independence" and "service to country". As is its predecessor, "The Problem of Democracy" is a lengthy, sprawling book which aims to combine history, political philosophy, and biography and includes as well a degree of polemic. I have used the introduction to the book "Mythic Democracy" in framing its themes and might have used for this purpose the concluding section as well. The body of the book, however, is divided into two parts, "Progenitor" and "Inheritor", which constitute a more traditional dual biography of JA and JQA. It begins with JA's early life and legal career, his marriage to Abigail Smith, and his role in early revolutionary activity. It covers JA's long years abroad during the Revolutionary War and his relationship with his brilliant, intellectually-driven son. As JQA matured, he and his father began to relate to each other as colleagues and friends as well as father and son. The book explores JA's eight year vice-presidency and four year presidency while threading in JQA's activities during these years as a diplomat, Senator, and political thinker. With JA's defeat in his bid for a second term, the book show the rise of JQA in his role of Secretary of State and one-term president. After JQA lost his bid for a second term, he served as a Congressman for 17 years and attained renown for his independent opposition to slavery and to the "gag" rule. At times, the thread of the book is hidden in the long biographical discussions. The book has the strength in showing the long relationship between Adams father and son, how the two were alike and how they differed. The most valuable parts of the dual biography discuss JA's and JQA'a lifelong devotion to learning. Both men were lifelong readers, diarists, and writers. They each learned from classical writers and from the Roman writer Cicero in particular. The authors offer an inspiring guide to the reading of JA and JQA. They also discuss in considerable detail the writings of the Adams father and son. Again, their writings are frequently passed over too quickly in more popular biographies. The book discusses in good detail JA's "Thoughts on Government", his three-volume "Defense of the Constitutions of the United States" and his "Lectures on Davila". JQA's writings receive equal attention, including his Diary, the "Publicola" lectures, his poetry, his Inaugural Address, and his study of the social compact late in life. Reading, writing, and thought are at the heart of this book and of the Adamses philosophy of government. They show how the Adamses critiqued individualism, charisma, the cult of personality, and over-reliance on the party system in their own day. The thought and career of the Adams counsels against a too-facile, superficial understanding of democracy, as developed by the authors. I have long admired JA and JQA, and I learned a good deal from this book. The authors, perhaps, overstate their own originality, as there are other outstanding recent biographies and studies of the thought of both men. Readers inspired by this book to learn more may wish to explore the several volumes of original writings of JA, JQA, and Abigail Adams available from the Library of America. The tone of "The Problem of Democracy" is sometimes overbearing, both as regards current affairs and the Adamses contemporaries. Figures such as Jefferson and Jackson should not be viewed as merely the product of the cult of personality or of a tribal two-party system. They too have their own strengths and their strong teachings and influence. as do John Adams and John Quincy Adams. There are many strands in American thought and life and it is important to try to recognize and weigh them on their merits and not simply to substitute one set of heroic figures for another. It is in this way that we will approach the goal of Isenberg and Burstein in understanding and appreciating both the United States and its history and also the "true complexity of the past". Robin Friedman

  3. 5 out of 5

    David Dunlap

    The first father and son pairing to win election to the Presidency of the United States -- John and John Quincy Adams -- is the subject of this book. Both served single terms, losing to men who more successfully captured the public imagination than either of them were able to do (Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, respectively). On one level, the book can be seen (and read) as a dual biography; the authors' purpose, however, is to point to the parallels and contrasts between the Adamses' world The first father and son pairing to win election to the Presidency of the United States -- John and John Quincy Adams -- is the subject of this book. Both served single terms, losing to men who more successfully captured the public imagination than either of them were able to do (Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, respectively). On one level, the book can be seen (and read) as a dual biography; the authors' purpose, however, is to point to the parallels and contrasts between the Adamses' world view and respective political philosophies. It is not dry reading. In their excellent opening Exordium, the authors suggest that the Adamses were onto something when they decried democracy (in the 18th/early 19th century meaning of the term), something that is perhaps more relevant to our contemporary society than any of the accomplishments of the flashier Jefferson and Jackson. I enjoyed the deep insights provided into each man and appreciated the deep bond that existed between them, a bond tried, but ultimately, perhaps, strengthened, by their frequent separations in their work for their country. -- I found the authors' (to my mind) gratuitous slam of David McCullough (buried in the footnotes) somewhat distasteful. I could not decide if it was an attack out of personal vanity (that McCullough's books sell better than theirs) or out of professional pique (that McCullough's undergraduate degree was in English, rather than history). Either way, it was an unnecessary blot on what was otherwise a very good book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brian Denton

    Intellectual biography of the presidents Adams with important, if unpopular, lessons for today's politics. Take, for instance, their skepticism of popular democracy and the need for judicious institutional restraints on popular sentiment. More apropos, they opposed partisan party politics. They observed that such partisanship cultivated political cults of personality and often had the effect of citizens surrendering their critical thinking skills to party orthodoxy. Anyone familiar with the evap Intellectual biography of the presidents Adams with important, if unpopular, lessons for today's politics. Take, for instance, their skepticism of popular democracy and the need for judicious institutional restraints on popular sentiment. More apropos, they opposed partisan party politics. They observed that such partisanship cultivated political cults of personality and often had the effect of citizens surrendering their critical thinking skills to party orthodoxy. Anyone familiar with the evaporation of the anti-war movement after Obama's election or the sudden Republican disavowal of free trade and free markets under Trump will understand the concern. They also hated partisan media so they would have really hated cable news, Fox News in particular. We need more Adams.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    (3.5 Stars). This work is an interesting take on the first father/son duo to be president. While there a plethora of bios about both men, this work is interesting in that it focuses on the writing a correspondence of the men. It analyzes what the men read and how that reading and their writing factored into their public and political lives. The title is a little misleading, in that the theme of problems with the American democracy and the discussions about the personalities that threatened it (J (3.5 Stars). This work is an interesting take on the first father/son duo to be president. While there a plethora of bios about both men, this work is interesting in that it focuses on the writing a correspondence of the men. It analyzes what the men read and how that reading and their writing factored into their public and political lives. The title is a little misleading, in that the theme of problems with the American democracy and the discussions about the personalities that threatened it (Jefferson and Jackson) don’t really come into play until the conclusion. The biographic analysis goes into detail about how the elder and younger Adams dealt with Jefferson and how Quincy Adams viewed Jackson, but the title of the book and its role in the work just doesn’t really appear until the conclusion. Perhaps the theme of their views on Democracy in America could have been better interspersed in the book. A good read and did learn some more about the men and their reading and writing. Not the sole source for the biography of both men, but a good reference if you want insight into two men who probably don’t get their due in history.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robert Stevenson

    I have mixed feelings on this book, there is a lot of good history telling, it is well sourced and told in a clear understandable narrative. Both John Adams and John Quincey Adams are complicated men but so where many of the men of their respective eras. They were both book lovers, avid readers and students of philosophical antiquity. However, the authors in elevating the Adams over vilify others unfairly. Hamilton is not the archangel of death and destruction, Ben Franklin was not a I have mixed feelings on this book, there is a lot of good history telling, it is well sourced and told in a clear understandable narrative. Both John Adams and John Quincey Adams are complicated men but so where many of the men of their respective eras. They were both book lovers, avid readers and students of philosophical antiquity. However, the authors in elevating the Adams over vilify others unfairly. Hamilton is not the archangel of death and destruction, Ben Franklin was not a mere celebrity and Washington is more then a stoic handsome statue. And it is native to believe both of the Adams President were free from self interest and only slight arrogant for purely noble reasons. Additionally, I found the authors so myoptic on the Adam’s they failed to mention other competing historical intellectual developments in comparison. Instead they mentioned in passing some of the Adams diary notes on writers like Adam Smith and Voltaire and Rousseau but failed to explain how the Adam’s misinterpreted these works or how they were wrong in there assessments. The authors do explain which ideas from both men are the most significant, from John Adams “Thoughts on Government” in 1776 and John Quincey Adam defense in the “Amistad” case.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    A needed antidote to the Jefferson-Jackson fans who always wind up pillorying the Adams and their integrity.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Big fan of the John Adams historical reassessment several years ago, spearheaded by a great David McCullough book and a shakier HBO miniseries starring Paul Giamatti and Stannis Baratheon. Historians Isenberg and Burstein rather sniffily dismiss McCullough's fantastic scholarship before continuing into an interesting but unfulfilling parallel biography of Adams and his son and fellow president John Quincy Adams. The Problem of Democracy mounts a very good defense of the second President Adams, a Big fan of the John Adams historical reassessment several years ago, spearheaded by a great David McCullough book and a shakier HBO miniseries starring Paul Giamatti and Stannis Baratheon. Historians Isenberg and Burstein rather sniffily dismiss McCullough's fantastic scholarship before continuing into an interesting but unfulfilling parallel biography of Adams and his son and fellow president John Quincy Adams. The Problem of Democracy mounts a very good defense of the second President Adams, a career politician and diplomat who could have existed at no other time than the early 19th century. Between his father's foreign missions and his own assignments, J.Q. Adams spent a significant chunk of his life abroad before returning to the states to serve as senator, president, and congressman, uniquely in that order. Adams II wrote and spoke French arguably better than he did English and there's an interesting parallel to made between his life and those of South American patriots like Francisco de Miranda who tried to apply a political education formed over long years in Europe to totally dissimilar conditions in the New World. John Quincy Adams held many political views that were more European than American, notably a strong abolitionist bent and a healthy skepticism about direct democracy. He was in a sense the first major national American politician to switch political parties (multiple times), although the parties didn't exist at all in the way they do today at the time. The authors of the this book are stretching for a timely thesis about the Adams' mutual moderate interest in keeping American government elite and nonpartisan, and the presidency a mere civil service job. Both father and son had fitfully successful one-term administrations and were succeeded by far more charismatic rivals in Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, respectively. The trouble is that the behavior of John Adams, in particular, while in office, doesn't support this idea. If anything he agitated for an even stronger executive. The popular picture of Adams at the moment is one of a hardworking, brilliant guy who knew he wasn't as well-liked as Washington and Jefferson and resented the hell out of it. His conscious efforts to shape his son into a leading light of the second generation of American politics didn't really take, as Adams the second was even less of a man of the people, whether from the European influence, the miserable lives his sister and both of his brothers ended up living, and a religiously-driven attitude of absolute moral right and wrong. Isenberg and Burstein have an immense amount of surviving correspondence to work from, but they don't land their argument that the Adams were significantly anti-populist in the manner they're reaching for. It's more that their particular visions lost out, and they remained cranky about it for the rest of their lives in that particular New England style. Intriguing lines of inquiry about the family's lifelong study of the classics, their religious views, and their difficult private lives aren't sufficiently developed. I'd love to read another book specifically about John Quincy Adams that's better than this one.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    Very interesting and informative book about two US Presidents that I knew little about. The book is about their father-son relationship, their political and governmental lives during founding of the country and through first 6 presidencies. The father and son kept diaries/journals through their lives and kept in touch with each other, family and persons of note through letters (many extant), traveled extensively and often in service to the newly formed United States. The authors explore the Adam Very interesting and informative book about two US Presidents that I knew little about. The book is about their father-son relationship, their political and governmental lives during founding of the country and through first 6 presidencies. The father and son kept diaries/journals through their lives and kept in touch with each other, family and persons of note through letters (many extant), traveled extensively and often in service to the newly formed United States. The authors explore the Adams interaction with and reaction to prominent Revolutionary & early US persons and events including Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin; Fugitive Slave Act, Whiskey Rebellion, French Revolution, western expansion and attending slavery debates; as well as their participation on the world stage as ambassadors, prolific writers, and as presidents. The books and authors that the father and son read and were influenced by are noted and related to positions and policies the men pursued. John Adams [JA] and John Quincy Adams [JQA] p113 JA saw danger early that "Political aspirants would always put image over integrity." p139 "Politics should be about the public good, but it almost never was. More likely, it was about being seen. Politics was about celebrity--an old theme of John Adams. JA successfully defended the British soldiers who killed colonials at Boston Massacre. JQA successfully defended the people who commandeered the Amistad p403 JQA Fourth of July oration on nullification: "...state's rights were not human rights. If one state could nullify a law of the land, then that one state was effectively being granted absolute authority over every other state...Nullification was a ploy...The nullifiers of South Carolina put forth a concept of sovereignty at odds with the republican notion of deliberation and at odds with the democratic principle of majority rule. As a feudal remnant, nullification was 'incompatible with the nature of our institutions.' " p450 The authors see from their historical research that both Adams were astute observers of assertive democracy, not as some historians have seen them as obstinate enemies of. p458 "To claim that democracy is inclusive is to conceal the fact that government recognizes hierarchies: if broad suffrage does not democracy make, and popular sovereignty is a legal fiction, then representative government--which counts interests--is as close to real democracy as America gets."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn Knight

    If you read the title & were attracted to the phrase “cult of personality” or felt completely in line with the description inside the front cover you will enjoy reading this book. If you like principles practically applied & have felt a sense of incongruity in our present government with the ideals described by our founders you will enjoy this book. This book will solidify in your mind the difference between true democracy & representative government and show how at least some of our If you read the title & were attracted to the phrase “cult of personality” or felt completely in line with the description inside the front cover you will enjoy reading this book. If you like principles practically applied & have felt a sense of incongruity in our present government with the ideals described by our founders you will enjoy this book. This book will solidify in your mind the difference between true democracy & representative government and show how at least some of our founders didn’t believe true democracy was attainable or even desireable. An easy way to digest the authors theories (especially if you know a lot about JA & JQA already) without reading the entire 460 pages is to read the stylistically titled preface & conclusion chapters. In between these two is a condensed (but meandering) history of the lives of JA & JQA highlighting their interaction with so called democracy & how their political & moral thinking was formed & carried out. Each chapter is titled to show a trait or life character that the Adams men shared such as “Exiles” “Party Irregulars” or “Intellects” all while maintaining the mostly chronological history telling. A wonderful secondary theme shows how the lives of father & son were intertwined. My one major critique of the book is that the middle section doesn’t often leave you feeling that you understand why this part of their shared history was included or not included despite obvious attempts. I feel like the book could be tightened up & they could more directly state or point to their theory of Adamsian government outlined in the book end chapters while telling the story or pair down the history so you don’t lose the connections while reading. There are also some real intellectual gems found in the midst of the long middle section that will make the book worth your reading if you take the time. If you believe in principled leadership & detest the cult of personality you will feel akin to the Adams men & want to give them their rightful place in American history as great statesmen & moral leaders.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ted Hunt

    This book is well researched and well written, and it really digs deeply into the personalities and ideologies of the second and sixth presidents. My relatively low rating is based on what I would call the "false advertising" of the title. I thought that I was buying a book that was going to delve into the origins of American political democracy in the early 19th century, a time when the nation moved from electing a man like John Adams (the father) to electing Andrew Jackson. That transformation This book is well researched and well written, and it really digs deeply into the personalities and ideologies of the second and sixth presidents. My relatively low rating is based on what I would call the "false advertising" of the title. I thought that I was buying a book that was going to delve into the origins of American political democracy in the early 19th century, a time when the nation moved from electing a man like John Adams (the father) to electing Andrew Jackson. That transformation has usually been celebrated as a culmination of sorts of the promise of the American Revolution, and I was anticipating that the authors were going to analyze the changes in the electorate, the culture, the candidates, and the political process that saw the birth of something we might call "American populism." I have thought for a long time that we currently live in an era similar to that time, with education and expertise not only being ignored, but ridiculed, and with a cast of characters that includes President Trump as a modern day Jackson. But, beware, that is not what the book is about. In the very last chapter the writers get to some very interesting musings about the nature of American democracy, but by and large the book is a dual biography of this father and son rather than an analysis of the era in which they lived. The authors center their treatment of the subjects around the writings of the two men, most notably their correspondence with each other. They do point out from time to time what the two Adamses had to say about the idea of "democracy," and one of their theses is clearly that these two men were far superior in their defense of our nation's political institutions than populist autocrats like Jackson, whose name became synonymous with the word "democracy." But for the most part the book serves pretty much as a standard biography, albeit for two historical figures rather than just one.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Brooks

    A very good book, with profound insights in American political and social history as seen through the prism of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. It is not a conventional biography of the men by any means and, in my opinion, requires considerable preexisting knowledge of the lives of the two men. It is a thick book and written in a flowing but not necessarily easy style. Some might assume that the book is intended to serve as a criticism of Donald Trump and his supporters, but the hist A very good book, with profound insights in American political and social history as seen through the prism of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. It is not a conventional biography of the men by any means and, in my opinion, requires considerable preexisting knowledge of the lives of the two men. It is a thick book and written in a flowing but not necessarily easy style. Some might assume that the book is intended to serve as a criticism of Donald Trump and his supporters, but the historical lessons in this work that could be applied to our time might just as easily be directed against any political figure with mass appeal, including Barack Obama. The two Adamses were never popular with the mass of the people and saw themselves as above parties, instead being virtuous public servants who did the right thing regardless of what the people or the political parties pushed them towards.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sparrenberger

    It’s a provocative title that really just boils down to a dual biography of both presidents Adams. It’s well written and gives you the high points but it’s already been done before in bios of both men with more detail. Nancy really doesn’t like David McCullough. She’s piles scorn upon is book in the footnotes and declares that his book is trash. I think she’s jealous that someone really wrote a very successful book and made a lot of money and beat her to it. She sticks up her nose because he’s a It’s a provocative title that really just boils down to a dual biography of both presidents Adams. It’s well written and gives you the high points but it’s already been done before in bios of both men with more detail. Nancy really doesn’t like David McCullough. She’s piles scorn upon is book in the footnotes and declares that his book is trash. I think she’s jealous that someone really wrote a very successful book and made a lot of money and beat her to it. She sticks up her nose because he’s a English major and she’s the real historian dispensing Information to the masses. I should mention that I didn’t like her Aaron burr book either because she took cheap shots at Ron chernow. This time she stuck it in the footnotes. I guess the other author told her to hide her scorn. Read each man individually. They are on my read list. This one has been done already Nancy. Try again.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wesley

    This was a fairly dense examination of the Presidents Adams. If you're a total U.S. [political] history nerd and JQA fanatic like me, you'll love it. Though I do have to critique - it drags often at times. What is redeeming to me (and gave this book a five-star rating from me) is the final chapter which summarizes and synthesizes the many ideas presented throughout the book. It offers a stunning message and captures both the political dynamism of the new Republic as well as an examination of wha This was a fairly dense examination of the Presidents Adams. If you're a total U.S. [political] history nerd and JQA fanatic like me, you'll love it. Though I do have to critique - it drags often at times. What is redeeming to me (and gave this book a five-star rating from me) is the final chapter which summarizes and synthesizes the many ideas presented throughout the book. It offers a stunning message and captures both the political dynamism of the new Republic as well as an examination of what this means for contemporary America. If you're looking for biography, this is not your book. But if you're looking for a sweeping examination of America's legacy from the Presidents Adams you are certain to find it here.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John

    An excellent character study of two of America's early statesmen. While the authors' clearly state an obvious critique applicable for our times, they also highlight the strengths and weaknesses of both Adamses. While John Adams has been reintroduced to the public through David McCullough's eponymous book, his son remains serially neglected. As one whit once said about presidents, court historians rank highly those who fight wars or champion a (divisive) social movement, while ignoring those who An excellent character study of two of America's early statesmen. While the authors' clearly state an obvious critique applicable for our times, they also highlight the strengths and weaknesses of both Adamses. While John Adams has been reintroduced to the public through David McCullough's eponymous book, his son remains serially neglected. As one whit once said about presidents, court historians rank highly those who fight wars or champion a (divisive) social movement, while ignoring those who promoted peace and prosperity. Definitely worth reading as the book does highlight how American politics began to be shaped in the late 18th and early 19th century, moving from the first to the second party systems, harbingers of today's system.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sharron

    The side by side comparisons of John Adams and John Quincy Adams are well written. What is particularly illuminating, however, is the final chapter of this book which is entitled “ad consummandum”. In fact, if you have already read biographies of these men, you could just read the introduction and the final chapter and still feel the purchase of this book was well justified. Note - If after reading this book you want a further explanation of the cult of personality in our society, rea The side by side comparisons of John Adams and John Quincy Adams are well written. What is particularly illuminating, however, is the final chapter of this book which is entitled “ad consummandum”. In fact, if you have already read biographies of these men, you could just read the introduction and the final chapter and still feel the purchase of this book was well justified. Note - If after reading this book you want a further explanation of the cult of personality in our society, read Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business”. It’s brilliant. I plan to read it again now that I have finished “The Problem of Democracy”.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shamus Ewer

    Superb study of father and son USA presidents. Beautifully composed and written. Reader should have some background in revolutionary history to realize not everything is covered. Especially Alexander Hamilton's enormous influence with George Washington's presidency (1789 - 1797) as well as the forming of day-to-day governing. Washington was very supportive of both father and young son. Jefferson also, although he is highly credited as an initial adversary. I wish more was written about John Quin Superb study of father and son USA presidents. Beautifully composed and written. Reader should have some background in revolutionary history to realize not everything is covered. Especially Alexander Hamilton's enormous influence with George Washington's presidency (1789 - 1797) as well as the forming of day-to-day governing. Washington was very supportive of both father and young son. Jefferson also, although he is highly credited as an initial adversary. I wish more was written about John Quincy Adams. None-the-less, this is a very good book and I highly recommend it!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    First this is a long book. Second it takes a while to read. Third an excellent history of the Presidents Adams. I believe Ms Isenberg does a fine job debunking to myths and half-truths often propounded regarding the 2nd and 6th Presidents. John and John Quincy stood firm on a truly representative democracy, not the popularity contest that began with Jefferson and Jackson and continues down to the present day. JA and JQA would decry what politics and the party system has become. If First this is a long book. Second it takes a while to read. Third an excellent history of the Presidents Adams. I believe Ms Isenberg does a fine job debunking to myths and half-truths often propounded regarding the 2nd and 6th Presidents. John and John Quincy stood firm on a truly representative democracy, not the popularity contest that began with Jefferson and Jackson and continues down to the present day. JA and JQA would decry what politics and the party system has become. If you want to understand the current political mess read this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bob Doyle

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I believe this is four books in one. First it is dual biography of a father and son who played a critical role at the beginning of our country. It is also a serious history of that same period of time. Drawing from serious background documentation as the authors tell their story. It is also a cultural study of what the social divisions were and what motivated them and finally a slightly veiled reference to present day issues.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    I fell in love with John Adams last year when I read “Friends Divided,” and now I’m a big supporter of John Quincy Adams because of this book. This book was awesome for someone who early American or Presidential history. The writing style was relatively easy to understand, and I just loved the father-son comparison model the authors used.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dan Cotter

    This book is very well researched and does a good job of addressing the cautions and lives of the Adams father/son team.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marijke

    I only read the sample, but loved it. I will keep this on my “want to read” list and buy the full length version.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    One of the best books I've read in a long time. Brilliant history, but funny writing and super enjoyable to read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Lots of great information, but dense and stilted. I really enjoyed learning about the two Adamses, but it took forever to finish reading.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Doug McGuire

    An interesting take on how the term democracy was used after the French Revolution. Very good parallel biographies of the father son duo.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Gish

    Thankfully, I was able to obtain this at the library and didn't waste my money on buying it because that would have been horribly disheartening.

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

    Reality check Owning up to the past When will the leveling process Of equality permeate all of American culture & society ???

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jimmacc

    Excellent book. Enlightening and discouraging to see the party systems and thinking developed so quickly. Well written and read (audio book).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Statmonkey

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lee

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