Saturday, September 1, 2007

Book Review: "John Adams" by John Patrick Diggins

Most of the volumes in the American Presidents Series have an emphasis on the biography of the subject: What he did, his major life events, significant accomplishments, etc. Adequate background of the time and context of the presidency is usually provided.

John Patrick Diggins's book on John Adams is somewhat different. It is by far the most philosophical of the seventeen books that I have read in this series. Of course, when studying John Adams, philosophy is a major component. Adams was a deep thinker, more a philosopher and statesman than a politician. Some biographical information is given, but as I read the book, it seemed more like an analysis (and a very favorable one) of his philosophies and presidency than a typical biography.

If you are looking to read a good biography of John Adams, I would highly recommend David McCullough's book—although it is a lot longer than this book. McCullough, like Diggins, shows Adams in a very positive light. Considering all of Adams' accomplishments as a founder of our country, that is appropriate. If you are looking for an analysis of where Adams stood on issues and why, this is your book.

This biography is one volume in The American Presidents Series, published by Times Books (Henry Holt & Co.). This is now the 17th book I have read in the series. Most, but not all, of the presidential biographies have already been written, each by an author who is well acquainted with the subject. Perhaps 1/4 remain to be published. The overall series of books is great. Each biography averages about 150 pages of scholarly, yet readable, writing. Each assumes that the reader knows a little of the background of the period of history during which the president served. I have been collecting them for four years and now have eighteen of the books (I have not yet read the volume on Washington).

Most portray the subject in a positive light, yet do not overlook the foibles and mistakes the executive may have made. Even relatively obscure presidents like Van Buren, Arthur, or Harding get their due. If you enjoy biographies and you enjoy American history, I can heartily recommend that you find the volume on a favorite president (or even one you know little about) and enjoy yourself.

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