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John Adams
John Adams: Party of One
by James Grant
Published by Farrah, Straus and Giroux
March 2005
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More Information:
  • Book Review from (Originally Reviewed 10/1/05)
  • Table of Contents
  • James Grant Q & A
  • Other James Grant Books

  • Description from Farrah, Straus and Giroux:
    At a time when party politics is almost as divisive as it was during the Revolutionary era, John Adams: Party of One offers a richly told biography of American history's most independent-minded president. According to the Adams scholar Paul C. Nagel, "No portrayal of Adams and his times is as perceptive, solidly grounded in the sources, and as delightfully written as is this book."

    Like Adams, Grant is known for spirited contrarian views, which he has shared in several acclaimed books, and in his respected fortnightly publication, Grant's Interest Rate Observer . With writing that has previously been called "witty and informative," (The New York Times Book Review) and "colorfully entertaining" (Publishers Weekly), Grant traces the works and deeds of one of our most learned but politically star-crossed leaders.

    In this affectionate but critical narrative, Grant considers Adams in all his many facets: bookworm, husband and father, churchgoer, lawyer, revolutionary, junk-bond promoter, peacemaker, statesman-and perennial thorn-in-the-side of even his friends. Adams, of course, battles his enemies, from the colonial governor of Massachusetts to the ministers of King George III to the American champions of the French Revolution. But by choosing duty over expediency he also frequently exasperated his friends and allies. "He means well for his country," Benjamin Franklin once appraised his partner in diplomacy, "is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, he is absolutely out of his senses."

    At every turn, Adams shunned the party line and the popular choice. When, in 1770, British troops implicated in the Boston Massacre needed legal representation, counselor Adams stepped forward to help them. Militant Sons of Liberty groaned at Adams 's devotion to justice. And when, many years later, public sentiment ran high for an all-out war with France , President Adams instead chose peace. The war faction of Adams 's own political party, the Federalists, never forgave him.

    The Adams that Grant portrays is the most human genius of all the Founders. By turns, he was funny, dyspeptic, loving, and magnanimous. He was devout in his Christian faith, but he loved his wine. "Come feel the Virtues of it," he wrote, to invite a friend to take a taste. Whatever words Adams wrote, from unforgettable indiscretions in his personal letters to piles of learned essays on government, and even in the Massachusetts state constitution, Grant reveals his wonderful ear for language.

    Bringing his financial expertise to bear, Grant captures the irony of Adams's success at negotiating credit-saving loans from The Netherlands for the young, bankrupt America despite his Yankee hatred of debt. Equally surprising, Adams became the most accomplished diplomat of his day despite an undiplomatic propensity for speaking his mind. And though raised a traditional Massachusetts Congregationalist, Adams was instrumental in bringing about the consecration of the first American Episcopal bishops.

    Adams spent much of his presidency governing from his Massachusetts farm, but faced turbulent challenges in Washington . His heated feuds with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were happily tempered by his devoted love for his gifted wife Abigail. He wrestled with the work of putting the fledgling government of the United States on firm fiscal footing-and blanched at the necessity of having to pay 8% to plug the Treasury's deficit. And he struggled with the challenge of establishing a secular, republican government in a Protestant nation. His insistence on peace with France was the ultimate test of his resolve. Despite enormous tactical setbacks at every turn, Adams was never discouraged by bad news or Olympian hurdles, and nothing could crush his optimism about the project of America.

    Readers curious to go beyond mere celebration of Adams will delight in Grant's well-rounded and multifaceted account. John Adams: Party of One marries intellectual rigor with bright, sharp writing to produce an honest, complex, and insightful biography of our most contradictory Founding Father.

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