The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

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John Jay
John Adams: Party of One
by James Grant
Published by Farrah, Straus and Giroux
March 2005
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Book Review from
John Adams: Party of One by James Grant is a different look at John Adams than the recent bestseller from historian David McCullough. Grant does often quote from primary sources, but not nearly to the extent that McCullough did. This should make the biography less challenging to readers that found the frequent shifts between McCullough's modern style and primary sources difficult. However, Grant makes the text less accessible by some use of vocabulary unfamiliar to the general audience.

The book is worth reading because it gives a look at Adams using primary sources that have not been available previously just as the next Adams biography will do (the Massachusetts Historical Society has spent years compiling Adams' papers and has yet to complete the task). Grant goes out of his way to give a balanced look at John Adams. In some matters, he is highly supportive of Adams' efforts and methods, such as securing loans in The Netherlands. In others, Grant is highly critical of Adams such as his lack of tact as a diplomat. Granted, that particular opinion will not get much argument. One thing that is unusual for most recent biographies, Grant often discusses Adams' faith and religion, keeping its presense throughout the biography unlike, for example, Walter Stahr's biography of John Jay where his noted strong faith disappears for chapters at a time.

As already mentioned, Grant's style does not lend itself to a general audience, at least one that does not wish to have a dictionary handy. Grant brings a highly analytical style, which makes this biography more than a simple narration of Adams' life. The danger with this is that the objectivity can be lost in favor of only citing sources that support a particular point of view. Grant slips into this commentary several times, which could be a distraction if one does not enjoys this style of biography. The stylistic issues raised in the preceding can be considered positives or negatives depending on the reader's own personal preference.

In this reviewer's opinion, this biography of John Adams will not appeal to everyone. It will be heartily enjoyed by some for its analytical and direct style, but may be a disappointment to others who are looking for a milder approach. However, this reviewer endorses an attempt at reading this biography because of the quantity and perhaps quality of what it has to offer.

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