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John Adams

An audiobook read by Edward Herrmann on a book by David McCullough.

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John Adams: A Prolific American

  • Apr 6, 2011

I had heard amazing things about David McCullough's research and writing abilities but hadn't read anything by him until John Adams. I bought it purely because I was looking for some audio books to listen to during my long trips visiting family. Lucky for me, I found an unabridged copy on sale for $9.99 at Borders. Since buying this audio book, I've seen the collection sell for as much as $40+ dollars, so I'm especially elated at the price of the purchase. 

I had no idea what was before me when I started this audio book. It took my husband and I almost a year to finish John Adams. That wasn't because we weren't enjoying it. On the contrary, we absolutely loved the facts, details, and personality that McCullough created in this biography of a truly prolific American and one of the finest presidents of our time. We didn't want the book to end, and I cried when it did. I'm actually glad I listened to John Adams rather than read it because it would have taken even longer to finish it. My hands would have been very occupied taking copious notes of interesting tidbits about Adams' life and his loving relationship with Abagail. I could see myself saving myriad amounts of direct quotes from Adams' own writings and letters. Eventually, I did purchase a paperback copy of this biography to track some of the data in it. John Adams was a pioneer in American history and did much more for our country and its people than the average citizen realizes. 

I tried to find a favorite part from the biography, but it was very difficult to choose just one because of the massive expanse of time and data covered. If you twisted my arm until I picked just one moment from John Adams, it would have to be the letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams that never got delivered. It was written when Adams beat Jefferson and became the second president of the United States of America, right before the two really began to quarrel. Jefferson was persuaded from delivering it by the ever meddling Madison. McCullough speculates that the letter might have changed Adams' presidency. It broke my heart to hear such praise and confidence from one close friend to another get lost in a file until some historian unearthed it many years later. As for my least favorite part, it would have to be the end of the book. I was very sad to see both the biography and John Adams' life come to a close. 

Honestly, I enjoyed the entire biography. The layout is chronological: 

  • Early Childhood 
  • School Years 
  • Career as a Lawyer 
  • Marriage to Abagail 
  • Foreign Ambassador Services 
  • Vice President 
  • President 
  • Retired Years 

The primary setting is America, specifically the original thirteen colonies, although there are plenty of international scenes explored thanks to John Adams' and his son's travels as American Ambassadors. The purpose of the book is to deliver a thorough biography of a relatively obscure American president (compared to such historical giants as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln). The character development presents a realistic portrayal of a complex man, husband, father, and president. There are no particular themes, motifs, and literary devices used, although McCullough emphasizes some overarching characteristics such as honor, loyalty, stubbornness, steadfastness, Christian morality, pride, and love. 

A few facts that I enjoyed: 

  • Adams seriously courted a woman before Abagail Adams. 
  • Adams defended the British soldiers from the Boston Massacre. 
  • Adams played a major role in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. 
  • Adams was an unstoppable force who called for independence when many other "brave Americans" balked at the difficulties the nation would have and did have because of the war and split with Britain. 
  • Adams helped draft the Constitution. 
  • Adams had a tumultuous relationship with both Franklin and Jefferson. 
  • Adams firmly disapproved of slavery and never owned one his entire life (neither did his wife Abagail). 

I could list tidbits forever, but that would take away from the joy of discovering them yourself when reading this truly fascinating piece of history. 

John Adams wasn't a perfect man, and he made many mistakes: 

  • How Adams developed his relationships with others. 
  • Adams' sometimes short temper 
  • Certain actions Adams took while president 
  • And perhaps his Achilles heel-- Adams' self-degrading attitude (He was always his worst critic.) 

Though he found himself acting too proud for his own good, Adams was a man who put his nation and its people as the second most important aspect of his life (God was always first). Adams' Christian morality allowed him to lead a life that I find inspirational for his time period and even our own. As I learned more about this mysterious historical figure (for I had learned little about him in my history classes), I discovered someone that I'm proud to call an American and Founding Father. Here is a man I would love to have a philosophical, religious, or political conversation with. Adams' intelligence, caring nature, and love of literature made me fall in love with him just as his wife did. Abigail Adams' was truly a lucky woman to have known him as intimately as she did, being his true love and confidant. If I could meet any person from history, it would be John Adams. 

David McCullough has a gift for exposing the careful details of a historical figure's life. Because of this talent, the book is accessible to any audience. Even if one doesn't like history, this is a great way to change that mindset. To some degree, the book reads like a novel, and John Adams takes on a fictional role of greatness akin to Macbeth or Romeo. He is larger than the contents of the book, and the audio version will probably compel many to finish this read more than the text version, which is massive and daunting for many readers. 

Nelson Runger reads the book. He has an excellent voice and changes his tone/inflection when quoting from Adams' original writing, which makes it easier for the listener to acknowledge the primary sources versus the secondary sources/the researcher's commentary. The mobility of the audio books is the real draw and is very handy for anyone that travels a lot. You can listen to the book in the car, in the comfort of one's home, or even during a workout session at the gym (which is actually a lot of fun because you can stimulate both your body and mind). 

The only qualms I have about Nelson Runger's voice is that sometimes it's too low and comes off as "soothing," which makes me sleepy during a nonfiction read. There were times when I found myself nodding off and dreaming that I was living in the era of the early Americans (not necessarily a bad thing). Thankfully, it was very simple to skip to the previous tracks. Still, I recommend listening to this piece when one is awake and alert to really appreciate all the information in this fantastic book. 

Overall, this is a must have book for anyone who calls themselves an American. Even foreigners will appreciate this historical gem. I've never had the pleasure to read such a piece of nonfiction/biographical writing. I hope to find more like this one in the future and will especially look for some of McCullough's other biographies. Eventually, I want to watch the HBO mini-series that was adapted from this book to write a comparison/contrast piece. 

There are really only two negatives about this audio book: 

  1. Nelson Runger's voice might make you sleepy if you're not alert when listening to the audio book.
  2. There is no bibliography or footnote references of the historical research for the reader to use for further exploration. 

Ultimately, there is no reason not to try this audio book and experience a new side of American history. Bring the past to life with this timeless nonfiction classic. If I ever teach an American History class, I will be sure to reference parts from this book purely because it's a treasure-trove of information with new facts for students to discover daily.

Note: I have submitted this review for The Celebrate America Write-Off, submission deadline July 4, 2011.

John Adams: A Prolific American

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November 11, 2012
Very interesting review- especially the material about Abigail Adams. ( see interesting quotes below)
May 11, 2011
Great review, Adri. The life of our second president is a good topic for a non-fiction book. It sounds like David McCullough did a good job with this book. I may have to read it sometime (or listen to it, but I'm afraid if I do that, I'll fall asleep just like you did. lol).
May 18, 2011
Thanks, Pard! Yeah, I bet you would do better reading this book rather than listening to the audio book. I really think you would enjoy it, though! Fascinating life!
April 26, 2011
Great review, Adrianna! This sounds like a really interesting book. I've only listened to one other audio book before and the guy had a somewhat creepy voice. I'll take soothing over that :P
April 27, 2011
LOL! What book was it? I just finished "The Ruins," and I got to say I didn't enjoy the person who was reading that book either. The reader has to be GOOD for an audio book! It should just be required! :-P
April 27, 2011
BTW: I wrote a Quick Tip about the book if you want to check it out:
April 26, 2011
Hahaha... I'd say this book is great even if one doesn't like to read history! Anything that makes me sleep has value in itself, LOL... Seriously though, I know someone who'd absolutely love this book so I'll pass him the info! Great as always, Adrianna!

And yes, we certainly need more leaders of such caliber in the world today!
April 27, 2011
LOL! Nice! Thanks so much for passing the information along to your friend. I do hope she/he picks it up and reads it or listen to the audio book. Really appreciate the compliment, feedback, and props, Sharrie! And I definitely agree about needing more leaders of this caliber in office. :)
April 27, 2011
BTW: I wrote a QT on the topic if you want to read it:
April 13, 2011
Excellent review, have yet to read this but I need 2.
April 14, 2011
You won't be disappointed when you do read it. Other than it being lengthy, it's excellent. If the length is off-putting, I recommend the audio book. It reads very fast.
April 11, 2011
Ooh, a new review! I've been meaning to read this book for quite a while since I've always been fascinated by John Adams and the founding fathers. Nice job!
April 11, 2011
Thanks for checking out my latest review, Sean! I wrote a QT as well. I also posted a list of quotes from another novel that I'm drafting a review for too. Not sure if you saw those items or not. I'm slowly but surely trying to get back into my online activities now that my father is doing better.

John Adams is my favorite founding father. :)
April 06, 2011
Superb execution! 10 out of 10 points! Nice to see you back, Adri! I'll message you a little later....
April 08, 2011
Thanks so much, William! It's nice to be "semi-back." I've been spending a lot of time with my dad and helping him get better. I'm leaving to go back home to be with my husband this weekend. I'm still playing catch-up, but I'll be shooting you an email myself soon. *HUGS*
April 06, 2011
Great review, Adrianna, and thank you for going to bat for John Adams! Adams is unfairly best known for his final words on his death bed: "Jefferson still lives!" However, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier. (Jefferson and Adams were frequently at loggerheads- Jefferson was a slave owner, Adams detested slavery, as you note in your review).
April 09, 2011
Thanks so much for reading my review, Pam. I agree-- it's quite a shame that Adams is known by that final quote...and it's taken a little out of context too. He said that as a way of giving honor to the patriots of the revolution-- the people who helped make the US. Adams just had a lot better morals than Jefferson. He really held himself up to some high standards!
More John Adams (audiobook) reviews
Quick Tip by . April 06, 2011
Click here to read the book review.      John Adams by David McCullough was my favorite audio read from 2010. There are so many things I enjoyed about this book that I can't wait to pore over the text version in the near future.      I recommend that people listen to the audio book when they are alert and awake, so none of the facts/narrative is missed. It's a really compelling read, and everyone will learn something new about John Adams, the second …
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Adrianna Simone ()
Ranked #9
MY GROUPS (AND COMMUNITY):      The following information was taken from the officialCafe Libri Website.   Cafe Libri (Yahoo Reading Discussion Group)is the original Cafe … more
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Gordon S. WoodThe New York Review of BooksBy far the best biography of Adams ever written...McCullough's special gift as an artist is his ability to re-create past human beings in all their fullness and all their humanity. In John and Abigail he has found characters worthy of his talent.

Walter IsaacsonTimeA masterwork of storytelling.

Michiko KakutaniThe New York TimesLucid and compelling...[Written] in a fluent narrative style that combines a novelist's sense of drama with a scholar's meticulous attention to the historical record.

Marie AranaThe Washington PostMcCullough is one of our most gifted living writers.
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ISBN-10: 0743572424
ISBN-13: 978-0743572422
Author: David McCullough
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs, Books on CD
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
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