THE ADAMS CHRONICLES: Four Generations of Greatness by Jack Shepherd

THE ADAMS CHRONICLES: Four Generations of Greatness

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Four generations of Adamses, cozily presented through diaries, letters, and a sympathetic narrative. John and Abigail are accorded the largest portion of the book: the family tradition of bitter feuds with other politicians and a staunch sense of public duty begins here as John becomes ""a self-made aristocrat."" John Quincy, his diplomatic adventures, and the Presidency that ""commanded little respect at home or abroad"" is made quite lively here, especially his comeback as, in Calhoun's words, the ""mischievous, bad old man"" and parliamentary expert of the House of Representatives. Charles Francis Adams, another diplomat, and his sons Henry, Charles Francis, Jr., and Brooks are most disappointingly presented. Shepherd wants to avoid the old-fashioned view that the family decayed, which by his own account it in fact did, as John and Abigail's commitment to progress gave way to Henry's fin de siecle mutterings about ""damned humanity."" We learn that Henry's wife--never mentioned in The Education of Henry Adams--killed herself; but the world outlook of these later Adamses is not directly explored, nor is John and Abigail's opposition to popular rule. Such themes would have made the ""decay"" question richer. Shepherd's close-up view also leaves it to the reader to contrast the Adams clan's Old Yankee character with other American types: this is easy in the case of Charles Francis, Jr.'s clash with J. Gould and ""the pirate band"" of nouveau riches financiers when he left the presidency of the Union Pacific Railroad, but John and Abigail's special character among the rest of the Founders remains fuzzy. The most enjoyable aspect of the book is its copious excerpting, especially of the eldest Adams' letters and the Congressional speeches of John Quincy against the slaveholders' gag rule. The Adams Chronicles parallels the Public Broadcasting Service series of the same name and should draw a considerable audience.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1975
Publisher: Little, Brown