A top-notch dual biography of two presidents who deserved better.

An unsettling yet well-presented argument that the failures of John and John Quincy Adams illustrate a disturbing feature of American politics.

John Adams (1735-1826) became an early proponent of independence in the Continental Congress. Isenberg (White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, 2016, etc.) and Burstein (Democracy's Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead, 2015, etc.), professors of history at Louisiana State University who co-authored Madison and Jefferson (2010), show how he disliked aristocracy but worried equally about the problems of a mass electorate. He believed that selfish humans would look after their own interests and persecute minorities they disliked. His solution was a strong president to oppose powerful interests and keep the majority from abusing fellow citizens. Missing the point, Thomas Jefferson considered Adams a closet monarchist. He entered office in 1797 as an independent in a nation with two parties: Hamilton’s Federalists and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. Both worked successfully to ensure his defeat in 1800. It did not help that Adams was quarrelsome and insecure, lacking Jefferson’s cosmopolitan appeal. John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became his father’s secretary as an adolescent and spent a lifetime serving the nation as a diplomat, senator, and secretary of state. Equally testy and independent, he suffered the misfortune of running in the 1824 presidential election, finishing second to Andrew Jackson. No one obtained a majority, so the House of Representatives determined the president, choosing Adams. Of course, this enraged Jackson and his Democratic Party, which controlled Congress, ensuring that Adams endured an unhappy presidency. Besides lively, warts-and-all portraits of the men and the surprisingly nasty politics of the young nation, the authors delve deeply into their philosophies and those of Enlightenment thinkers who influenced them. They conclude that both were more intelligent and experienced than most two-term presidents but lacked the common touch, essential in America, where we “glorify equality but ogle self-made billionaires and tabloid royalty.”

A top-notch dual biography of two presidents who deserved better.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55750-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview