November 17, 2011

I Heart Abigail Adams

A few years ago I read David McCullough's John Adams -- and then about a year after that Noel and I watched the HBO miniseries John Adams.

I highly enjoyed the book and the miniseries, and they started my love affair with the intelligent, brusque, stubborn, tortured soul of John Adams, and his amazing, feisty, and brilliant wife Abigail. So when I saw First Family: Abigail and John Adams, Joseph Ellis's new book about the famous couple, I couldn't wait to read it...

Using the treasure trove of the more than 1200 letters John and Abigail wrote each other over the course of their 54 year marriage, Ellis pieces together their life and love. The letters began during their courtship, and continued all during difficult war years when John was in Philadelphia, and then Paris and The Hague, defending the cause of American freedom, leaving Abigail behind in Massachusetts to raise their four children. They ebbed for a while when Abigail finally was reunited with John after his appointment to London as the first American Ambassador, but Ellis uses their letters to other family members and friends to piece together the events of these years.

During John's eight year vice presidency and four year presidency, Abigail and John were often separated, and exchanged letters covering topics ranging from Thomas Jefferson's duplicity and the end of that long friendship, the alcoholism of their son Charles, their hopes for their son John Quincy's political career, and the 'betrayal' of their aging bodies. The only false note in their mutual intelligence and political sagacity was the passage of the Alien and Sedition acts -- perhaps created mostly out of Abigail's attempts to protect and defend her husband.

First Family won't tell you anything new about John Adams if you've already read other biographies of him, but it will reveal more details about Abigail, and the wonderful partnership of their marriage. I really appreciate Abigail's uniqueness--a strong, intelligent, hard-working woman who was well-read in the classics and who had the ability to milk a cow, care for her family, nurture her husband's political career, and leave an impressive legacy of her own. And the way she called him her "dearest friend" even after more than 50 years of marriage chokes me up a little bit.

I heartily recommend this book to fans of early American history, John Adams, and strong women. I don't know how you could read this book without being inspired to be more like Abigail Adams!

Rating: 4 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Absolutely!

What historical women inspire you? Do you know much about Abigail Adams?

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