This book is a critical study of the Adams family from the founding father to forth-generation reporter Henry. Brookhisher presents the story of the four Adams in a succinct, although in some ways simplistic way. A recurrent theme of the book is the mediocrity of most of the Adams even amid strict parenting and privileged education. The two presidents, often viewed as the success cases, had a bad time in the White House. Although this short work only provides a brief glimpse into the four Adams, it is an ideal starting point for the study of the prominent political family.
Having read about 50 books about the people and times of the revolution, this hands down the worse one by far. Run on sentences and a total lack of flow are just 2 of the reasons for my opinion. References to totally unrelated subject matter in mid paragraph make this book very difficult to read. I had to struggle to complete this book. I frequently was so amazed at the disjointed writing that I had to stop and read it to my wife in amazement. Total waste of my time.
Mr. Brookhiser dedicates this book to William F. Buckley, Jr. From that point forward, the entire book becomes his editorial on conservatism. He constantly tries to compares issues from the 18th century to today and to justify actions taken by today's conservatives as being mandated by past events. I have read hundreds of biographies, including Brookhiser's work on George Washington. This is the most one sided and least scholarly effort I have seen to date. Frankly, he should be ashamed.
For a quick introduction to the highlights to four generations of the Adams Family, “America’s First Dynasty’ is an excellent choice. It chooses one figure from each of t first four generations, John, John Quincy, Charles Francis and Henry. It shows how the family morphed from revered politicians of action into respected historians who chronicled their own history for the rest of us.
Many know about the presidents, John and John Quincy, but few are familiar with Charles Francis’ critical role in the Civil war as American Ambassador to the Court of St. James during which he struggled to prevent British recognition of the Confederacy and delivery of warships to it, as well as his later representation of his country at the arbitration of claims arising out of the damage done by the C.S.S. Alabama. His dabbling in politics over, Charles Francis switched over the role of historian with his compilation of his father’s papers. As America changed the Adams family did with it. Recognizing that, in his day, politics was not the center of action that it had been previously, Henry made his career as an historian, professor and confident of political leaders, primarily John Hay and Theodore Roosevelt. Even though I have read much about the Adams family, I learned facts and recognized threads running through their lives. Alcoholism and suicide were multi-generational tragedies while irritating personalities remained a lingering trait. I had not been aware of Charles Francis’ dabbling in third party movements and the reasonableness of what may seem to us to be futile quests.
Author Richard Brookhiser has created an easy to read history of our First Dynasty and, through them, of our nation. He is somewhat opinionated in declaring their presidencies to be failures and the other family member to be interesting but not worthy of being featured in his book. With this noted I recommend it for any seeking a short introductory work either to stand alone or to commence your study of this remarkable family.
In "America's First Dynasty," editor and columnist Richard Brookhiser examines the four generations of a family that produced two single-term presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy; one-term congressman Charles Francis Adams, remembered mostly for his role as ambassador to Britain during the Civil War; and the historian and memoirist, Henry Adams. Each figure is described with short biographical summaries that read like fleshed-out Wikipedia entries scattered with anecdotes, and the volume concludes with three chapters summarizing the achievements and influence of this "dynasty."
There's certainly a place for the type of overview Brookhiser has set out to write; for readers who know little about these four figures, this book provides a cursory introduction to their biographies. But it's unlikely readers will close the book with enthusiasm for any of its subjects. Oddly, it appears that Brookhiser doesn't think much of these four men, either. For example, the most memorable takeaway from the section on John Adams is that America's second President is the "first loser" in American presidential politics. (He repeats this obloquy three times.) More generally, Brookhiser has a hard time supporting the theme of his book, or for that matter, its title. In one of the summary chapters, he admits that "most of the Adamses, favored by education, experience of the world, and christening, were either simply talented, or simply normal, or simply failures. They never did a great thing...." (Really?) For a book about an alleged dynasty, family matters--not to mention the wives--get relatively short shrift, and one closes the book with a sense that, with the exception of four notable figures, the Adams family was a collection of washouts and drunks who kept their women in the background. Even Abigail's influence is effectively neutralized and the suicide of Henry's wife, which many literary historians and biographers have emphasized as perhaps the central incident of his life, merits only two short paragraphs.
What these four generations bestowed on their country, Brookhiser suggests, was a lot of verbiage: "At the close of Henry Adams's life, he could look back on a century and a half of family writing. No American political dynasty has been so prolific . . . an ocean of state papers, polemics, history, letters, and diaries." (If the criterion is merely word count, I suppose the Jameses are America's premier literary dynasty.) Yet the book hardly follows through on the implication of this statement: how has the "ocean" of paper influenced American discourse and politics? What makes this assortment of statesmen and "losers" a dynasty? And, more important, why does their writing matter today?
The reality is that there are only two and a half significant political figures in this so-called political dynasty. By any standard, Charles Francis could hardly be considered a political juggernaut, but he certainly carried on the tradition (if one can call it that) established by his father and grandfather. As for the last of the Adamses: even Brookhiser finds in Henry's writing "unrelieved irony, the byproduct of forswearing of power." Henry's influence on his contemporaries was relatively modest; after all, his two greatest works were privately published and scarcely read until after his death. Yet, while his political influence was nil, Henry's influence on the literature and culture of succeeding generations of Americans was inestimable--although you wouldn't know it from this book. Perhaps unintentionally, Brookhiser manages to prove that a political dynasty brewed in the United States is, thankfully, a pale imitation of its European counterpart.