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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 2002

In this powerful, epic biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution. Adams thought, wrote, and spoke out for the "Great Cause" come what might; he traveled far and wide in all seasons and often at extreme risk; he rose to become the second president of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; he was rightly celebrated for his integrity, and regarded by some as "out of his senses"; and his marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the most moving love stories in American history.

Much about Adams' life will come as a surprise to many. His rocky relationship with friend and eventual archrival Thomas Jefferson, his courageous voyage on the frigate Boston in the winter of 1778, and his later trek over the Pyrenees are exploits few would have dared and that few listeners will ever forget.

McCullough's John Adams has the sweep and vitality of a great novel. This is history on a grand scale, an audiobook about politics, war, and social issues, but also about human nature, love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, friendship, and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, it is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.

©2001 David McCullough (P)2001 Recorded Books, All Rights Reserved

Critic Reviews

"Brilliant...a winner." (Publishers Weekly) "McCullough writes to be heard as well as read." (AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Davis
  • San Pedro, CA, United States
  • 07-10-06

An outstanding biography

David McCullogh's biography of John Adams is an outstanding book about an outstanding man. This is one of the finest biographies I have read or listened to. By the end of the book I felt like I knew John Adams - both his outstanding strengths and his human frailties. I came away with a far better appreciation for Adams and his role in the birth of America than I had previously. The book also provides fascinating glimpses into the other strong personalities of the time, including Hamilton, Franklin and Washington, but most especially Jefferson. It is written beautifully and is so enjoyable to listen to that I was a bit sad when it ended. I strongly recommend this great work.

168 of 173 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Better than fiction....

This is the rare history narrative doesn't rely on those dry-as-dust facts that were droned into our adolescent brains to ensure we never discovered the magic of history. This book is fascinating and informative.

There was no sense that McCullough took undue license as a historian in portraying the people of the time; every characterization was fleshed out with an amazing array of letters, love-notes, journals, documents and receipts.

I listened to the unabridged version but I would have enjoyed it more if it were even longer. In the end, I've untangled the screwy chronology I've had in my head regarding America's break from England and have a new admiration for the patriots of the time.

Whether a reader prefers fiction (for the love of a good story) or history this book will more than satisfy. Also, it was very well read.

52 of 55 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A delightful experience

I completely enjoyed all aspects of this audio book. The narrator was engaging and his voice was pleasant to listen to for the many hours required. The writing style drew me in and I became enthralled with each small detail revealed about the lives of John and Abigail and the early American and European life depicted. I have gone on to read several books of Abigail's letters with great pleasure. This was an excellent, life affirming, and positive experience. Thank you Audible!

48 of 51 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Expectations on a Theme

The author has carved out his niche as an historical biographer of great skill, so it is reasonable to come to expect much from him; he does not fail to deliver in this book. Having said that, this book should be judged as a journey into the soul of the subject and not an adventure or a novel - it is not and was not intended to be an edge-of-the-seat experience.

The narrator does an excellent job of portraying the various characters with just enough inflection to make the transitions comfortable and while there may be some exposure of his breathing in the reading it is not irritating. It is obvious that the narrator was "in" to the story, and we can always appreciate that!

The book itself offers the listener an intimate perspective of the Adams in a way that you certainly will not find in a text book or in the standard biography. That John Adams was one of the individuals to place their hands upon history and influence the world is beyond question, and this book offers us the opportunity to drink deeply of the character of the man, giving a clear and unobstructed view of his motives.

In an era in which the actions of the founding fathers are often called into question or are intentionally recast with less than faithful attention to the facts it is all the more important to have works like this to set the record straight. McCullough has no axe to grind, and has held himself to the unusually high standards he adopted for his previous works.

If you are seeking knowledge and wish to understand an important man and important events from the past, this book is one you will regret not experiencing. If you are seeking to be constantly entertained and to have plot and subplot move in fluid motion, perhaps you will find Patrick O'Brian's historical fiction more to your liking.

I found the book to be engaging, easy to follow, and pleasant to listen to in small or large chunks, and I believe you will too. It earned the five stars it received from me.

67 of 72 people found this review helpful

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  • Brian
  • Norfolk, MA, USA
  • 05-04-08

Fantastic book and performance!

I loved this book! McCollough tells Adams' story as if he were there. Many times I was so transported back to the late 18th century I missed my exit! The performance on the audio is excellent, although I was a bit disappointed that, at times, you could hear the narrator breathing like he was a 900 operator. No dry memorization of facts here, rather you are sucked into the narrative as you are into a great novel. Not sure if Jeffersonians will be too pleased with the content of the book, but it has kindled an interest in investigating the other side of the argument.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Drinking and long pauses by narrator distract.

An outstanding tale with incredible details about the characters, places, and events that determined the story of the United States of America. I couldn't help but be annoyed by the narrators constant long pauses and audible drinking. Was there no way to edit those out?!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • EH
  • san diego
  • 03-16-14

great read, but tough listen

What did you love best about John Adams?

Interesting, yet one-sided account of a great man. In the author's mind, John Adams was always right and honorable as opposed to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Above all, I loved the correspondence between John and Abigail. I'm interested in reading more David McCullough due to his highly informative, yet never boring style of writing.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

I highly recommend this biography, but warn that the narrator almost ruined it for me. His voice is pleasant, but he takes long pauses, deep breaths and there are weird swallowing sounds - it's very distracting. Also, for some reason, he sounds like the guy from "Get Smart" when he is speaking as John Adams.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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great book, distracting narrator

The book is a wonderfully written, interesting portrait of an American founder. The narrator speaks well and pleasantly. However, his long pauses to apparently take a drink of water accompanied by the sound of swallowing is disgusting and extremely distracting. I wonder why it was not somehow edited out!I have listened to 9 hours so far but I am not sure if I can continue to listen to all 30 hours if it continues...

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

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A Classic Work for Our Time

This Pulitzer Prize winning biography by David McCullough has become a classic work. John Adams is one of the most interesting and, before this book was published, one of the least known of the Founding Fathers. Born to a farmer in Braintree, Massachusetts Adams went to Harvard and then studied law. He became a respected attorney in the Boston area. He met and married the brilliant Abigail Smith he proceeded to and they produced four children who lived to maturity. From there his career took off. He defended the British soldiers who fired on a mob. He served in both Continental Congresses. He served on the diplomatic mission to France. While in Europe he helped to secure loans from Dutch bankers to keep the American Revolution going. He served on the peace commission. He was named the first ambassador to Great Britain. Returning home he become the first Vice-President and the second President of the United States.

McCullough bring out the brilliant and irascible character of Adams. Adams was brilliant. In fact he was one of the most brilliant men of his age. A man of passionate and fiery temper he often rubbed people the wrong way. He was well known as one of the great orators of his time. His speeches on behalf of Independence helped to lead the way to the Declaration of Independence. As brilliant as he was as a thinker and a speaker he always seemed to have a hard time getting his thoughts on to paper. He tended to write material that was long and rambling. He also never seemed to grasp that other people were not as well read as himself, nor were they capable of understanding some of the subtleties of his thought. A thoroughly practical man he seemed to not understand that he lived in a day of rhetoric and idealism.

The period that Adams lived in and helped to define was a complex period. New ideas were coming together that would change the world forever. So many things that we take for granted, the idea of individual rights, freedom of speech, even freedom of thought, were not accepted as the norm. In fact many believed that a society founded on such ideas was considered dangerous and unlikely to succeed.

As alway, McCullough’s prose is masterful. He has the writer’s gift of making complex issues come alive and seem easy to understand. So many scenes remain with you. You can see the rage of the mob and the fear of the British soldiers as they fire on the crowd at the Boston Massacre. You feel the cramped and stuffy conditions of the Congress as it debates the idea of independence. Most of all you get to know the characters. You get to know, and love the irascible Adams. You get to know his brilliant wife, Abigail, who was the great love of his life. So many other people come out. You feel the friendship that he had with Thomas Jefferson. You feel the pain that he felt when Jefferson chose party ideology over friendship. The pain that his children, except for his oldest son John Quincy, brought to him is heartbreaking. If you have never read this book you should do so. It is a brilliant work of history, and a wonderful work of literature.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

David McCollough is the Herodotus of our time

I'd never found John Adams to be a very interesting figure, and bought this book purely on the strength of McCollough's '1776'.

I had no idea how deeply engrossing the story of John Adams' life would be, nor how adeptly McCollough would manage to tell it. This is a shockingly thorough work of tested, evidence-based history, objectively presented.

I can't say enough to recommend this book to anybody interested in understanding the multi-dimensional political and diplomatic drama running in parallel to the military drama of the American Revolution, as well as the often awkward foundations of our two party system; all told through the life of an unusually likable and relateable man (as well as his remarkable wife and son).

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

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  • Kirstine
  • 11-03-14

A great life that kept me listening

Having enjoyed listening to Benjamin Franklin’s biography (by Walter Isaacson) I chose this book to get a different slant on the birth of America as an independent country. John Adams wasn’t as colourful a character as the polymath Franklin, but he probably had a greater influence on the creation of the USA as one of the key men in writing the Declaration of Independence and in formulating the Constitution. An example, like Franklin, of a man from humble beginnings achieving greatness through his intelligence, hard work and courage. Adams dedicated his life to his country, but one has also to give much praise to Abigail, his devoted wife, who endured long absences by Adams as he travelled in Europe negotiating with the British, French and Dutch governments to try and bring peace and prosperity to his country.

While the book illustrates the epic history of the birth of a nation, it is enriched by the personal side of Adams’ life and his relationships with his family as well as with the famous people of his time. I’m often struck by the fact that the personalities and relationships among the main players quite often have a pivotal role in the direction of history. Much of the detail of these relationships is furnished by the copious amount of letters that have survived. I wonder will biographies of the future have this rich source of personal information with so much communication now being done by ephemeral e-mails and texts?

On tends to learn history at school from the point of view of ones own country so it it's educational to hear about the American War of Independence from the other side.

Though a long book the story is engaging and the narration excellent.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Ian
  • 02-17-16


What made the experience of listening to John Adams the most enjoyable?

Nelson Runger has a really pleasing rustic voice. Good for colonial American history.

What did you like best about this story?

John Adams. What a great person to write a readable story about. He's unbelievably prolific in his writing and straight-forwardly opinionated on every topic.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

John and Tom's Magical English Garden Tour '86