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He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of La Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president.
John Quincy Adams was all of these things and more. In this masterful biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals Adams as a towering figure in the nation’s formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history - which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage.
A magisterial biography and a sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, Unger’s John Quincy Adams follows one of America’s most important yet least known figures.
Harlow Giles Unger, a former distinguished visiting fellow in American history at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, is a veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian. He is the author of 20 books, including several biographies of America’s Founding Fathers. He has also authored histories of the early Republic as well as numerous books on American education. He lives in New York.
Would you listen to John Quincy Adams again? Why?
Yes, to further absorb the facts of Adams' life.
What did you like best about this story?
I found it fascinating that JQA's main public contributions came after his presidency, during his long years in Congress. It was also interesting to learn how much he contributed to foreign diplomacy during his youth. JQA was an under-appreciated guiding light during the early decades of our country.
Which scene was your favorite?
Can't choose. Too many stellar moments in that man's life.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
No. There's a lot of info in this book, an abundance that requires time to absorb.
Any additional comments?
One of my favorite biographies of all time is David McCullough's "John Adams." It is a perfect work on the life of one of our most important founding fathers. I am proud to say that I own that book in print and as an audio book. Both versions are keepers. Unger's bio of JQA is nearly as good. Beyond the excellent writing, the best part is that Adams the younger is just as fascinating as his father, though entirely unique as a person--definitely no clone of his famous dad. I will listen to this audio book again, and with pleasure. The narration by Johnny Heller is very well done.
26 of 27 people found this review helpful
Did I like it? I was so impressed & inspired that I bought a copy of "John Quincy Adams" for my husband, both our sons and my 88 yr old father. This amazing American's life story reads like an exciting adventure novel - he was, as someone noted, a perfect blend of classic virtues, all at work for the good of his country. He had such courage & determination, that even when a mere child of 12, served as secretary for the American diplomat to Russia!! Always striving to learn more in an effort to better serve, promote & protect the America he loved! Great book! Incredible story!!
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
John Quincy Adams was one of the most fascinating men in the history of the United States. Born the son of John and Abigail Adams he served his nation over a longer period and in more positions that probably anyone else in history. As a young man he watched from a distance as the British and Americans fought around Boston in the opened fights of the War of Independence. He traveled with his father to France as his father worked with Benjamin Franklin at the court of Versailles. At the age of fourteen he traveled as secretary and interpreter to Frances Dana, the first American ambassador to Russia. After returning to France he became a sort of adopted nephew to his father's close friend Thomas Jefferson.
After graduating from Harvard at the age of 20 he studied law. At the age of 26 George Washington appointed him ambassador to the Netherlands. Three years later at Washington's insistence he was appointed the first Ambassador to Prussia. After Jefferson beat his father in a contentious election Adams resigned and returned him. He served as a Senator from Massachusetts, then as the Ambassador to Russia, then as Ambassador to England. During this time he helped to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. He serves as James Monroe's Secretary of State and was elected to the Presidency. After losing the next election, Adams quite naturally thought he career over. Two year later he was elected to the US House of Representatives and served as a Congressman for the next fifteen years.
During his time in the House he fought hard to bring down the gag rule that prevented discussion of the slavery issue. He represented the Amistad prisoners. He also fought hard for internal improvements. Adams was an amazing man and has been largely neglected by history. He deserves to be studied. This accessible biography from Harlow Giles Unger is a great place to start learning about this truly great American.
23 of 26 people found this review helpful
Harlow Giles Unger’s new biography of John Quincy Adams is well-written and superbly researched. The book is fast paced and supremely readable while not missing any aspect of JQA’s life. Unger seamlessly weaves the words of Adams into his narrative and Unger’s always solid research augments the story that it seems like JQA helps tell. John Quincy Adams wrote in a diary daily from age 10 to death, this along with the massive correspondence between JQA and his parents John and Abigail Adams, together with the massive amount of reports JQA submitted during his career, Unger put it all together into a fascinating biography. There is so much information in this book it is hard to even highlight the information.
John and Abigail Adams saw to the education of their first born son and by the time he was ten years old he was fluent in Latin and Greek. He was already well read in Shakespeare and other leading literature of his day. He accompanied his father to Europe when he was 12 years old and spent his teenage years in Europe meeting all the key political, military, authors, philosophers’ people of the day. He became fluent in Greek, Latin, English, French, Dutch, Russian, German, Spanish, and Italian and learned some Swedish. JQA attended Leiden University in the Netherlands and when he returned to Boston he went to Harvard. He “read the law” with a prominent Boston attorney and was admitted to the Bar. JQA was American Ambassador to six European countries, negotiated the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812. Served eight years as Secretary of State, engineered the annexation of Florida, and wrote the core provision of the Monroe Doctrine warning European’s never again to try to colonize the Western World. He also wrote the Constitution of Massachusetts. John Quincy Adams is considered by scholars to be the best diplomat this country has had to date.
As an attorney JQA defended the African prisoners of the Spanish slave ship Amistad. JQA argued they had been kidnapped and had a legal right to defend themselves and attempt to escape from their kidnappers. Adams successfully defended the case before the Supreme Court. The only unsuccessful period in the long history of JAQ was his presidency. I had learned in school it was because he was unable to relate to the people because he was too educated. Unger points out that JQA angered Andrew Jackson because he though Adams cheated him out of the presidency. Jackson created a new political party called Democrats or Jacksonian Democrats. Unger shows how they deliberately shut the government down so Adams was unable to have bills passed or appointments made. The only major accomplishment was he almost cleared the federal debt.
JQA is the only former President that went on to serve in Congress. JQA belonged to no political party. He served 16 years as the representative from Massachusetts. When in Congress JQA defended Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in his impeachment trial. Chase was accused of sedition and treason (high crimes and misdemeanors). Adams argued that the charges brought against Chase were indictable criminal acts—not political statements. He said “This is a party prosecution”. Adams defense of Chase proved the earliest significant defense of the first amendment. John Quincy obtained an acquittal of Chase and prevented an American President (Jefferson) from criminalizing political dissent. JQA ensured the founding of the Smithsonian Institution, from an endowment from a British Lord. He protected the principal and the institution can use the interest. He spurred the construction of a net work of astronomical observatories across the nation. Adams risked death by championing abolition and emancipation as a congressman.
John Quince Adams married Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of an American diplomat/merchant and an English mother. She was born in London. They were married at the church of “All Hallows by the tower” in London. Louisa is the only first lady not to be born in the United States. In 1878 John Quincy Adam’s youngest son, Charles Frances Adams built the first memorial presidential library in the U.S. to honor his father. The library is located in Quincy Ma.
On the personal side I noted JQA suffered from bouts of depression throughout his life. Louisa had many miscarriages and suffered from migraine headaches. I noted she had bouts of depression starting when they lived in the White House. Apparently alcoholism ran in the family from Abigail’s side of the family. JQA brother’s died of it as did one of his sons. One son “read the law” with Daniel Webster. One of the things I observed in the book was both John Q and Louisa were prodigious readers and preferred to stay home and read. I noticed Unger pointed out that reading was considered a method of education in those days. I found this to be a most enjoyable book I learned so much from it about Adams, his family and general history of the time. Unger is a noted historian and an excellent writer. Johnny Heller did a good job narrating the book.
28 of 33 people found this review helpful
Biography is almost a religious experience for me. This one blew me away because John Quincy usually basks in his father's reflected glory. I started keeping track of his achievements and here are a few:
* Bunker Hill witness at age 7
* Multilingual diplomat
* Czar Alexander's favorite
* Secretary of State during War of 1812, Florida Annexation, Monroe Doctrine, and he preserved our border with Canada
* Resisted a political party affiliation
* 1st President to be photographed, to cut his hair short, and to wear his pants long
* Became Abolitionist as he matured, beginning with the Missouri Compromise
* Opposed Texas Annexation because of its slave status
* Lincoln used his words as the basis for the Emancipation Proclamation
* Amistad defense lawyer
* Predicted the Civil War
* Died on the floor of Congress
His "Lighthouses in the sky" interest lead to his endowment of astronomy
Helped protect the funds endowed for the Smithsonian
His massive diary, kept from age 11 on, is used as a first hand source for historians.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
John Q Adams was the last of a generation. I know he wasn't part of the founding generation but with the impact his parents and family friends like Jefferson left on him he may as well have been . He fought as a senator, diplomat, secretary of state, president, and member of the house of representatives for what he felt were the best national interest, largely regardless of party.
As for the book itself it was very uneven the author spent what seemed like large amounts of time describing how Adams would get somewhere and then just give very basic overview of what he did when there. The book seems to lack balance, the author seems to brush of criticism of Adams by simply saying but Adams did what he felt was right. this gives one a good look at one point of view but left me wondering what the other side thought, simply because they were dismissed in about one line. All in all the book is good but I take what was said with a large grain of salt.
The Narration of the book is okay, nothing to write home about. One thing that got to me was the pronunciation of some French words was awful. I realize being able to speak French my ear can pick these things up more easily but one would think given the role French played in the subject's life that more of an effort might have been made
24 of 31 people found this review helpful
I listened to this as research for a talk I was doing on Louisa Adams (the other foreign born first lady). I was struck by how some of the dynamics were so similar to today. Adams was educated, cerebral, didn't like politicking, and had ideas for big federal program. People in the hinterlands preferred a charismatic populist who spoke in a down-to-earth manner, Andrew Jackson. John Quincy had an amazing life, traveling and in public service from age 12 to over 80.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
and this is clearly one of the best. Clear, insightful and unbiased, a wonderful addition to the canon of presidential biography.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Someone (it’s not clear who) said “Politics attracts the glib, the fast talker and the con artist. It's a natural place for those who think fast on their feet.” I believe it’s fair to say after a certain point in everyone’s life they can see the truth of this quote.
So the idea of a successful politician with integrity may seem like an urban myth. But there have been some. Everyone once in awhile a brave person with a good soul finds his/her way into politics and, even more rarely, makes a lasting impression. John Q Adams was such a person.
This book tells the JQA’s story and does so very well, in my opinion. If you need a break from today’s ugly political headlines, I recommend this great book.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
I really enjoyed this biography of John Quincy Adams, I knew so little of him before listening to this, and after, I am amazing at how full and rich and significant his life was. This book does a great job at capturing his life and times. He traveled through much of Europe as a child, and was groomed as a statesman by his father. He was a diplomat to Russia at age 15. He was a secretary of state, senator, president, and served in the house after his presidency. He was an abolitionist, a purist who refused to actively campaign for any office, and a poet I enjoyed listening to this book, and found myself thinking a lot about this man and his times.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful