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Publisher's Summary

From the great historian of the American Revolution, New York Times best-selling and Pulitzer-winning Gordon Wood, comes a majestic dual biography of two of America's most enduringly fascinating figures, whose partnership helped birth a nation and whose subsequent falling out did much to fix its course.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams could scarcely have come from more different worlds or been more different in temperament. Jefferson, the optimist with enough faith in the innate goodness of his fellow man to be democracy's champion, was an aristocratic Southern slave owner while Adams, the overachiever from New England's rising middling classes, painfully aware he was no aristocrat, was a skeptic about popular rule and a defender of a more elitist view of government. They worked closely in the crucible of revolution, crafting the Declaration of Independence and leading, with Franklin, the diplomatic effort that brought France into the fight. But ultimately their profound differences would lead to a fundamental crisis in their friendship and in the nation writ large as they became the figureheads of two entirely new forces, the first American political parties. It was a bitter breach, lasting through the presidential administrations of both men and beyond.

But late in life, something remarkable happened: These two men were nudged into reconciliation. What started as a grudging trickle of correspondence became a great flood, and a friendship was rekindled over the course of hundreds of letters. In their final years, they were the last surviving founding fathers and cherished their role in this mighty young republic as it approached the half-century mark in 1826. At last, on the afternoon of July 4, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration, Adams let out a sigh and said, "At least Jefferson still lives." He died soon thereafter. In fact, a few hours earlier on that same day, far to the south in his home in Monticello, Jefferson died as well.

Arguably, no relationship in this country's history carries as much freight as that of John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Gordon Wood has more than done justice to these entwined lives and their meaning; he has written a magnificent new addition to America's collective story.

©2017 Gordon S. Wood (P)2017 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Friends Divided

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A Great Read

This is a double biography that recounts the lives of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. It also recounts the creation of the republic. This is primarily a book about ideas as represented by two of the founding fathers. I enjoyed this book immensely. The author has a variety of topics and goes back and forth between the viewpoints of Adams and Jefferson. I learned a lot about both men as well as a good review of the founding of this country.

These two men, more so than other presidents, could be called philosophical statesman. There is a theme about the New Englander who never owned a slave and the Virginian who own many slaves. I found it interesting that both men read widely and collected libraries of classical and modern thinkers. These two men were quite different but found common ground in books and inquiring minds. Woods states that over the past two centuries Jefferson has become more popular and Adams has almost disappeared. I have to declare a bias on my part of being fascinated by John and Abigail Adams.

The book is well-written and meticulously researched. Wood finds relevance in one of their most arcane interest in political theory. Gordon S. Wood is a history professor at Brown University. He does a great job demonstrating the improbable friendship, estrangement and reconciliation between Adams and Jefferson. Woods states that Jefferson told Americans what they wanted to hear. Adams told them the truth and what they needed to know, which the Americans did not want to hear.

The book is fairly long at about eighteen hours. James Lurie does a great job narrating the book. Lurie is an actor and voice-over artist as well as an audiobook narrator.

12 people found this helpful

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Adams deserves a National Monument

I almost didn't read this book because another reviewer gave it 1 star, and claimed that the author was biased against Adams to the point where he held Adams in contempt. It is true that the author begins and ends the book explaining the FACT that Jefferson's reputation has soared in the past 200+ years, while Adams's has diminished. It is clear that Jefferson was more popular than Adams when they lived; he was more popular when they died; and he is more popular now. To point out these facts is not bias.

The author does not hold Adams in contempt. He goes to great lengths to show that Adams's knowledge on the nature of governments was second to none. He also points out that one of the reasons Jefferson was (and is) more liked is because he told people what they wanted to hear (that Americans are exceptional people), while Adams told people what they needed to know (that Americans are not exceptional, and that they are capable of losing their way of life if they are not vigilant about protecting it).

Reading the book made gave me a greater appreciation for Adams than I had before; and I firmly believe he deserves a National Monument alongside Jefferson's.

Lastly, this book does a great job in revealing that the founding fathers were just as divided on the issues as are the politicians of today. Too often people say things like "the founding fathers believed..." as if they all believed the same things. This book shows that their opinions differed greatly and that they were always in a state of flux, to the point where what they believed in 1776 was very different from what they believed later in life.

8 people found this helpful

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Excellent!

This is a “must read” for anyone who has an interest in American history. It explains so much about how we arrived at where we are today.

6 people found this helpful

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The great patriots

The lives and letters of Adams and Jefferson come alive in this book and narration. No one can really understand the founding fathers, their genius and tireless industry during the revolution and the first fifty years of the great American experiment without reading this book. Our nation’s philosophy and challenges are captured so profoundly in the facts and contrasts between Adams and Jefferson. I walk away with admiration and renewed hope for the United States of American!!

Richard J. Shemin, M. D.
LOS ANGELES, CA.
10/01/2018

4 people found this helpful

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Excellent book, very well performed

If you liked the HBO John Adams miniseries (which, yes, was of course based on D. McCullough's book), you will love this one. It delves deeply into the two men's philosophies, political and otherwise, takes a deep dive into the historical and political milieux into which they were born and through which they moved throughout their lives . Drawing on both their extensive writings throughout (many lines of which you'll recognize from the miniseries), the author does a great job focusing on the two protagonists' lives and politics while also relating them to the wider story of the first century or so of our nation's history. The narrator has a pleasant voice and does a great job reading, making the at-times challenging text easier to understand.

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  • LK
  • 03-12-19

i did not care for reader

The narrator kept whistling when he read. It made it a pain to listen to.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent history and story of a friendship

I knew the basic outline of the Adams-Jefferson relationship but Wood adds so much depth, detail, and setting. He also explains why Adams star never shown as brightly as Jefferson's despite Adam's critical contributions to the formation of the nation.

Some repetition and at times the story dragged a bit. Elements like Jefferson's alienation of Washington were not mentioned even though that could have been tied into the story.

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Great until the end

Story was great until the last ten minutes or so when the author decided to interject his opinion of a theoretical one people theory that Jefferson put in the Declaration of Independence (although he spent most of the book pointing out the differences of the people throughout the new republics) on an otherwise good historical account of these two great men.

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Clarifies the divisions and the men.

Wood writes in a sensible linear style. He presents, as they occurred, causes for the ties that bound Adams and Jefferson as well as the incidents that divided them. I came away from this book with facts of which I had been unaware and a better understanding of the subjects as people. I highly recommend the book as a source of valuable perspective on America's revolutionary era.

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Revealing story of two American Founders

It's been over 15 years since I read a book by Gordon S. Wood in college. Returning now to him seems like greeting an old friend. Minutely research and well told, the story of Adams and Jefferson as well as their lives was illuminating.