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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

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 12-22-17

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.

5 of 5 people found this review 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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Great History by a Great Historian

Adams and Jefferson are interesting enough to study separately. Wood has done a superb job of analyzing their complicated relationship. If you love to study the founding, this work is mandatory.

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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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One of the best books i have read

It starts slowly. It’s tough keeping the characters apart until you know them. In fact at about chapter give, i started over. Now that was the ticket.

The characters opened up and the story their lives were telling became real to me.

America wasn’t a unified place in the late 18th century. It was a place where different minded people were deciding they didn’t want to live under British rule anymore.

People in the colonies didn’t hate England. Quite the contrary, many viewed it as the most functional -even democratic - government in the world. But it wasn’t the government of the colonies. It was too far away, too detached, and too parasitic. These were not ideological concerns but practical ones.

And the decoration of independence was not signed by a bunch of like minded men that bought into its every word and were willing to die for what it said. They may have been willing to die for the cause, but not that document - at least not when it was written.

This book by taking to patriots, two founding fathers, two friends, and two very differently thinking men, paints the period in all the colors of diversity of thought that we may not understand mirrors the country we have today.

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A masterwork in early American history

Beautifully conceived, researched and written, Friends Divided describes how two of the Founding Fathers of the United States worked to establish, reestablish and maintain a friendship of over 50 years. Prof. Wood artfully describes both the similarities and differences in viewpoint between Jefferson and Adams and how the debate over these differences stayed alive over decades of correspondence. Wood explains why one of the two remains revered over the centuries while the other, despite his significant contributions to liberty remains more difficult to appreciate.

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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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Rich narrative of the psychology of founding fathers

This is an absolutely fantastic read! The detail and richness in describing the psychology of this great friendship is fascinating. It allows one to see and understand the thought behind many of the twists and turns of our fledgling democracy. Well worth the listen!

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not much new information

I enjoyed the beginning and the end, but found the the rest a struggle to get through. I wanted more about the men personally.