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Monday, March 28, 2011

Catching up on Books : Joseph Ellis' PASSIONATE SAGE : THE CHARACTER AND LEGACY OF JOHN ADAMS

Just finished this volume,  an informative and enjoyable read which I recommend to anyone who is not a dyed-in-the wool partisan either of Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton.


As Michiko Kakutani rightly observes in his NYT review of May 1993,  PASSIONATE SAGE " is not a conventional biography but an impassioned and shrewdly argued meditation on Adams's personality and his vision of democracy in America."


Don't have time to devour the entire volume ? Then permit me to recommend  either the thirty-page Chapter 4, 'The American Dialogue' , which covers the celebrated correspondence between Adams and Jefferson commencing in 1812 and continuing for fourteen years,  or the like-sized Chapter 6, 'Intimacies', which describes Adams' relationships with various correspondents and critics, as well as the large and extended family which gathered around him and his wife Abigail at the farm in Quincy he variously calls 'Mount Wollaston'  or 'Montezillo' [not a typo] in his letters.



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PASSIONATE is my second Ellis read, the first having been FOUNDING BROTHERS : THE REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION, whose eight chapters, to use the author's own words, "attempt to recover the sense of urgency and improvisation, what it looked and what it felt like, for the eight most prominent political leaders in the early republic ".  


FOUNDING is far more slender than PASSIONATE, and the restless reader will find that he or she can savor each chapter at his or her own convenience, for as Ellis justly claims, each represents a "self-contained narrative".  I found the first chapter, on the Burr-Hamilton Duel, particularly compelling.



To be sure, the historian's recent tome, HIS EXCELLENCY : GEORGE WASHINGTON is on my must-read list , but it must wait, until I get through Ellis' earlier work, AMERICAN SPHINX : THE CHARACTER OF THOMAS JEFFERSON.