For the third book I've read in my passion project on the presidents, I chose  "John Adams" by David McCullough and complimented it by watching "John Adams", the mini-series on Amazon Prime (never going ahead of the book) and by reading letters written between Adams and Abigail published at the Massachusetts Historical Society website. (Letters by Jefferson are there too, plus a host of other interesting stuff). 

McCullough crafts a sentence with finesse. Not a word is wasted. As a writer, I learned as much about Adams as I did about writing. 

This was the fourth or fifth time I started the John Adams mini-series. It's slow-moving and failed to grip me past the Boston Massacre and Adams' representation of the British soldiers at trial until I began learning about who Adams truly was. Then, as I read the book and watched the series, studied every nuance Paul Giamatti put into his portrayal of our second president (Damn the bad reviews of his performance!), and hung on each word from Laura Linney's Abigail, I enjoyed every mendering moment. If you recall from my introductory blog to this series, it was because of Ms. Linney that I decided to undertake this project. Here is where that happened. In fact, I wanted the series to turtle along even more, although I certainly did not need to see another person being tarred and feathered at the Boston Tea Party. Once was enough.

Perhaps, for me, out of all the people I've read about so far (I just finished a bio on James Monroe #5, plus a book on Franklin and one on the first First Ladies), John Adams has been the person most brought to life. I expect the trove of his letters has given biographers and history buffs that gift.

McCullough's book was comprehensive and exhaustive, thanks to Adams and Abigail's dedication to letter writing and the preservation of those letters, and thanks to McCullough's research. (Where do I send my resume to get on the research staff for his next book?) I never felt reading the book was a chore and the 650 pages was the perfect length to detail the life of our most unappreciated and detested founding father. I enjoyed reading about Adams and Abigail's relationship with each other and with Thomas Jefferson, and of course about the beginnings of America. But most of all, I enjoyed learning about Abigail. What a remarkable woman. More on Abigail, along with Martha and Dolley, in a later post.

After having read several biographies by different authors, I have found the negative aspects of their subjects' lives often not fully fleshed out and lacking hypotheses as to why these men made some horrific choices. Digging into questions such as why they chose not to act when it was in their power to make even greater monumental changes, like when it came to slavery and the rights of indigenous persons, would have enhanced the reading experience. Adams' pomposity, which was a factor in his decision to spend the majority of his children's growing years away from them, does not feel fully explored. I would like to know, was he genetically cranky? Or was this a man so desirous of making a difference that he wrapped his insecurity in a protective package of irascibility?

Adams certainly made choices he felt were for the betterment of America and he accomplished remarkable things in The Hague, France, England, and, of course, in America. But overall he might best go down in history not as the first vice president, not as our president #2, but for gaining the ire of men like Thomas Jefferson #3 and James Madison #4 who made it their preoccupations to defeat him, which they did. Along with the Federalist Party. 

Adams had drive and determination. Being bookish, he was well-educated. But what if Adams, who had the intellect to create the framework of America, had the personality of more likeable fellows like Thomas Jefferson or James Monroe #5? What then, Mr. Adams? What might your legacy be? How might that have changed the course of our politics?

Adams' last words, just hours after Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826--the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence--was "Thomas Jefferson survives". John was 90, Thomas was 83. John Quincy Adams, his son, was president. (James Monroe, the last founding father, also died on July 4th, 5 years later).

The true character of John Adams is evident in his letters. Adams sought greatness, but never felt he achieved it. However, he was wrong. Adams was blessed with a luster of character to be witnessed time and time again in the letters he wrote. Letters to Abigail, letters to his children, letters to friends and co-workers. He was devoted and thoughtful, well-meaning and eager to serve his country at his own personal sacrifice. His letters with Jefferson--exchanges between the former presidents after Jefferson orchestrated Adams' failure to be re-elected to a second term -- demonstrates the ultimate true character of a person, the ability to forgive. 

In family law, which I practiced for twenty years, there was a saying: "elephants don't marry giraffes". Abigail saw something in Adams to stay with him for fifty-four years, the first fifteen years of their marriage mostly spent apart. She was petrified to cross the Atlantic but ultimately did so to be with her husband in France. He left her in Massachusetts to raise their children, to fight disease and hunger, and with a war literally waging outside the door to their home. What did she see in him? I think she saw his wit, his drive and dedication, his propensity to love deeply if not widely, his ability to forgive, and the way his words poured from his brain to parchment, from his heart to paper. At least that's what I see in the man. 

Underappreciated for all he did for our country, John Adams--who rejected slavery -- was one of the greatest. Even with his crankiness, we could use his intellect and his heartstrings today. He righted America in its infancy, perhaps a person like him could do the same in its middle age. Or perhaps Abigail could rise from the grave and bring us her resourcefulness, wisdom and tenacity. Then we'd really have a fighting chance.

Today is Abigail's 275th birthday. Happy birthday, old girl!

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Joanne Lewis Blog

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joanne lewis

When Joanne Lewis is not practicing law, she is writing. She pens murder mysteries, historical fiction and historical fantasy books and is the author of several award-winning novels. As an author, she hopes to entertain, to educate, and perhaps to enlighten. As an attorney, she is most proud of her work as an assistant state attorney and as a guardian ad litem representing the best interests of children.

Her books are available on Kindle, as paperbacks, and as audio books.

Her latest release is Bee King, a historical novel that is about the first person in the United States diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and takes place from the start of the Civil War until 1910. Just like the people who inhabited Five Points in lower Manhattan during the 1800s and the turn of the century, Bee King traverses the pentagonal streets where abolitionists battled copperheads, immigrants clashed among social, religious and political strife, and doctors and psychologists strained to help patients. Told in Five Points (sections), Bee King is dramatized through conventional literary devices as well as through newspaper articles, a manifesto, and other non-traditional tools.

The Forbidden trilogy consists of the novels: Forbidden Room, Forbidden Night, and Forbidden Horses. Forbidden Room is her best-selling novel.

In Forbidden Room, the first book in the Forbidden trilogy, new attorney Michael Tucker has few clients, yearns to be like his famous grandmother and cannot afford to move out of his parents' home. Sara Goldstein is an heiress accused of killing her uncle. When Sara hires Michael, he gets the chance to defend an innocent person, a beautiful lover and notoriety like his grandmother. But is it more than he asked for? Is Sara innocent or is she a murderer?

Forbidden Night, the second book in the Forbidden trilogy, delves further into Michael and Sara’s complicated relationship, as well as into Soldier Boy’s psyche, into their family histories, and into the creation of the carousel horses. The question posed in Forbidden Room, the first book of the Forbidden trilogy—Is Sara innocent or is she a murderer—is answered.

Forbidden Horses, the final book in the Forbidden trilogy, travels to the eighteenth century and takes place in Austria to reveal the troubled history of the creation of the carousel horses.

Michelangelo & Me is a series of five novellas in the genre of historical fantasy.

In the first book of the series, Michelangelo & the Morgue, seventeen-year-old Michelangelo defies religious and political powers in order to capture a serial killer who is murdering the artists of Florence. In Sleeping Cupid, the second book, Michelangelo’s believed-to-be lost statue narrates his journey from fifteenth century Florence, Italy until the present day where he lives in an attic in a sleepy Florida town. Future books in the anthology include Space Between, School of the World and Michelangelo & Me.

The Lantern is a historical novel about a modern-day woman's search to find a girl from 15th century Florence, Italy who dared to enter the competition to build the lantern on top of Brunelleschi's dome. Across time and space, three lives collide as they battle abuse, disease, fear and prejudice in pursuit of their dreams. Along the way, they intersect with some of the most famous figures of the Renaissance including members of the Medici, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and a young Michelangelo.

Wicked Good, a different kind of love story, begins in Bangor, Maine. Fifteen-year-old Rory is not defined by his diagnoses of Asperger's syndrome and Bipolar Disorder and lives life to the fullest. Archer, his adoptive mother, is Rory's biggest fan. Rory searches for his birth parents to find out why he is the way he is. He discovers his roots in Salem, Massachusetts where the Salem Witch Trials had occurred, and in Gloucester, Massachusetts where fishermen went down with the Andrea Gail during the Perfect Storm. He also learns his true roots are closest to his home in Bangor. As Rory discovers truths about himself, Archer learns about herself too.

Make Your Own Luck is the unforgettable and moving novel of Remy Summer Woods, a young attorney who refuses to believe thirteen-year-old Bonita Pickney killed her father, Patrick Pickney. Remy risks her relationship with her own father as well as her life to prove Bonita's innocence. Along with learning what happened the night Patrick was murdered, Remy discovers hard truths about her family and herself.

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