Review of John Adams: A Life by John Ferling

I really enjoyed John Adams: A Life by John Ferling.  As a one-volume, all-encompassing, look at our second President, it runs 454 pages of text, not including footnotes and bibliography.  There are some pictures scattered throughout.  This book covers President Adams’ entire life, from his humble upbringing in Braintree, Massachusetts, to his famous July 4 death at the old age of 90 years.

The book covered very nicely President Adams explicit desire to be a great man.  Choosing the enter the practice of law rather than the ministry, Adams struggled at first but eventually became a top lawyer.  Adams notably represented British soldiers that killed civilians during the Boston Massacre and he earned an acquittal.

Adams was a busy man and sacrificed much by spending a lot of time away from his family.  The book was fair in presenting Adams’ long periods away from his wife Abagail and his children.  Adams was a diplomat in Europe for many years while Abagail stayed home for the most part.  The absences put a demonstrable strain on the marriage and potentially his children.

The book described the Adams Presidency well.  From Adams keeping the United States out of overt war with France (an unpopular but correct decision) to the Sedition Act (jailing his critics), the book gives great details on the good and bad of the Adams Presidency.  I did not get the feeling that John Ferling was ideologically driven in writing the book.

Author Ferling well described Adams’ post-Presidency retirement.  From Adams letter writing period with Thomas Jefferson until his near-simultaneous death with Jefferson on July 4, the book gives adequate detail into Adams’ life.

My only criticism of the book–a minor one–is that the book largely ignored Adams’ religious beliefs and the role that religion played in his life.  Only towards the very end of the book does the book address the religion issue.  Nevertheless, this is a minor knit-pick on my part.

In sum, I highly recommend John Adams: A Life, by John Ferling.  This is the best one volume Presidential biography that I have read to date.


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