Jacki: John Adams

John Adams, by David McCullough

So this was a book I was way, way excited about reading.  I have heard nothing but absolutely raving reviews of it AND it was already on our shelf… one of the few books that Shaun contributed when we merged our bookshelves.  It is huge and thick so I decided to “assign” myself 40 pages a day to read to make sure that I got through it by the end of the month.  Turns out I didn’t even need to do that.  I frigging loved this book.

When I decided to do the Presidential Challenge my real idea was to see our country’s history through the lens of the men that have led us.  I wanted to get to know the men, not just these faces that we see every year of grade school.  This book fit that to an absolute tee.

The thing that I really, really respected was that this is a history book written for readers.  Facts/figures/ideas that could have been presented really cut & dry were elaborated on in a way that made me want to keep reading.  Through reading tons and tons of letters to and from the Adamses, David McCullough was able to put together a really full picture of who John and Abigail were and what their motivations were.

A lot of time was spent developing the relationships that really changed the course of John Adams’ life, namely his relationships with his wife Abigail and  his BFF/frenemy Thomas Jefferson.  Both of these relationships were fleshed out so perfectly that I was kind of punched in the gut when Abigail died and literally moved to tears when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams rekindled their friendship late in life and then died on the same day.  *Sob*

As far as the history/politics, I learned so much that I felt kind of “filled up” at the end.  While John Adams was in France and England during most of the Revolution, there was this incredible picture of the state of the country at that time and how this relatively small group of men made a series of decisions that shaped (and are still shaping) the way of an entire country. There was a major focus on 1776 and John Adams’ direct effect on the Declaration. It made me really, really want to read 1776 by the same author.  I may save that until after my challenge is over, but I really cannot wait.

I was also pleased as punch to learn that Ben Franklin was kind of a prick in his old age.  Love it.

I cannot even find anything bad to say about this book.  I am head-over-heels in love with it.  Several mornings I sat in bed and read it outloud to Isaac.  I’m happy to report that he loved it.  He sat for 30 or 40 minutes of a time listening to me go on and on about our second president.  It’s that good.

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Jessica: John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Public Life, by Paul Nagel

This biography spent only one chapter on JQA’s presidency, however, I didn’t feel that it was lacking for information. I liked the fact that the book was so much about JQA’s entire life and his broad rage of acheivements. I never realized just how many things he had his hands in.

I also felt that the book gave a good insight into JQA’s family life as well. From his parents, wife, children and grandchildren. The reader gets a sense of JQA’s daily life and not just his political highs and lows.

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Julie: George Washington

His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph J. Ellis

No complaints here.  It’s obvious that the author did his research and his documentation is thorough.  Although I think the book is accessible to the average reader, it’s still an academic work.  While I found it much more interesting (and informative) thank a textbook, it wasn’t a fast, easy read for me by any means.  It took thought and analysis and I appreciated that greatly.  If you’re willing to put in some effort to learn a lot of fascinating things about American history, this is a great one to try.

Obviously, we’re looking at a book about the history and character of our first President, so it doesn’t read like a thriller or YA novel.  I wasn’t on the edge of my seat at work during the day wondering what would happen to GW next, but this was still a fascinating read.  I especially enjoyed the French and Indian War through the American Revolution, but I have to admit that it did drag for me some around the Constitutional Convention.  I started off with a little bit of a crush on GW – he was totally Jack Bauer in the French and Indian War and American Revolution.  Someone needs to be scalped?  Ok, if that’s what it takes.  He even had an advisor named George Mason…coincidence?  I think not.

Once we were done with the exciting part of forming our nation, we got into the Constitutional Congress, which I have to say was a little less interesting for me.  The last half of the book was harder for me to read and dry at places, but I’m not sure that it’s not just my lack of interest in politics.  However, the slow parts didn’t take away from the overall experience for me.  I don’t know nearly as much as I need to about American history as I should, so this project is a great opportunity to learn.  Since I plan to homeschool once we have children, it’s really important that I know these things about the foundation of our country.  And for me as well, I want to be an educated part of society and this is a great way to continue my education even though I’m done with school.

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