Jacki: John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life, by Paul C. Nagal

Let me just start by saying that this was not one of the biographies that I was really excited about.  After reading John Adams, I kind of thought that I had a pretty basic idea of JQA’s life and thought this would be just a giant re-cap for me.

Um, no.

Turns out that JQA had this really full, amazing life that he basically lived pretty far removed from his father.  Not in a bad way, I don’t want to come across wrong.  He just wanted success on his own terms, not because his dad was president too.

I loved that this biography focused in on his life and the person who JQA was, as opposed to his politics and yadda yadda.  The biographer read a lot of previously unread parts of JQA’s diary/journals/letters and put together just this really great character sketch of JQA as a man, not so much a politician.  Really amazing.

The thing is: he was sort of a boring dude.  He was a reader/a writer/a really introspective guy.  When he was a bit younger he was lively, but early in his life he was faced with the idea that he HAD to open a law practice and go into politics.  He did it really grudgingly and knowing that it wasn’t really what he wanted to do with his life.  Because of this, he had bouts of depression for the rest of his life. He was really interested in science and literature and just couldn’t pursue those things like he wanted too.  It’s kind of sad, really.

His presidency was only given 1 chapter in this book and I think it is because it was only 4 years and it was the most miserable 4 years of his life.  He pretty much hated it and just wanted it to be over. He wasn’t very effective and when he left office, it was kind of this sigh of relief.

Here’s what is cool: the best part of his life was after his presidency.  He maintained public office and was a lawyer in the Amistad case and got to spend more time with his wife and his books, and after this long, somewhat grueling life he finally got a kind of happy ending.  I like that.

So. This is a great biography.  Parts of it are a little dry, but I think that it is just because JQA was a little bit boring.  The author did a great job of showing the person of JQA and I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in American history.

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