Leah: Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Bernstein
President number three! 3.5 stars

What I learned about Thomas Jefferson:

  • He had red hair.
  • He was involved with the Louisiana Purchase and Louis and Clark’s expedition
  • He had very conflicting ideas on many things – religion, slavery, etc.
  • He was the founder of the University of Virginia (and has students as rebellious as some today!!!)
  • Monticello was mostly a disaster for Jefferson’s entire life because he kept reconstructing it.

What I wish I learned:

  • More about the conflict between him and Adams. I feel like it was glossed over. It DID explain a lot about the conflict between the Federalists and Republicans but I would have liked more on their friendship, personally.
  • More about Jefferson’s time overseas. I felt like I learned a lot more from the Adams biography. I also know from Adams’ biography that Jefferson has a friendship with Abigail Adams which this book barely touched on.

I feel like is Jefferson is glamorized in history books/society. This book showed a lot of his faults. I went back and forth between thinking, “This guy isn’t so nice” and “This guy is human, just like the rest of us.” He also was a very forward thinker which often got him in “trouble” because it didn’t agree with the opinions of his time.

Perhaps one day I will pick up another book on Jefferson because I feel like there was a lot more to learn. Overall, this book was a good start and relatively easy to read.

Leah: John Adams

Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage by Edith B. Gelles

I will start off by saying John Adams is WAY more interesting than George Washington. Sorry, George.

The only reason I chose this book for my presidential challenge was because I already had it on my Kindle and didn’t have to fight library due dates to finish it. I was happy I did.

I knew nothing about John & Abigail Adams so I was completely fascinated by every aspect of their relationship. You know darn well that a woman these days would have dropped a husband who lives overseas for 8 years and doesn’t bring her with! It’s amazing that their letters survived, even after each requested that some of them be destroyed, which they weren’t. And though they both were educated, the grammatical and spelling errors in the letters kind of shocked me.

I was bothered a bit (okay, a lot) that John put his job before his family. “John justified the guilt he felt for his abandonment of this (parent) role in the same way that he rationalized his absence from Abigail. Public service was a higher duty that he owed society.” Well, John, I’m sorry but I think you were wrong. Your children barely knew you and your wife was left to handle EVERYTHING. What an amazingly strong woman Abigail Adams was. I would not have put up with John’s antics. And I probably would have insisted that I go to France with him. He takes their children and not her? Nuhuh.

Who knew the debate of immunizations traced back even to the 18th century. The description of how they inoculated for small pox made me chuckled. “The procedure itself was simple. Patients were assembled in a house and each was inoculated by placing a thread with the infected matter from a sufferer of the disease into a cut, usually in the arm but sometimes in the hand. Within a week, the patient, it was hoped, contracted the disease in a less severe form.” Imagine the uproar if that was still the case now! And it WAS considered radical and people were against it. How times…haven’t really changed…

It was interesting that Washington was almost forced to serve two terms as president when he didn’t want to and yet Adams WANTED the position and struggled to get it. He was NOT happy with the vice president position – he wanted it all! “Clearly, he felt overwhelmed by the protocols of a position he would later refer to as ‘the most insignificant office that ever the Invention of Man contrived of his Imagination conceived.” Bet Mr. Biden doesn’t feel like that these days! Also intriguing was the difference in background between Washington – a military man – and Adams – a law man.

Clearly, history class was wasted on me as a kid as I had absolutely no idea that the “format” of our government today – House, Senate, electoral college, etc. – dated back to this time. Wow. Our government has survived over 200 years.

I’ve heard that there was a falling out between Adams and Jefferson but I felt this book kind of glossed over it so I’m hoping that whatever book I choose on Jefferson will go into lots more detail.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story of John & Abigail. Sometimes the writing was tedious and repetitive though. If you are looking to learn more about John Adams, I would recommend this book!

Leah: George Washington

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis

This 4th of July, I played “American History Jeopardy” at a BBQ and it made me realize how little I know/remember about our presidents. Honestly, I really want to just read about Roosevelt/Eisenhower/Kennedy but I figured I might as well be fair and start at the beginning.

So Washington it is! I’m bummed that so little is known about his childhood. I guess it makes sense but I wish I got to know Washington the boy. It was also a bit sad that George and Martha’s marriage was one of convenience. Who knew????

How much has changed since our first president. Washington did not want one term, let alone two and today we have people “debating” who would be best for the job and an ELECTION! He also refused to talk about certain topics because they were too heated/not appropriate for discussion. Ha! Nothing is off limits these days.

Some parts were very interesting for me and others dragged. I felt the second half of the book with the Constitutional Congress was loooooong and dragged. I would have preferred much more about Washington as a person that what was going on in our country back then.

On to Adams!