john adamsI was walking across a parking lot of a strip mall at night (when I am all old-makeup-Winona Ryder-in-Edward Scissorhands, these scenes be my main memory of overly paved and overly franchised Southern California) talking to a guy I was about to have dinner with. We saw one of the ubiquitous John Adams posters featuring one of my biggest celebrity crushes, Paul Giamatti, when my pal laughed.

“Gee, they must be running out of people to make miniseries about,” he said.

Of course, I turned all schoolmarm-ish, rattling off a list of Mr. Adams’s formidable accomplishments vaguely recalled from elementary school, but the more I thought about it, I got what he was saying.

When we think of the Founding Fathers (which we do so much more than the fascinating Founding Mothers.  I am planning on reading more about Martha Washington), we think of the bigger celebrities—the George Washingtons, the Thomas Jeffersons, the Benjamin Franklins. If it weren’t for the fact that his similarly-named son, John Quincy Adams became President (a fact easily remembered and noted in elementary school), I do think we’d have let Mr. Adams fade into that James K. Polk-y twilight of “well, they were Presidents, but eh.”

After reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams though by David McCullough, I happily acknowledge my ignorance and tip my hat (a backwards baseball cap, natch) to John and Abigail Adams, two of the most fascinating individuals I’ve ever read about.

Upright to a fault, a very New England-y mix of pride and humility, John isn’t thoroughly likable throughout all his many amazing accomplishments and feats. Even a great number of his peers found him impeccably moral and upstanding but too single-minded, too proud and not enough of a politician.

In the end, after a long and impressive service to the creation of the United States (arguably the greatest of any of the Founding Parents), he served as President for one term before being narrowly defeated for reelection.

Like life, the book loses much of its sparkle and energy towards the end of Adams’s life, but such is the way with almost all biographies, and there are enough fascinating details of life at the time in America and Europe alike (plus charming touches, like Abigail’s acquisition of a songbird in a cage in France and sad ones, like melancholy-tinged cameos by Marie Antoinette) to delight even the least interested reader of history.

Of course, Abigail comes across as the more fascinating figure—and you want to beat John about the head and shoulders for his jokey, dismissive response to her famous “remember the ladies” letter—and the book picks up momentum whenever the two of them are together physically.
Great book, but now I need to see Paul Giamatti in all his sexy, wild-animal glory in a powdered wig.

Woof.

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