It’s no secret that I loves me some David McCullough. He’s like the Iain Murray of American history.
McCullough takes a lot of flak in some circles because of his narrative writing style, but as a nonacademic history buff (well, as nonacademic as a history buff can get), I appreciate that he’s not just reciting historical facts to his reader. He’s painting a picture of a real man who lived on this earth and happened to do extraordinary things.
And John Adams was a real man who lived on this earth and happened to do extraordinary things.
Adams was a simple farmer with strong convictions about the land where he lived. He believed that he and his fellow colonists ought to be free to pursue a fair living without being bossed around by a king who lived thousands of miles away. He got pulled into politics for the sake of this budding nation, and he served her faithfully, and often without thanks.
He was a man of integrity who was loathe to fight fire with fire when he was attacked, even when people were spreading untrue rumors about him.
He shared a remarkable marriage with a remarkable woman. He and his wife Abigail were apart more than they were together for much of their marriage. Adams often traveled abroad as an ambassador to continental European nations, trying to garner support for the budding American nation.
McCullough clearly did his homework. He read tons of letters and documents so that he not only knew what the historical facts were, but also so that he could imagine what Adams must have felt at certain points in his life. McCullough has a rare gift for sympathy that he uses to really get into the lives, heads, and hearts of these historical figures.
I really appreciate that McCullough chooses noble subjects to write about. He could’ve chosen to write about the life of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington. These two were more popular figures at the time, both a magnetic personality and commanding presence. Instead, McCullough chose John Adams, whose opponents mockingly called him “His Rotundity.” He wasn’t dashing or charismatic, but he had integrity. He didn’t own slaves, and he extrapolated the value of freedom to all men, not just to those who were like him. He chose a man of virtue to write about and immortalize, and I respect him more for it.
John Adams was well-written, compelling, and a great in-depth look at the life of a simple man whose country demanded more of him. He was a rare man, and his story inspires courage and duty.