RIDGE WRITERS ON BOOKS: By Margaret Luebs
A few years ago, I decided to read a biography of every U.S. president, in order. In 2011 I immersed myself in Washington’s life, so last year it was Adams’ turn. “John Adams” has 650 pages of text, and I spent most of 2012 avoiding it.
Finally I decided to devote November to the book. From Election Day to Thanksgiving, what better time to read American history? As the month proceeded, I became so engrossed that I finished four days early.
Poor John Adams! It would be hard to imagine a truer patriot or a more maligned one. Adams gave up nearly everything to support the American Revolution, but most of his work as a diplomat in Europe was fruitless. The press dubbed him “His Rotundity.” His own Cabinet conspired against him.
Although he was often criticized for “vanity,” this book makes clear that his strivings were not for fame, but for the cause of freedom.
What makes the book fascinating is the incredible amount of material at McCullough’s disposal. Both John and his wife Abigail were great correspondents, and their letters to each other and to others have survived. McCullough describes the Adams papers (“more than five miles of microfilm”) as “a national treasure.”
Because McCullough relies so heavily on letters between John and Abigail, their relationship is a major subject of the book. But it was a marriage fraught with separation and loneliness.
In 1774 Adams was chosen as a delegate to the First Continental Congress, and until 1784 he spent much of his time apart from his family. He spent several years in Europe, and communication with America was very difficult.
Over and over McCullough points out what a long time – several months, a year – could elapse before a letter was received, if indeed it ever was. It was as though the other continent was on another planet.
McCullough’s portrait of John Adams is a warm one. Adams had a talent for friendship.
Despite his “rotundity,” he lived to be nearly 91, and to the end enjoyed visitors and conversation. While reading, I kept wishing I could have known him. Hard to believe he died more than 130 years before I was born.
Well, on to No. 3. Both Washington’s and Adams’ biographers have been strongly critical of our third president, so I’m quite curious to learn more about Thomas Jefferson. I’ll get back to you on that.
Members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club, write this weekly column. Meetings are held the first Wednesday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church, and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions From a World Apart” is available at Carriage Inn, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, the Maturango Museum, Red Rock Books and the official website, www.planetmojave.com.Story First Published: 2013-02-13