John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life

Paul C. Nagel, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (464p) ISBN 978-0-679-40444-6
With his career still on an upward trajectory and the presidency beckoning, Adams, son of the second U.S. president, needed, so he acknowledged, ""to repel a reproach which has been very assiduously spread abroad of a reserved, gloomy, unsocial temper."" Because he appeared to be ""reserved, cold, [and] austere,"" it was easy for his political rivals to portray him as ""a gloomy misanthropist."" How he managed, despite wide unpopularity, to become the sixth president is an absorbing story, deftly told here. Nagel (Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the Adams Family) reveals a life bursting with promise, but so dominated by Abigail and John Adams as to extinguish their son's options and plunge him into a lifetime of intermittent depression. The younger Adams was an effective Russian ambassador in his 20s, a senator, a Harvard professor, a secretary of state, then president. In his post-White House years, as a representative from Massachusetts in a period dominated by slavery issues, he was a tenacious, courageous member of Congress, notes the author. At 80, in 1848, on the floor of the House, he rose to speak and collapsed with a stroke, dying two days later. In this brilliant, colorful life, Nagel evokes an Adams heretofore unseen and a Washington of unpaved streets and uncouth political passions. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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