cover image Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

Gordon S. Wood. Penguin Press, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2471-1

Wood (The Idea of America), a Pulitzer and Bancroft prize–winning professor of history at Brown, harnesses a career’s worth of historical knowledge to produce an artful tale of two of the most accomplished founding fathers. “The ironies and paradoxes expressed in the lives of these two Founders epitomize the strange and wondrous experience of the nation itself,” Wood explains. Though the U.S. emerged as a sovereign nation, its people remained divided by conflicting political philosophies. Adams and Jefferson often ended up on opposite sides, with political differences driving an almost irrevocable wedge between them. Tracing the trajectory of this fragile friendship, Wood reveals how and why Jefferson rather than Adams has endured as the embodiment of the nation’s heritage. Through the first two chapters, Wood introduces Adams and Jefferson by comparing and contrasting their backgrounds and characters. The two men became acquainted during meetings of the Second Continental Congress, where they agreed on the divisive question of independence. Later, political differences surfaced over the new U.S. Constitution, the French Revolution, and American party politics, all of which strained their friendship. Wood glides through the political intricacies and intrigues of the times, offering incisive analyses, especially of the ongoing debate over slavery, finely illuminating the minds of Adams and Jefferson. (Oct.)