Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Education of John Adams (R.B. Bernstein)

John Adams is quickly becoming one of my favorite subjects of study in American history. Our nation’s second president is a lover of books (score one point), helped establish the Library of Congress (yay), and also was an avid writer of both broadsheets (the 18th Century of a Medium op-ed) and letters to most anyone and everyone. Adams’s life and educational journey are highlighted in R. B. Bernstein's The Education of John Adams.

Bernstein’s book is arguably not much different than other biographies in style. For instance, you find out about Adams’s career trajectory from attorney to politician during the American Revolution to diplomat back to politician to retirement. However, Bernstein's approach focuses on his evolution in thinking, which was grounded in respect to tradition in English law and classical Greek and Roman thought but also looking forward with regards to experimenting, reforming, and improving that within American legal thinking. We also see some of his political weaknesses at work throughout his career and how Adams coped and dealt with the struggles in helping shape a new nation.

I found this an enjoyable read. It’s not groundbreaking in any sense given the volume of material written about Adams, but the reader will get a sense of Adams the thinker, the reformer, and activist. The reader will also learn about how those who wrote about Adams in recent decades perceived him...aman whose political beliefs could run in conflict with many in both Federalist and anti-Federalist circles but whose ideas and theories helped shape much of our country today. Adams’s complexity and convictions are worth learning about, and this book provides a well-grounded view on a man who was more than a mere four-year blip between Washington and Jefferson.