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The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams

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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice A revelatory biography of literary icon Henry Adams—one of America’s most prominent writers and intellectuals of his era, who witnessed and contributed to the United States’ dramatic transition from a colonial society to a modern nation. Henry Adams is perhaps the most eclectic, accomplished, and important American wr A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice A revelatory biography of literary icon Henry Adams—one of America’s most prominent writers and intellectuals of his era, who witnessed and contributed to the United States’ dramatic transition from a colonial society to a modern nation. Henry Adams is perhaps the most eclectic, accomplished, and important American writer of his time. His autobiography and modern classic The Education of Henry Adams was widely considered one of the best English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century. The last member of his distinguished family—after great-grandfather John Adams, and grandfather John Quincy Adams—to gain national attention, he is remembered today as an historian, a political commentator, and a memoirist. Now, historian David Brown sheds light on the brilliant yet under-celebrated life of this major American intellectual. Adams not only lived through the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution but he met Abraham Lincoln, bowed before Queen Victoria, and counted powerful figures, including Secretary of State John Hay, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and President Theodore Roosevelt as friends and neighbors. His observations of these men and their policies in his private letters provide a penetrating assessment of Gilded Age America on the cusp of the modern era. The Last American Aristocrat details Adams’s relationships with his wife (Marian “Clover” Hooper) and, following her suicide, Elizabeth Cameron, the young wife of a senator and part of the famous Sherman clan from Ohio. Henry Adams’s letters—thousands of them—demonstrate his struggles with depression, familial expectations, and reconciling with his unwanted widower’s existence. Presenting intimate and insightful details of a fascinating and unusual American life and a new window on nineteenth century US history, The Last American Aristocrat shows us a more “modern” and “human” Henry Adams than ever before.


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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice A revelatory biography of literary icon Henry Adams—one of America’s most prominent writers and intellectuals of his era, who witnessed and contributed to the United States’ dramatic transition from a colonial society to a modern nation. Henry Adams is perhaps the most eclectic, accomplished, and important American wr A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice A revelatory biography of literary icon Henry Adams—one of America’s most prominent writers and intellectuals of his era, who witnessed and contributed to the United States’ dramatic transition from a colonial society to a modern nation. Henry Adams is perhaps the most eclectic, accomplished, and important American writer of his time. His autobiography and modern classic The Education of Henry Adams was widely considered one of the best English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century. The last member of his distinguished family—after great-grandfather John Adams, and grandfather John Quincy Adams—to gain national attention, he is remembered today as an historian, a political commentator, and a memoirist. Now, historian David Brown sheds light on the brilliant yet under-celebrated life of this major American intellectual. Adams not only lived through the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution but he met Abraham Lincoln, bowed before Queen Victoria, and counted powerful figures, including Secretary of State John Hay, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and President Theodore Roosevelt as friends and neighbors. His observations of these men and their policies in his private letters provide a penetrating assessment of Gilded Age America on the cusp of the modern era. The Last American Aristocrat details Adams’s relationships with his wife (Marian “Clover” Hooper) and, following her suicide, Elizabeth Cameron, the young wife of a senator and part of the famous Sherman clan from Ohio. Henry Adams’s letters—thousands of them—demonstrate his struggles with depression, familial expectations, and reconciling with his unwanted widower’s existence. Presenting intimate and insightful details of a fascinating and unusual American life and a new window on nineteenth century US history, The Last American Aristocrat shows us a more “modern” and “human” Henry Adams than ever before.

30 review for The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    https://wp.me/p4dW55-R0 Published six weeks ago, “The Last American Aristocrat” is David S. Brown’s most recent biography. Brown is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and the author of five books including “Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald” and “Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography.” Henry Adams is not a familiar figure to most modern readers but was a man of significant renown in his day. The dour Henry, who descended from two presidents, was a Harvard-educated his https://wp.me/p4dW55-R0 Published six weeks ago, “The Last American Aristocrat” is David S. Brown’s most recent biography. Brown is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and the author of five books including “Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald” and “Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography.” Henry Adams is not a familiar figure to most modern readers but was a man of significant renown in his day. The dour Henry, who descended from two presidents, was a Harvard-educated historian and Gilded Age author/intellectual best-known for his posthumously published (and Pulitzer Prize winning) memoir “The Education of Henry Adams.” His nine-volume history of the United States is considered one of the best English-written histories ever compiled. A key challenge for any biographer of Henry Adams is to capture and convey his deeply perceptive observations while remaining mindful of his privileged, occasionally biased and frequently caustic worldview. In many ways, this biography of Adams is the thoughtfully distilled story of a shrewd witness to America’s transition from early republic to its “modern” era. This book begins on a strong note. Its Introduction is excellent- providing an overview of its subject, presenting the author’s thesis and explaining why Adams is relevant to a modern audience. The remainder of the 392-page narrative is articulately written, demonstrates careful research and generally moves at a brisk but not rushed pace. And although some prior knowledge of the era is helpful, Brown frequently injects social and historical context into the biography. Some of this book’s most instructive chapters review Adams’s famous and most compelling publications. These are often excellent…but are likely to prove more interesting to scholars than general readers. The chapter which explores Adams’s memoir, however, should prove compelling to almost anyone. The most fascinating aspect of the book, however, is the ongoing attention paid to Adams’s decades-long infatuation with Lizzie Cameron (who happened to be General William Sherman’s niece). Excerpts from his periodic correspondence to her is frequently embedded in the narrative and adds sparkle and spirit to Adams’s otherwise disagreeable complexion. Grappling with Henry Adams’s paradoxical persona would be a challenge for any biographer. But while Brown does an admirable job fleshing out his subject, the narrative often feels more like a history text than a biography. Brown’s writing style betrays his academic background and, given Adams’s robust social network and extensive world travels, it is regrettable there is not more “on the ground” flair or flourish which would place the reader fully in Adams’s world. In addition, most readers will come to the view that this biography is either somewhat too lengthy, or far too short. Given all that Adams observed during his long and episodically fascinating life, many readers will be left with the sense that much was left out of this book. Frequent are the moments when a paragraph – or page – will leave the reader wanting to know more. Whether this is due to a shortage of historical evidence, or merely the author’s desire to press on, is never quite clear. Overall, David S. Brown’s “The Last American Aristocrat” is a revealing review of the life of the last prominent descendant of John Adams. As history this book is excellent and provides a platform for further scholarly investigation. As biography – the opportunity to experience the world fully from Henry Adams’s vantage point – the book is fine, but far from fabulous. Overall rating: 3¾ stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    What impact does one’s lineage have on the course of one’s life? If you were born into a family where you are the great-grandson of a Founding Father, the grandson of a president, and the son of a Congressman and Minister to England one would assume you would have a great deal to live up to. In the case of Henry Adams, an important contributor to the “Adams Dynasty” politics was not a passion as it was for those who preceded him, and he chose the path of journalism, historian, and author. Adams What impact does one’s lineage have on the course of one’s life? If you were born into a family where you are the great-grandson of a Founding Father, the grandson of a president, and the son of a Congressman and Minister to England one would assume you would have a great deal to live up to. In the case of Henry Adams, an important contributor to the “Adams Dynasty” politics was not a passion as it was for those who preceded him, and he chose the path of journalism, historian, and author. Adams lived a fascinating life based on his writing, travels, and the historical personage he was close to or came in contact with. Adams journey is recounted in David S. Brown’s latest biography, THE LAST AMERICAN ARISTOCRAT: THE BRILLIANT LIFE AND IMPROBABLE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS. Adams excelled in a number of areas. His reputation has been formulated in large part by his autobiography, THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS where he warned Americans about unlimited immeasurable power that would be unleashed in the 20th century which won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in biography. Adams’ other major work was his masterful HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES DURING THE ADMIMISTRATIONS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON AND JAMES MADISON, a nine volume compilation that historian Gary Wills calls “the non-fiction prose masterpiece of the 19th century in America.” Brown’s biography captures the fullness of Adams’ remarkable life that encompassed many highs, as a political reformer, novelist, world and traveler. It also encompassed a number of devastating lows which include a pressure packed family familiar that was familiar with depression, alcoholism, and suicide along with presenting an important window into 19th century American history. Brown emphasizes Adams’ role as a transitional figure between colonial and modern America. More specifically American history was moving toward “an imperial, industrial identity, one both increasingly beholden to technology and concerned with the fate of the white race. This is the context that the author believes Adams must be viewed in order to understand him. The book itself is divided into two parts. The first takes his life to 1885 and the suicide of his wife, Marian Hooper, called Clover. In this section the reader is exposed to Adams’ impressions, Harvard and European education, and influences and pressure brought forth by his family resulting in the last of his generation of relations to achieve national recognition. During this period his rural Quincy, MA background which he believed was superior to other parts of America, his bitter reaction to partisan politics, his attraction to a cosmopolitan Europe, and the development of his elitist outlook on life are all explored. Following Clover’s death, Brown deftly examines a person who seemed to be set adrift resorting to constant travel, darkening meditations on capitalism’s quick expansion, and a propensity toward different personas, i.e., “Henry the 12th century Norman, the Tahitian prince, and the progress defying and denying conservative Christian anarchist.” All of the masks that Adams’ personality presents point toward some quiet defiance of modernity, as all were primitive and skeptical of the coming age. According to Brown, this component of his personality defined his outlook and “at times threatened to distort his work, leading to caricature, doomsaying, and the uncritical elevation of those civilizations and peoples he often patronizingly regarded as anti-modern.” This aspect of his thought process opened to him an exceptionally wide range of ideas and yielded a complicated and insightful individual as any American thinker for his time period and beyond. As Adams wrote in his autobiography, “by the unknowable, uncontrollable dynamo of industrial development; it is a world we have inherited, a cultural spirit we have yet to shake.” Brown has a strong handle on the course of American history during Adams’ lifetime. He effectively integrates important events and characters into the narrative and how they impacted Adams’ opinions, thought processes and actions. An area that Brown spends a great deal of time is dealing with race and slavery in particular. Brown makes the important connection between the “Lords of the Leash” and the “Lords of the Loom” as he describes the economically incestuous relationship between northern manufacturers and southern planters. In Brown’s view Adams saw slaves/blacks as inferior to whites and held many of the same racial views of his time including men like Abraham Lincoln and William Seward. The difference is that Adams’ views concerning ending slavery did not evolve as Lincoln and Seward’s did. Henry held the seemingly New England Puritan view that opposed anything compromised, wicked, or wrong. This is evident in his efforts during the Gilded Age to combat various forms of political, financial, and corporate corruption on the part of “Robber Barons” and their political cohorts. Adams’ intellectual development was greatly influenced by the trends and political movements he observed before the Civil War. As he evolved as a “thinker” he was exposed to events leading up to and including the ramifications of the Mexican War that led to the Compromise of 1850 and the slow progression toward war. For Adams, the difference between north and south presented a dichotomy he found difficult. The north represented education, free labor, piety, and industry, but he was also attracted to the south’s lack of institutional oversight, of church, state, and school, that pinched him at home in Quincy. Despite this view of the south and a close friendship with Robert E. Lee’s son, Adams could not shake the divergent views when it came to slavery. Throughout the pre and post-Civil War period Adams suffered from a failure to grasp the ethical struggle over slavery. Many of his views were rather fanciful, i.e., the idea that the south would be defeated quickly, he saw Lincoln as a clumsy, rustic and too western etc. The strength of Brown’s biography emerges as he discusses of Adams’ intellectual evolution as he went from a poor prognosticator to an eminent historian. Adams’ education was a cacophony of differences. Harvard for him was not a success as unfortunately he attended the Cambridge institution at a time when it was at the tail end of its older scholastic tradition. When he graduated in 1858 Harvard was on the cusp of major curriculum changes and approaches to teaching science, economics, and politics. Adams would travel to Germany to further his education outside the study of law that seemed to be his family’s traditional avocation. He rejected the stringency of German university education but enjoyed traveling throughout Bismarck’s realm. While in Europe he wrote a column for a Boston paper reflecting his love of travel particularly Italy where he was taken by the Italian movement toward unity and meeting Giuseppe Garibaldi and learning about Cavour. While traveling Adams read Edward Gibbons’ THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and decided the Adams family needed a historian. During the Civil War his father, Charles Francis Adams gave up his congressional seat to become the US Minister to England, Henry served as his secretary. Their role was to make sure England did not afford the south diplomatic recognition and political and economic support. After a slow start integrating into English society, Henry was able to adapt in large part because his own snobbish approach to people fit in with the English upper class. Henry’s elitism plays a major role in Brown’s analysis of his subjects’ behavior and the evolution of his beliefs. Upon returning to the US after the war it appeared the Adams’s were becoming more and more irrelevant which pushed Henry to leave Quincy for Washington and position himself as a political critic. Obviously, the key issues of the day surrounded the plight of former slaves. Brown’s insights into Adams views of race are insightful as he stresses Adams’ refusal to accept slavery’s corrosive and all pervading impact on America. Brown is accurate when he argues that Adams narrow outlook reduced slavery to a “repercussion-less fact, a wicked act now mercifully ended.” In addition, he had an inability to see congressional reconstruction as a moral struggle rather than a political blunder reflecting his indifference to race. He opposed the 15th amendment and feared Congress was overstepping its bounds, and he totally misjudged the south’s ferocity to reclaim what they saw was stolen from them. Adams suffered from the delusion that a virtuous people was unfairly subjugated by a combination of Yankee carpetbaggers, black congressmen, and unscrupulous scalawags. He had gone to Washington to free Congress from corrupt corporations and lobbyists but failed to appreciate America’s racial problems as” he lacked urgency, insight, or empathy.” Adams was content to be a political outsider. He viewed himself as a reformer despite the fact he clung to a patrician system that was on its way out. He did recognize his personal aristocratic expectation of achieving political power was not going to pan out and resented the new social order that deprived him of this type of success from the monied men at the top to the immigrants at the bottom. His anti-Semitism was ever present as he tended to blame Jews for the monied interests that appeared to dominate the American economy as it developed capitalist wealth which negatively impacted the American people. Reflecting his elitism, Adams was the type of person who believed that few men or women were his equal, however his friends loved him, but he definitely was an acquired taste. Brown does an exceptional job detailing Adams’ career as a writer and an intellectual. He argues that Adams’ approach is diverse. He can be considered one of the first “muckrakers” as coined by Theodore Roosevelt as he published a series of articles dealing with corruption during the Grant administration. His “The New York Gold Conspiracy” zeroes in on Jay Gould and James Fiske’s attempt to corner the gold market. In this and other articles he warns that a “rising plutocracy threatened to upend the republic. Brown focuses on Adams’ more literary projects along with the personal drama surrounding the publication of each. Novels like ESTHER and DEMOCRACY reflect his talent as a satirist along with many personal details particularly his spouse Clover. His greatest triumph came as a historian as his nine volume history of the Jefferson and Madison administrations reflected not only American history from 1800 to 1817 but also it places events in the United States in the context of European politics. Brown points to the major criticism of the work in that Adams downplayed the impact of slavery and ignored its strong presence in the northern economy and society. Further, women are hidden in the narrative with but a few mentions like Dolly Madison and Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia. Adams’ focus is a dismissal of elitism and praises the contributions of non-elites for American society. Following this history Adams continued his literary career with MONT-SAINT MICHEL AND CHARTRES, a meditative reflection on medieval culture. Much of Brown’s approach as a biographer is his ability to analyze Adams’ personal writings and delving into a plethora of primary documents. Further Brown’s portraits of Adams’ friends, allies, and enemies over his lifetime creates a coherent intellectual and political history of half of the 19th century. Brown has created a land bridge through Henry Adams’ eyes that effectively connects the 19th and 20th centuries that his readers will benefit from. But one must remember as Brown points out that Adams suffered a number of personal tragedies from the death of his sister Louise, the suicide of his wife that is reflected in his distinctive fatalism built upon an already “defensive and satirical exterior to stiffen.” Henry Adams’ life is a historical dichotomy in that he thought of himself as an 18th century man and argued for decades against corruption and searched for an antidote for Anglo-Saxon materialism. However, despite his firm belief that capitalism could ruin the United States in the coming 20th century, he did little on a personal level to disavow his own wealth which allowed him to travel the world, purchase art works and other cultural artifacts, and benefit from the fruits of his societal position. To sum up Brown has offered a credible account of America’s transformation during one man’s lifetime, from a Republic where the Adams name was extremely consequential, to an industrialized monolith that had left the family behind. As historian Amy Greenberg writes “it’s a tribute to Brown’s talent as a biographer that he enables the reader to feel empathy for a man who expressed so little for anyone else.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Henry Adams was born in 1838, the year the telegraph was first demonstrated. Native Americans were forced to relocate and the Underground Railroad was being established. Meanwhile in Britain, slavery was abolished, Victoria was newly on the throne, and Dickens published Oliver Twist. Adams died in 1918 during WWI, the year of the Spanish Influenza and the first time airplanes were used by the USPS. Henry was the grandson of President John Quincy Adams, 'the Governor' of Henry's childhood, and th Henry Adams was born in 1838, the year the telegraph was first demonstrated. Native Americans were forced to relocate and the Underground Railroad was being established. Meanwhile in Britain, slavery was abolished, Victoria was newly on the throne, and Dickens published Oliver Twist. Adams died in 1918 during WWI, the year of the Spanish Influenza and the first time airplanes were used by the USPS. Henry was the grandson of President John Quincy Adams, 'the Governor' of Henry's childhood, and the great-grandson of founding father President John Adams. His own father Charles Francis had served as ambassador to England, as had generations of Adams men. Unlike his predecessors, Adams neither committed his life to public service. He never had children and his wife committed suicide when he was in his late 40s. He spent some time teaching at Harvard, and was popular with the students, but it did not suit him. Henry became a historian, a world traveler, and an insider Washingtonian socialite. "What could become of such a child of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when he should wake up to find himself required to play the games of the twentieth? " he wrote in the first chapter, continuing, "As it happened, he never got to the point of playing the game at all; he lost himself in the study of it."~ from The Education of Henry Adams It was his book The Education of Henry Adams that introduced me to him. It is a strange book, self-published and shared with his friends. He writes about his childhood in Quincy and his later life, skipping the death of his wife and his most regarded histories. He writes about the changes in society, the rise of capitalists and industry and the power of money. Like his predecessors, Henry was intellectual, high-minded, and could be contrary. Like his predecessors, he believed one should be called to public duty, not seek it, an 18th c concept dated by his time. Unlike his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he was not called to serve as an ambassador, although he was his father's private secretary in London. Instead, he wrote. He wrote an eight-volume history of Jeffersonian America, he wrote political commentary, he wrote travel pieces and about architecture and medieval history. John Adams and John Quincy Adams were men of their time, men of action, called upon to serve their country. Henry was an observer and an outsider, out of sync, never at home. John Adams was against slavery and John Quincy Adams fought Congress over the ban to discuss abolition. His father Charles Francis was involved with the anti-slavery Whig party. Henry was uninterested and unengaged with the problems of African Americans. As capitalism and business men rose to power, Anti-Semitism became mainstream, and Henry was not immune. He despaired to see that the big money of the 'northern plutocracy" was the rising power in Washington. He railed against corruption and the patronage system, and despaired that too many 'good men' avoided politics as a dirty business. He railed against the rise of the Boston Irish. He married a cerebral woman overly attached to her father, a woman liked by few. After her early death, Adams built her a enigmatic memorial, the details of which he left up to the famed sculpture Saint-Gaudens while he went on a world tour while claiming he died to the world with her. The arc of Adam's life crossed a part of American history and politics I was not well versed on, and I found this aspect of the biography to be very interesting. The problems we see today in American politics have deep roots. Some trivia tidbits from Adams life: *Henry James wrote in a letter to Edith Wharton that Adams read Jane Austen's Persuasion aloud in the evenings. *F. Scott Fitzgerald's character Thornton Hancock was inspired by Adams; he had met him when a boy. *Adams studied under geologist Louis Agassiz at Harvard, saying his class was "the only teaching that appealed to [my] imagination." *Adams wrote two novels, including Democracy about Gilded Age Washington DC politics; Teddy Roosevelt found it "essentially mean and base." *Adams fell in love with an unhappily married, beautiful and intelligent socialite who counted on his friendship but rejected him as a lover. She did not find him physically attractive. I was given a free ebook by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    New year, new rating system! Structure/Formatting 4/5 The multi-part format of this book is normally something I enjoy in my physical history books, but since I listened to this on audio, it was hard to follow along sometimes and figure out which chapter or section I was in. I frequently had to consult the track list to figure out which section I was in. I think if I had paired this with a physical copy it would have been great, but it was hard to keep the sections straight via audio. Thoroughness New year, new rating system! Structure/Formatting 4/5 The multi-part format of this book is normally something I enjoy in my physical history books, but since I listened to this on audio, it was hard to follow along sometimes and figure out which chapter or section I was in. I frequently had to consult the track list to figure out which section I was in. I think if I had paired this with a physical copy it would have been great, but it was hard to keep the sections straight via audio. Thoroughness of research/knowledge of subject 5/5 Since I didn't have a physical copy to check notes or sources in the back, it seemed okay to me. I really got a sense of who Henry was and his stance on certain issues and situations (even when I didn't agree with him). I started out really thinking I could get along with Henry and have some fun conversations. After the death of his wife though, his views and opinions started to shift, and then the anti-Semitism really bothered me. I felt like the author did a great job of conveying his views and feelings though instead of trying to explain or apologize on behalf of Henry (which has bothered me in some other books handling racist notions). Storytelling/writing 4/5 I thought the writing was very straightforward and clear. It was easy to read. The only thing I sometimes wished for was, in some history books for the Adamses that I read, the author would have a note on how they would refer to the various Johns and Abigails and other same-name family members. This one didn't have a note like that, so I was left with trying to keep up with who was who via audio, and it sometimes got jumbled until a few paragraphs later when a reference to his aunt or brother would come up. Level of enjoyment 3/5 I was really enjoying this book up to Clover's death, then it kind of went downhill for me. It may have been because of the personality shift and priorities shift in Henry after her death, but whatever it was, I was fairly bored with the latter half of the book. Prior knowledge needed 4/5 I am fairly well-versed at this point in American history up through Jefferson's inauguration thanks to my book club. I am trying to slowly branch out beyond that period. Some of the earlier book, when the author would mention policies and things involving John Quincy Adams, I was fairly aware of what was going on and who was involved. A lot of what happened afterwards only brought up vague memories from high school. Sometimes the author would help fill in some of my lacking knowledge, but it wasn't consistent enough for me to feel like I was getting a good grasp on what he was talking about. Overall Rating 4/5 In general, I am glad I read this book. It was nice to try to branch out of my "normal" historical time period by following a descendant of a family I've come to adore. It may have meant more to me if I was a little more knowledgeable of the time period covered though. It does make me want to read his books and histories. I would recommend this book to lovers of the Adams family, people who enjoy learning about Victorian authors, and researchers of American politics.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a new single volume biography of Henry Adams. I knew I would read this since I enjoyed a biography of his friend John Hay a few years ago. David Brown’s book is excellent and very readable. Why read a biography of Henry Adams? To start with, just consider the family tree. His grandfather was John Quincy Adams. His great grandfather was John Adams. His father served in Congress and as a key diplomat to Britain. No pressure in that background. Adams lived and worked right at the moment when t This is a new single volume biography of Henry Adams. I knew I would read this since I enjoyed a biography of his friend John Hay a few years ago. David Brown’s book is excellent and very readable. Why read a biography of Henry Adams? To start with, just consider the family tree. His grandfather was John Quincy Adams. His great grandfather was John Adams. His father served in Congress and as a key diplomat to Britain. No pressure in that background. Adams lived and worked right at the moment when the History profession was becoming established and professionalized in the US. He was an Assistant Professor of History at Harvard and was in the forefront of developing serious doctoral training in history, although he himself remained much a part of the earlier tradition at Harvard and other elite colleges. Because of his education and training, along with his Boston/Washington elite background he became the model of the cultured and educated wise man who could effortlessly roam the halls of power and advise decision makers if they cared to listen. In his prime he knew most of them anyway. In this role, he did not need to get his fingers dirty but could provide advice or not as he wished. Of course, he found out - too late - the actually being involved and having a stake was crucial to being successful in Washington power games. He wrote a lot and some of his early work on early US history is still of some interest. By far, however, he is best known for two later works, “Mt. St.-Michel and Chartres” and “The Education of Harry Adams”. Brown argues that Adams is especially important as an individual whose life and experiences spanned the US transition from a young country follow the Revolution through the Civil War and Reconstruction, through the Gilded Age, ending in the same year as the end of WW1, which brought the “long nineteenth century” to a close. Add to that Adam’s exceptional powers of observation and analysis and his view of America’s growth from a revolutionary victor into an imperial power is well worth coming to know. His perspective also complements the incredibly rich intellectual life of the Gilded Age that has been chronicled in a range of other works. In his observations about the threats of a new century to an America that had grown up in the prior century, Adams also takes on relevance to contemporary America and its rocky movement into the 21st century. Damn. I need to go back and reread “The Education of Henry Adams”. My biggest surprise from the book concerned his wife, Clover, who committed suicide in 1885, for reasons that remain unclear. He never got over this and the event reoriented his life (as well as providing the organizing point for the biography). As an aside, my first serious encounter with Adams’ work was with Mt. St. Michel and Chartres. A long time ago, I found myself with a day to spend in Chartres alone and I ended up using the Chartres portion of Adams’ book as a self-guided tour of sorts for the cathedral. It works well at that. I highly recommend the book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gordon

    If you love history, you should read Brown's book. It's amazing to follow the life at the top for a scion of America's first family, the Adamses. From privileged boyhood, not so privileged as it would have been if he had been born to Virginia Lees or Washingtons, but he is born substantially before the Civil War and lives to the end of 1918, thus seeing the ushering in of the end of the industrial war between the states with the killing fields of Belgium and France. It's interesting to read abou If you love history, you should read Brown's book. It's amazing to follow the life at the top for a scion of America's first family, the Adamses. From privileged boyhood, not so privileged as it would have been if he had been born to Virginia Lees or Washingtons, but he is born substantially before the Civil War and lives to the end of 1918, thus seeing the ushering in of the end of the industrial war between the states with the killing fields of Belgium and France. It's interesting to read about someone who was a bit torn about the virtues of capitalism. He wanted an aristocracy based on breeding and learning as would any graduate of Harvard, but he got the Gilded Age. Reading his reactions to the paroxysms of the US with some of the dominant thinkers of the age Henry James, Edith Wharton, and a very young F. Scott Fitzgerald (he interacts with many diplomats but I'm sick of politicians for now) is a reminder that we didn't have to end the way we have. He would have been horrified by Trump, but he would have thought him inevitable had he met LBJ or even JFK. A reader needs to approach the world with a fresh view. This book offers it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kim Mcclung

    This is a very readable book about Henry Adams, grandson and great grandson of presidents and the last of the "well known" Adams, though not well known enough for me to know him before reading this. Although he often thought of himself as a failure, in that he did not live up to the expectation that he too would lead his country, he did succeed in many endeavors: Historian, world traveler, journalist, novelist and reformer. Born in 1838, he attended Lincoln's inaugural, was friends with John Hay This is a very readable book about Henry Adams, grandson and great grandson of presidents and the last of the "well known" Adams, though not well known enough for me to know him before reading this. Although he often thought of himself as a failure, in that he did not live up to the expectation that he too would lead his country, he did succeed in many endeavors: Historian, world traveler, journalist, novelist and reformer. Born in 1838, he attended Lincoln's inaugural, was friends with John Hay, Henry Cabot Lodge and Teddy Roosevelt. He witnessed America moving beyond it's colonial first families, lived through the post-civil war gilded age and was present in France when Germany invaded in 1914. Although he looked upon the modern era with caution and alarm, he also experienced it fully, traveled widely (Europe, Samoa) and tried the inventions of the modern world (the roller coaster, the automobile). He was "the heirloom aristocrat trapped in America's vulgar Gilded Age". Through Adams I get a vivid picture of this important time in history and am anxious to learn more. A flawed, not entirely sympathetic but important figure.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Read too much like a textbook. Adams, his friends and associates and the times they lived in were dynamic and fascinating. This book made Adams, as well as the whole era, extremely dull.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alan Braswell

    " What could become such a child of the 17th and 18th centuries we he should wake up to find himself required to play the games of the 20th?" In this outstanding biography of a all but forgotten individual whose books are "gathering dust in some corner", David S Brown has given us a portrait of an individual who seemed to be born in the wrong century. Henry Adams whose great grandfather John Adams and grandfather John Quincy Adams served as Presidents of the United States and the Adam's of Bo " What could become such a child of the 17th and 18th centuries we he should wake up to find himself required to play the games of the 20th?" In this outstanding biography of a all but forgotten individual whose books are "gathering dust in some corner", David S Brown has given us a portrait of an individual who seemed to be born in the wrong century. Henry Adams whose great grandfather John Adams and grandfather John Quincy Adams served as Presidents of the United States and the Adam's of Boston begin to fade as Henry Adams stayed to close to Washington DC but never lingered for very long as he is always on the move. A stint at Harvard where he founded one the oldest literary publication in the United States. Over to England serving in the Court of St James. To Japan shortly after his wife committed suicide. Then taking on the likes of J P Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie calling them men who "turned calm into chaos and chaos into profit. " The Last American Aristocrat is one biography that will not gather dust in some corner as the subject has been all but dusted off to allow the reader to experience the fullness of the man . Thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for this ARC.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Dunlap

    This is a full-length biography of the noted American historian...and scion of the Adams family so important in the history of the United States. The book is divided into to parts: the events from Adams's birth (1838) until the death (by suicide) of his wife Marian ('Clover') Hooper in 1885, then what Adams himself called his 'posthumous life' (until his death in 1918). Throughout, we are treated to Adams family members, Henry's friends and associates, his education and his views on history, des This is a full-length biography of the noted American historian...and scion of the Adams family so important in the history of the United States. The book is divided into to parts: the events from Adams's birth (1838) until the death (by suicide) of his wife Marian ('Clover') Hooper in 1885, then what Adams himself called his 'posthumous life' (until his death in 1918). Throughout, we are treated to Adams family members, Henry's friends and associates, his education and his views on history, descriptions of his major works, and his various adventures around the world. Always at the center of the book, of course, is Henry Adams himself. We see the man in a rounded portrait, his attractive aspects (his fondness for his nieces, his sharp wit, his loyalty to his friends), as well as the darker, less savory characteristics (his acid tongue, his love of gossip, his antisemitism). This reader leaves the book with the impression that Henry Adams might have been a fun dinner companion or an insightful tour guide, but not an easy person to live with...or to have for an intimate. -- The book itself is well-written in an unadorned, straightforward style. There are some languors: the chapter on Henry's book on Anglo-Saxon law is a case in point. I don't know whether to applaud the author's boldness or denigrate the publisher's miscue, but the lack of a family tree in a family so prominent and historically significant as the Adamses seems to me to be a serious flaw in an otherwise admirable volume.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: The Miseducation of Henry Adams Since being introduced to his writing in college I have been a fan of Henry Adams, whose writing spanned the 70 years between the Civil War and World War I, and whose family history extended back to the Revolution with two presidential ancestors. Best known for his Education (read long before I started reviewing), his history of the US during the Jefferson and Adams administrations, and his ruminations on the rising ascendancy of technology over spiri Review title: The Miseducation of Henry Adams Since being introduced to his writing in college I have been a fan of Henry Adams, whose writing spanned the 70 years between the Civil War and World War I, and whose family history extended back to the Revolution with two presidential ancestors. Best known for his Education (read long before I started reviewing), his history of the US during the Jefferson and Adams administrations, and his ruminations on the rising ascendancy of technology over spiritual power and cultural and family tradition, Adams was a fading remnant of a patriarchy losing influence to the rising populists on one side and the muscular American businessmen and career politicians on the other. His self-awareness of declining influence was reflected in his ironic writing style, his scholar-historian persona, and his tight-knit insular social circle. David Brown has accordingly written a 21st-century literary critique slash biography slash social commentary on Adams's world. Brown does a masterful job keeping this omnibus moving forward in mostly chronological order while not including all the traditional biographical details. Part of that is due to the assumption that many readers will be familiar with the Adams family history and have some exposure to Henry himself, and part is due to the subject's deliberate attempts in his own writing to obscure the details or sublimate them to his literary purposes. Born in a Boston where his family tree still sheltered power from the country's founding, and educated at a Harvard still dominated by puritan educational methods and subjects, Henry was a young man on the edge of a profound world shift. Had Henry taken his education, say, in the 1720s, it would likely have lasted him a lifetime, but to graduate as he did in 1858, on the cusp of a radical new age in science and economics, immigration and warfare, raised serious doubts about the very foundations of his training. In this profoundly influential period (say, 1860-1905), x-rays, radioactivity, and electrons were discovered, and Einstein advanced the theory of special relativity; much of the Western world industrialized, which inspired a new era of imperialism evinced in the so-called scramble for Africa and incursions into Asia. A series of conflicts--the American Civil War, wars of German unification, and the SinoJapanese War—demonstrated the efficacy of “modern” economies and technologies. (p. 41) Miseducated, as he thought, and removed from the elected influence of his ancestors, he settled into the role of a scholarly critic, editing the influential North American Review and taking aim at the "new money power" as "both a blue blood and a muckraker" (p. 118) a generation before Ida Tarbell, Jacob Riis, and the progressive reformers like his occasional social companion Theodore Roosevelt. Returned to Harvard as a professor, he turned his interest in modern technology, scientific methods, and teaching styles to advance historical research and documentation and craft a reputation as, according one former student, "the greatest teacher I ever encountered." (p. 129) One of the most important and best-known biographical details of Henry Adams's life is the suicide of his wife Clover. She is a mysterious figure shrouded by a paucity of documentary detail (although an avid photographer in the early days of that hobby, she hated photographs of herself and few survived, and almost none of her letters to Henry over the years survived his posthumous purge); Brown reviews the evidence then and speculation since on motives and missed signs of deep despair. In a final unsent letter to a friend she wrote "If I had one single point of character or goodness I would stand on that and grow back to life." (p. 226). Deeply distraught, Henry never remarried, never mentions the event in his autobiography, and the sculpture he commissioned by Augustus Saint-Gaudens is a silent eloquent tribute to an unspeakable grief. As the 19th century fades, Adams is enthralled by the rising scientific power electric dynamos at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and the fading spiritual power of the silent yet awesome cathedrals of Mont St. Michel and Chartres in France. He forecasts the coming clash in Europe and the rise of Russia with its potential to take a path to modernity far different from and opposed to western capitalist democracies. His Education, published only in a private edition of 100 copies for friends during his lifetime, makes a "disquieting statement on humanity's imperilment in a civilization it has created but cannot control. Contentiously organized around the theme of failure, it has managed since its issuance to interest readers skeptical of the materialism, militarism, and technological progress that has so definitely come to define both the promise and the sorrow of the American Century." (p. 371) In his 80th year, fading from literary and social influence, surrounded by nieces and nephews, and solaced only by the memories now of both his wife and his friends who have passed on before, Adams spends time in his long-time home in Washington, his ancestral home in Boston, and France (he held a stateroom ticket on the Titanic's return trip to Europe). He is introduced to a young F. Scott Fitzgerald (p. 388; the unplanned coincidence of the Roosevelt biography and the fictional account of Fitzgerald's last years that I just read proof of my Goodreads profile claim to catholic interests), then on March 26, 1918, in the midst of the world war he foresaw, joined Clover in eternity. Brown's biography is a great reminder of this miseducated man who has been both extravagantly honored and occasionally forgotten in the century since. Henry Adams's message still resonates and matters, even when his biography is unknown, obscured, or disputed. Brown helps lift both the man and his message back to our view in a world that desperately needs to know its roots and reasons.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    An excellent biography of a man who was considerably less than that. A wealthy, self-satisfied descendant of one of America's most eminent families, Adams was the very model of Victorian snobbishness, and was at least as racist as most of his Northern contemporaries, and more anti-Semitic than most. That he hated the Irish goes almost without saying. In later life, he also became enamored of the Middle Ages and seems to have imagined that he would have liked to live in them. More than anything e An excellent biography of a man who was considerably less than that. A wealthy, self-satisfied descendant of one of America's most eminent families, Adams was the very model of Victorian snobbishness, and was at least as racist as most of his Northern contemporaries, and more anti-Semitic than most. That he hated the Irish goes almost without saying. In later life, he also became enamored of the Middle Ages and seems to have imagined that he would have liked to live in them. More than anything else, what makes him interesting and worth reading about was the vast reach of his friendships and acquaintance, ranging from John Hay (Lincoln's assistant and private secretary), to Edith Wharton and Henry and William James and other luminaries of his time. The narrator of this audio edition is excellent.

  13. 5 out of 5

    PresPetunia

    I read 4/5 of this biography. Dull, dull, dull!!! It's amazing that I stuck it out so long. It isn't the writing; it's the subject matter. Henry Adams has to be the dullest person in history. He was nothing, he did nothing and the only person who might think he was someone to admire was the person he saw each morning in the mirror. I pity the author. This was my Lenten penance. I read 4/5 of this biography. Dull, dull, dull!!! It's amazing that I stuck it out so long. It isn't the writing; it's the subject matter. Henry Adams has to be the dullest person in history. He was nothing, he did nothing and the only person who might think he was someone to admire was the person he saw each morning in the mirror. I pity the author. This was my Lenten penance.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams is a biography of Henry Adams, an American historian. David S. Brown, a Horace E. Raffensperger professor of history at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, wrote this biography. Henry Brooks Adams was an American historian and a member of the Adams political family, descended from two U.S. Presidents. Historian Brown delivers a splendid biography of Harvard professor and memoirist Henry Adams –the direct desc The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams is a biography of Henry Adams, an American historian. David S. Brown, a Horace E. Raffensperger professor of history at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, wrote this biography. Henry Brooks Adams was an American historian and a member of the Adams political family, descended from two U.S. Presidents. Historian Brown delivers a splendid biography of Harvard professor and memoirist Henry Adams –the direct descendant of two presidents and a diplomat, Henry Adams, who sardonically referred to himself as a failure in the company of his ancestors. Yet he managed to emerge from his prominent family’s shadow and make a worthy and memorable life for himself. Brown vividly describes Adams's milieu during a period of sweeping social change in America, detailing his marriage to socialite and photographer Marian "Clover" Hooper, who committed suicide in 1885; his friendships with Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Henry Cabot Lodge; and his travels in Cuba, Japan, Russia, and the South Pacific. Brown also tracks how Adams' views on the Civil War shifted during his tenure as his father's personal secretary in London, and notes his stances against the spoils system, the gold standard, and imperialism, as well as his ethnic and racial prejudices. The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams is written and researched rather well. Brown presents his critical profile of Adams, a man of fluidity of identity, with the acuity that is remarkable. Few write so confidently of the American historical writings produced by both academic and freelance writers. However, when Brown leaves American precincts, he is less sure-footed, but it is a minor fault in an otherwise wonderful biography. All in all, The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams is a splendid addition to the shelf of books about a distinctive, ever elusive figure in American history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Aurora M

    Cursed at birth by his family's legacy, the myopic expectations and horizons of the New England upper class, and a century that saw a very bloody war over whether one race of human beings could own another, Gilded Age capitalism, the decline of the WASP hegemony in American life, and then the horrors of the First World War, Henry Adams was kinda predestined to be a footnote to history, a failure of what those around him expected of him and a shadow of what he was led to believe he was meant to b Cursed at birth by his family's legacy, the myopic expectations and horizons of the New England upper class, and a century that saw a very bloody war over whether one race of human beings could own another, Gilded Age capitalism, the decline of the WASP hegemony in American life, and then the horrors of the First World War, Henry Adams was kinda predestined to be a footnote to history, a failure of what those around him expected of him and a shadow of what he was led to believe he was meant to be. With a grandfather and great-grandfather who were two of the first Presidents of the United States, it's hard to comiserate yet his conundrum is also understandable. I'd probably have a hard time of things too. He never formally entered public life, but not for a want of trying: he almost got the coveted UK ambassadorship that eventually went to another Boston Brahmin. He was also an old school bigot: a milquetoast Neanderthal on racial equality and the civil war who cannot even cloak his views as merely being contemporary when many in Boston society at the time were stalwart abolitionists, with some even funding John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Adams did a decent job with the cards given him, turning himself into a historian, sour grapes fiction writer, osmotic adventurer who took on the identities of the places he visited, sexually frustrated architectural tomes, and a friend to the powerful people of his day. Like a lot of aristocrats of the time, he shunned capitalism for all the wrong reasons, was a narcissistic and exploitative Orientalist, and looked to the past with a deceptive nostalgia. He also thrived on petty gossip like someone who's a hot mess can be expected to. What he left behind is The Education of Henry Adams, which some claim is the greatest memoir of the 20th century. Brown gives an excellent overview of his life, with an occasional framework on how the century Adams witnessed affects us still, even if his dying world is now obsolete.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mary Diegert

    Beautifully written and researched. Henry Adams was the grandson of John Quincy Adams, and the son of Charles Francis. His father, Charles Francis, was a diplomat and presidential hopeful, and of course John Quincy and John (great grandfather) were presidents. Henry always had a secret yearning to be tapped for public service, probably as a diplomat, but never sought any public office. He was a brilliant intellectual and avidly interested in politics until his later life, but wound up as a write Beautifully written and researched. Henry Adams was the grandson of John Quincy Adams, and the son of Charles Francis. His father, Charles Francis, was a diplomat and presidential hopeful, and of course John Quincy and John (great grandfather) were presidents. Henry always had a secret yearning to be tapped for public service, probably as a diplomat, but never sought any public office. He was a brilliant intellectual and avidly interested in politics until his later life, but wound up as a writer and historian. "The Education of Henry Adams" was a memoir, and he wrote a 9 volume history of the US under Jefferson and Madison. He also was interested in Medieval history and wrote "Mont St. Michel and Chartres," among a lot of other things. He was independently and wealthy and traveled a lot. His wife, Clover, committed suicide after 13 years of marriage. A lot of this book focusses on Henry's sense of displacement as a member of a founding political family. He was born before the civil war, and died in the 20th century. He was uncomfortable with his failure to continue the family's involvement in government, and also with the tremendous economic and social change that took place during his lifetime. He hated modernism and capitalism and because he associated Jews with financiers he was horrifyingly and vocally anti-semitic. He was very interested in political and cultural systems, but not the suffering of the individuals victimized by those systems. He contributed a lot to American writing. He had a huge network of relatives and friends with prestigious jobs like senators (Henry Cabot Lodge) and secretary of state (John Hay), and also Theodore Roosevelt, and thousands of his letters are archived. His friendship and his intellectual insights were sought after. Would I have liked him? I don't know, but the book gives an interesting insight into the transitions that our country went through during the 19th century.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    I would guess that other readers besides myself have tackled Henry Adams’ Education with only a cursory knowledge of the author and have come away both impressed by the book’s literary quality and frustrated by its author’s determined pessimism, perhaps even wondering if his many flat declarations about how the world supposedly works were intended as satire or maybe as a sort of joke to be inflicted on overly literal readers. David Brown’s biography makes Adams and his Education more comprehensi I would guess that other readers besides myself have tackled Henry Adams’ Education with only a cursory knowledge of the author and have come away both impressed by the book’s literary quality and frustrated by its author’s determined pessimism, perhaps even wondering if his many flat declarations about how the world supposedly works were intended as satire or maybe as a sort of joke to be inflicted on overly literal readers. David Brown’s biography makes Adams and his Education more comprehensible. Not that after reading it I liked Adams any more. I still find Adams' humorlessness and exaggerated sense of self-importance (often hidden beneath a pose of indifference and authorial modesty) hard to handle page after page. Brown couldn’t have published this biography in 2020 without at least a few pages defining Adams’ racism and antisemitism. But I find more irritating Adams’ exaggerated hatred of democratic capitalism, the economic system that allowed him to write what he chose, travel the world, and in general live a comfortable, financially independent life. Adams’ pose was possibly hypocritical. It was at least self-deceptive. Owen Wister got Adams right when he wrote that while he “knew an extraordinary number of things very well” and that “to dine with him was a luxury and an excitement,” his “influence was not quite wholesome; not only your patriotism, but your faith in life, had to be pretty well grown up to withstand the doses of distilled and vitriolic mockery which Henry Adams could administer.” (322) As for this particular biography of Henry Adams, Brown is a good craftsman, one who gives his readers bite-sized chunks of Adams—52 chapters in less than 400 pages. If the prose rarely sings, it does the necessary job well.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    I’ve been interested in Henry Adams since reading The Education in a college class exploring the myth of the golden age. His ironic, third-person voice was something new to me and I liked it, thinking that it was based in humility. This biography suggests that maybe he wasn’t being self-deprecating when he wrote “Probably no child, born in the year, held better cards than he.” It describes a truly privileged life, where opportunities and honors fell into his lap by virtue of his pedigree and the I’ve been interested in Henry Adams since reading The Education in a college class exploring the myth of the golden age. His ironic, third-person voice was something new to me and I liked it, thinking that it was based in humility. This biography suggests that maybe he wasn’t being self-deprecating when he wrote “Probably no child, born in the year, held better cards than he.” It describes a truly privileged life, where opportunities and honors fell into his lap by virtue of his pedigree and the company he kept. He was an intellectual and a scholar - eventually, but a lot of his early writing was jejune (there, I’ve used it in a sentence). It’s astonishing that Harvard offered him a professorship in medieval studies, even though he had no training in the field. And he was coy about accepting the appointment (and many other awards that came his way. He liked to decline an award before going on to say why he merited the recognition.) In the context of other my other reading this spring, such as Caste, I’m sad to realize that Henry Adams was instrumental in codifying caste and class in America - in a treatise on Angle Saxon law that he compiled with a group of his students, among other writings. His wife Clover (Marian Hooper), never mentioned in The Education, gets very little coverage here either. I did learn that his family didn’t like her much, and had concerns about her mental health from the first. In another biography I’d got the impression that they’d had a romantic and strong marriage, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Henry does not come across as attentive or affectionate. The writing here is clear and elegant with many choice phrases. I think my favorite was a description of a family member’s tendency towards a ‘well-petted woe.’

  19. 5 out of 5

    R.J. Gilmour

    Brown's book examines the life of Henry Adams lived from the mid-19th-century to the early 20th-century. While a good introduction to Adams' life, the writing is sometimes weighed down by the plethora of people that Brown introduces without ever giving enough information about each person to allow the reader to follow who he is talking about. This is especially problematic when dealing the extensive Adams family. However, this is a minor quibble with a book that tackles a subject with such bread Brown's book examines the life of Henry Adams lived from the mid-19th-century to the early 20th-century. While a good introduction to Adams' life, the writing is sometimes weighed down by the plethora of people that Brown introduces without ever giving enough information about each person to allow the reader to follow who he is talking about. This is especially problematic when dealing the extensive Adams family. However, this is a minor quibble with a book that tackles a subject with such breadth. "One can observe the patrician reaction in its tenacious efforts to remain a people apart. The nation's old cultural elite began in the 1880s to establish country clubs and create patriotic societies with membership dependent on pedigrees reaching deep into the American past. Groton (1884) and a number of other private schools-including Westminister (1888), Woodberry Forest (1889), Choate (1890), Taft (1890) and Hotchkiss (1891)-were founded in part to provide a class-based education. As Leonard Dinnerstein has noted, "the appearance of the first Social Register" in 1887 furnished "people who counted in society [with] a book to inform them of who belonged to their most exclusive circles." 316

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    A biography trained around the principal episodes of a self-described misfit. Adams, a blue-blooded Boston Brahmin descended, from two U.S. Presidents, grew up in an ever-changing and precarious United States being transformed by new politics, new technologies and a new class of citizens that alternatively attract and repel the cerebral and self-important author, world traveler and cultural critic. However, along the way, he makes valuable contributions to our national history, not the least of A biography trained around the principal episodes of a self-described misfit. Adams, a blue-blooded Boston Brahmin descended, from two U.S. Presidents, grew up in an ever-changing and precarious United States being transformed by new politics, new technologies and a new class of citizens that alternatively attract and repel the cerebral and self-important author, world traveler and cultural critic. However, along the way, he makes valuable contributions to our national history, not the least of which are his histories of the Jefferson and Madison Administrations and his exploration of the message of medieval Norman architecture in his Mont Saint-Michel and Chatres. Adams's life, as told by Brown in this well-written and well-conceived biography, gives a window into a life that follows the development of our country from childhood to adolescence.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Never a hot topic, Henry Adams nevertheless fascinated me in early years, largely due to poring over the Education for a class. Decades later I find this new book could have been useful in showing the lighter and more lively side of this "aristocrat". Not that this is breezy; Adams is still an anti-semitic snob, but it provides a window into the mysteries left out of his autobiography, especially regarding his marriage and his interesting but doomed wife. Would have like more details about his e Never a hot topic, Henry Adams nevertheless fascinated me in early years, largely due to poring over the Education for a class. Decades later I find this new book could have been useful in showing the lighter and more lively side of this "aristocrat". Not that this is breezy; Adams is still an anti-semitic snob, but it provides a window into the mysteries left out of his autobiography, especially regarding his marriage and his interesting but doomed wife. Would have like more details about his extensive travels and his very interesting acquaintances. Another 100 pages could have been more edifying. I liked it; will look for more of Brown's work.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Claussen

    A fine single-volume biography of one of America's leading critics and historians. David Brown does a good job of letting Henry Adams fade into the background in order to give space to the intellectual, social, and cultural milieu of his subject; in some ways, this is less a biography of Adams than of the end of the nineteenth century. Only three stars because of my own deficiencies - although Brown does a good job of signposting the other figures as they enter into the narrative, I have not stu A fine single-volume biography of one of America's leading critics and historians. David Brown does a good job of letting Henry Adams fade into the background in order to give space to the intellectual, social, and cultural milieu of his subject; in some ways, this is less a biography of Adams than of the end of the nineteenth century. Only three stars because of my own deficiencies - although Brown does a good job of signposting the other figures as they enter into the narrative, I have not studied my American history well enough to keep everyone straight and resorted to drawing a map as a way of following characters in and out of the narrative.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robert Kendall

    This is an outstanding biography of Henry Adams (1838-1918). Brown separates Adams's life into two parts. The dividing line is the suicide of his wife, Clover , in 1885. Adams considered himself a failure, possibly because he never achieved the political success of his ancestors. Yet, Brown views him as the pre-eminent 19th century American historian. Adams was also an accomplished novelist, and an innovative university professor. And, of course, he knew everyone-- political figures from his gra This is an outstanding biography of Henry Adams (1838-1918). Brown separates Adams's life into two parts. The dividing line is the suicide of his wife, Clover , in 1885. Adams considered himself a failure, possibly because he never achieved the political success of his ancestors. Yet, Brown views him as the pre-eminent 19th century American historian. Adams was also an accomplished novelist, and an innovative university professor. And, of course, he knew everyone-- political figures from his grandfather, John Quincy Adams to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and intellectuals like Henry and William James. Well-written and well-researched, this will be the standard work on Adams.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gerry Connolly

    David Brown’s The Last American Aristocrat chronicles the charmed life of Henry Adams. Adams seems to be removed from the here and now, in Boston, in Europe, in marriage, in his writings and friendships. Sardonic, critical, conservative in his observations he can never escape the Adams’ shadows. His wife’s (Clover) suicide created more emotional ennui which he treated with writing and travel. An enigmatic but still conventional 19th c American who met every president from Zachary Taylor to Woodr David Brown’s The Last American Aristocrat chronicles the charmed life of Henry Adams. Adams seems to be removed from the here and now, in Boston, in Europe, in marriage, in his writings and friendships. Sardonic, critical, conservative in his observations he can never escape the Adams’ shadows. His wife’s (Clover) suicide created more emotional ennui which he treated with writing and travel. An enigmatic but still conventional 19th c American who met every president from Zachary Taylor to Woodrow Wilson.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris Miller

    This was an interesting read. Having read Adams’ Education many years ago, I took this opportunity to revisit with a guide. Mr. Brown does not disappoint. Education is source material for much of this book, and at points, it comes across as annotation of the biography. There is much useful information to be gained from this biography. Henry Adams remains a whiner, suffering from ennui. While there is value in reading Adams' work, his moral blindness in some areas is very off-putting, and he come This was an interesting read. Having read Adams’ Education many years ago, I took this opportunity to revisit with a guide. Mr. Brown does not disappoint. Education is source material for much of this book, and at points, it comes across as annotation of the biography. There is much useful information to be gained from this biography. Henry Adams remains a whiner, suffering from ennui. While there is value in reading Adams' work, his moral blindness in some areas is very off-putting, and he comes across as a self-important twit.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I have this niggling feeling that the publisher's choice of title for this work could end up working against it. Henry Adams may have actually fit in the mold of an aristocrat, but he seems more likely to fit even better the mold of "intellectual." Henry Adams seems to have led a very interesting life in his own right, and I wonder if he could have made the same impact without having been related tot he Adams presidents. His contacts were worldly movers and shakers, and it would probably make a I have this niggling feeling that the publisher's choice of title for this work could end up working against it. Henry Adams may have actually fit in the mold of an aristocrat, but he seems more likely to fit even better the mold of "intellectual." Henry Adams seems to have led a very interesting life in his own right, and I wonder if he could have made the same impact without having been related tot he Adams presidents. His contacts were worldly movers and shakers, and it would probably make a stop in Quincy, MA, worth the effort.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marsha Valance

    A fascinating chronicle of Harvard professor Henry Adams, a Gilded Age intellectual who revolutionized the teaching of history, ranking intellectual concepts over facts and date, and whose "The Education of Henry Adams" and "Mont St. Michel and Chartres" rank as 20th century classics. Adams exemplifies the 19th century man of letters, whose engrained Brahmin prejudices (anti-Semitism, eugenics, anti-labor, and racism) could not overcome his innate distaste for imperialism and corporate greed. A fascinating chronicle of Harvard professor Henry Adams, a Gilded Age intellectual who revolutionized the teaching of history, ranking intellectual concepts over facts and date, and whose "The Education of Henry Adams" and "Mont St. Michel and Chartres" rank as 20th century classics. Adams exemplifies the 19th century man of letters, whose engrained Brahmin prejudices (anti-Semitism, eugenics, anti-labor, and racism) could not overcome his innate distaste for imperialism and corporate greed.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Henry G. Nadeau

    An academic slog but it was a peek into a life very different than mine but with commonality through shared emotions and travels. Interesting look into the lives of other characters in American D.C. political life post civil war. Also, convinced he was the last American aristocrat (male of female). However, when it was done, I certainly didn't find it a waste of time and would encourage certain friends to read it An academic slog but it was a peek into a life very different than mine but with commonality through shared emotions and travels. Interesting look into the lives of other characters in American D.C. political life post civil war. Also, convinced he was the last American aristocrat (male of female). However, when it was done, I certainly didn't find it a waste of time and would encourage certain friends to read it

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robert Melnyk

    Fairly interesting book about the life and times of Henry Adams (grandson of John Quincy Adams and great grandson of John Adams). The book does a good job of detailing the life of Henry Adams, but I found it a bit slow moving. I don't think his life was, at least to me, as interesting as the life and times of either of his famous ancestors. Worth the read if you are into American History, but not nearly as good as John Adams, by David McCullough. Fairly interesting book about the life and times of Henry Adams (grandson of John Quincy Adams and great grandson of John Adams). The book does a good job of detailing the life of Henry Adams, but I found it a bit slow moving. I don't think his life was, at least to me, as interesting as the life and times of either of his famous ancestors. Worth the read if you are into American History, but not nearly as good as John Adams, by David McCullough.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Martin

    This book brings Henry Adams to life. He is dwarfed by his famous great grandfather and grandfather who were U.S. Presidents. Although he possessed a prickly personality and could harbor regressive views on society, his historical writing is top notch. Brown is a professor of history at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and this is his latest foray into biography. He did a stellar job with this book and kept me interested in Adams from cover to cover.

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