Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflections: Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage

Watching the John Adams TV mini-series on HBO was truly enlightening.  My understanding of American history in 2008 was well behind the knowledge I have accumulated since.  John Adams was a little known personality in my personal knowledge, but I became very interested after watching the mini-series.  Edith Gelles's Abigail and John attempts to enlighten its readers not only of the life of John Adams but more especially of the life of his brilliant and fascinating wife, Abigail.

In some ways, Abigail and John is more about Abigail than it is about John or even their relationship.  Gelles spends a great deal of time exploring how Abigail reacts to the circumstances in which she was placed.  Abigail's erudition is evident from her preserved letters written to John, friends, and other family members.  Her feelings and thoughts are on display, and I'm sure historians thank their lucky stars that John and Abigail kept as many letters as they did.

Abigail and John's relationship can be described as one of devotion.  Their long separations caused both of them tremendous pain and sorrow, and that separation is made all the more agonizing by the fact that communication by letters was slow and somewhat unreliable.  Abigail and John does a good job of showcasing this incredible couple's love, understanding, and candidness.  They are interesting people apart but their story can truly not be told without one another in the telling.

My biggest gripe about Abigail and John is that at times it all feels a little too clinical.  Gelles does a fine job of quoting others who write with extraordinary skill and passion, but when Gelles is speaking in her own words the contrast is stark and not terribly pleasant.  Abigail and John is a perfectly fine book that deals with history but doesn't do so with an exceptional prose.

Abigail and John is worth reading if you already possess an interest in American history and most especially the Adams family and legacy.  It's another trophy on my growing shelf of American history books and will no doubt be referenced in the future, but it doesn't stand out in any special way except for the amazing people who are its focus. 

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Samuel Adams: A Life
Reflections: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
What Every American Should Read

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