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Book Review: John Quincy Adams - American Visionary by Fred Kaplan

Fred Kaplan's 2014 book John Quincy Adams: American Visionary is more than just a simple chronicling the life and accomplishments of the sixth President of the United States and the first son of a president to hold the office himself. Kaplan writes a very cerebral and intelligent biography of John Quincy Adams, telling the reader much about the man's thoughts as well as his deeds. Adams was a very disciplined and dedicated diarist for whom keeping a diary was a sacred task. Kaplan borrows from these diary entries to give the reader a very clear picture of who John Quincy Adams was, sharing Adams' innermost thoughts on a variety of subjects from slavery to Shakespeare and much more. Considering that Adams was a private man who kept his own counsel, that is a very admirable accomplishment for an author.



Kaplan honors Adams in retelling his subject's interesting life. Adams was the son of a founding father who he accompanied to Europe as a child. He was also a life-long student, a brilliant linguist, a persuasive lawyer, a state politician, a US senator, a Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) to several European nations, a Secretary of State, a President and a long-serving Congressman who tilted at the windmills of slavery and of the southern slaveocracy. There is much to tell, and Kaplan does so superbly. In the course of telling us about Adams' life, we learn so much about this very complicated and interesting man that is not contained in typical biographies of him. John Quincy Adams was a very talented poet, and Kaplan shares some of his subject's most delightful compositions with the reader. We are told about Adams' extensive reading of the classics and his translation of classic literature into English and other languages. We are also told of the many trials and tribulations of Adams' life including his and his wife's many health related issues, his financial pressures, the grief caused by his siblings and children, his fight against gag rules in congress and his abhorrence of slavery.

Kaplan's interesting and complex account of the life of his subject makes clear that the title of the book is quite appropriate. The author shows how John Quincy Adams was indeed a great visionary, many steps ahead of the thinking of his contemporaries and how he was able to predict, with accuracy, what was in store for his nation even after his passing. Kaplan also shows us how Adams came to acquire his deep and profound understanding of his nation and his strong moral compass. This is an exceptional biography. The reader with a keen interest in history will find this book a pleasure to read. It is not a biography of the Joe Friday "Just the facts ma'am" variety. It is intelligent, informative and contains an in-depth analysis of its subject, his family, his contemporaries and the very interesting times in which he lived.
Tags: author: k, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: biography, subject: history
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