The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams

By Mayo-Bobee, Dinah | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Winter 2019 | Go to article overview

The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams


Mayo-Bobee, Dinah, Historical Journal of Massachusetts


The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams. By Phyllis Lee Levin. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2016. 524 pages. $30.99 (paperback).

In the past few years several writers have turned their attention to John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), whose long and outstanding political career began in diplomacy during the American Revolution (1775-1783) and ended in the U.S. House of Representatives where he protested the spread of slavery and adamantly opposed the Mexican War (1846-1848). It is due to the richness of his long life, family ties, and contribution to the development of a new nation that the literature on Adams' personal and public life continues to grow. To these works Phyllis Lee Levin adds The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams. Levin, the author of several biographical works and a former columnist, editor, and reporter, provides a captivating look at seminal moments in Adams' early career.

While not diminishing Adams' presidency, Levin focuses on his talent and early diplomatic appointments, his responses to the political convulsions during his time in the states, and his brief tenure in the U.S. Senate. Levin skillfully interweaves his professional accomplishments and interactions with leading politicians in American history, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, with Adams' relationships with his famous parents, siblings, wife and children. As a result, Adams emerges as a multidimensional, complex man who must at times bow to circumstances and the will of others in ways that would often bend his life in directions that he did not foresee.

To provide the astronomical level of details contained in the book, Levin relied on thousands of letters, memoirs, published papers, and public records left by John Quincy Adams and generations of the Adams family. Similarly, the study draws from scholarly literature and features an impressive bibliography and index that will provide historians with ample sources for further research. Readers, especially biography buffs, will enjoy the synthesis of political, diplomatic, and cultural history presented in clear, flowing prose. …

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