Book Review: “John Adams” by David McCullough

This unabridged audio books was 30 hours long. It took me over 3 weeks of listening in the car on the way to and from work. The amazing thing is that the story was quite captivating – all the way to the end. The narration was excellent as if the original character were speaking the words – which is rather rare for audio book unless it’s narrated by the author himself/herself.


As an immigrant to US in my teen, I was exposed to very little American History and I didn’t do that good in the history class because I was still struggling to “understand” English much less appreciate the contents of the American History textbook. This book goes into great details of the life, ambition and sacrifice of John Adams and his love affair with his wonderfully witty and understanding wife, Abigail. I speculate that John Adams wouldn’t be the accomplished John Adams as we know him today or even John Quincy Adams (John Adam’s Son), without her wife Abigail.


David McCullough, the author, portrayed John Adams more of a stubborn, visionary patriot than a politician, which is quite understandable as the country was still fighting for survival from British military force and then French military force. He didn’t want to play the bipartisan game because he feared the division it may cause to the country. This may have spelled the end to his one-term presidency (2nd US President). He was definitely no contest to the sophisticated, conniving Thomas Jefferson, an Adam’s on-again, off-again and on-again “friend.”


Here are a few interesting contrasts of the life in 1776 today’s life :

  • Mails going from USA to Europe can take months. Today’s email can travel in milliseconds. And a phone call is almost instantaneous.
  • Travel from USA to Europe can take months in the ocean. Today’s travel takes less than a day.
  • Educated people like Adams wrote a lot in mails and journal those days so historian like David McCullough can trace John Adams’ entire life. Today, people don’t write as much but we have lots of emails, digital photos, and video. This is going to make future historian very difficult to trace a person’s life. Hopefully, the new blog trend can change that somewhat.

  • The intimate, eloquent love letters between John Adams and his wife Abigail were especially moving. Their fidelity to each other though separated by the Atlantic ocean and years at a time was unimaginably long and difficult by today’s standard. Both made great sacrifice for the greater good of this country.


    Overall, I utterly enjoyed this book. A great book if you want to understand the heart and soul of a true American patriot in the purest form. We American owed a great deal of our prosperity to John Adams, who shepherded the birth and the first critical toddler years of this country.

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