David McCullough’s John Adams – Thoughts and Notes

“The problem with Adams is that most Americans know nothing about him.”

David McCullough

I just finished John Adams by David McCullough. It is the first time I have read one of McCullough’s books. I have been making an attempt to read more Pulitzer winning biographies and I saw this title on the list. 

Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is one of the only revolution-era books I’ve read. There is still a lot I need to learn about the American Revolution and the birth of our nation. John Adams was an excellent book to begin my learning. Like most Americans, I didn’t know anything about John Adams other than he was a founding father and the second president of the United States.

It was thrilling to learn about John Adams. He was crucial to the freedom and prosperity Americans enjoy today. Adams was a voracious reader. I am very jealous of the time people used to dedicate to study and read in Adam’s day. His diary is full of entries where he spent whole days reading, studying and learning. When he was challenged with a denes philosophical book he would dedicate weeks to unlocking the author’s secrets. I strongly recommend this book to everyone. You can pick up a copy from Amazon here.

Book Notes and Quotes

Adams wrote much. He was honest with himself. In his diary, he would frequently mention his flaws and how they frustrated him. 

He would heavily annotate his own books. One of his books, Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution, had over 10,000 words written in the margins.

“I will rouse up my mind and fix my attention. I will stand collected within myself and think upon what I read and what I see. I will strive with all my soul to be something more than persons who have had less advantages than myself.” From his journal in his twenties.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day – July 4th. At times they were bitter enemies but they kept written correspondence untill the end of their lives. In their letters to one another, they reflected on liberty and this great cause of freedom they had participated in.

“I must judge for myself, but how can I judge. How can any man judge unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.” Adams wrote this when he was 25 years old. 

“All cannot be explained. Mystery was essential…Admire and adore the Author of the telescopic universe, love and esteem the work, do all in your power to lessen ill, and increase good, but never assume to comprehend.” – Written in the margin of one of his books. Adams felt he could have a strong faith in God and still be an independent thinker.

“You will ever remember that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen.”

“I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough…the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.” This quote was in a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail. His letters to Abigail are an important source of Adam’s thoughts.

“What do we mean by the Revolution? The War? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the Minds of the People.” Letter to Thomas Jefferson

Continue Your Learning

If you want to continue to read and learn about John Adams I highly recommend going to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website. Here is a link to the Adams papers. The digital collection includes all text and historical documents from the Adams papers.

Write to me: sam@samuelpedro.com

Leave a Comment