John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

4.4 9
by Harlow Giles Unger

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He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries,

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He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president.

John Quincy Adams was all of these things and more. In this masterful biography, award winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals Quincy Adams as a towering figure in the nation’s formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history, which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Profiles in Courage.

A magisterial biography and a sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, Unger’s John Quincy Adams follows one of America’s most important yet least-known figures.

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Editorial Reviews

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) spanned epochs of American history. He knew Founding Fathers; he was the son of John Adams, our second president; and he met Abraham Lincoln. He witnessed Bunker Hill; helped negotiate the end to the War of 1812; served as U.S. president for four tumultuous years (1825-1829); traveled as the ambassador to six countries; sat in the cabinet, the Senate, and the House of Representatives; and vigorously fought slavery in congress and in the courts. In hardcover, Harlow Giles Unger's biography of this energetic, multi-talented man earned positive reviews. Now it appears in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

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Da Capo Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
The Washington Independent Review of Books Pick of the Week, 1/7/13

Kirkus Reviews
, 5/1
“A neglected president receives his due as a statesman and practical politician…A fine examination of a life, well deserving a place alongside David McCullough’s study of Adams père.”

Publishers Weekly, 6/11/12“Spare prose clarifies the overview of political complications and intricate family dynamics, revealing Adams as a historically overlooked yet key transitional figure who witnessed the birth of the nation and endured its nearly irreparable geographic squabbles of the 1840s.”

Booklist, August 2012“Unger’s well-presented portrait merits American-history readers’ attention.”

Asbury Park Sunday Press, 8/26/12“[A] lively and often intimate account…John Quincy Adams is usually brushed aside in discussions of the presidents, but Unger makes a convincing argument that the presidency was only a footnote in one of the most important public careers in American history.”
BookPage, September 2012“Unger captures the many sides of Adams and his era in the superb John Quincy Adams…Eloquent, irritating and fiercely committed to his work, John Quincy Adams lived and extraordinary life, and Unger tells his story convincingly in this compelling narrative.”
Library Journal, 9/1/12“[An] in-depth biography. The reader comes to know John Quincy Adams intimately as a son, father, statesman, and patriot…The individuals encountered in the narrative are familiar, but—in the best tradition of David McCullough’s biographies—the pace and plotting pull readers forward even though they may know the ending. Unger makes use of many years of JQA’s diaries and expertly dissects intricate political and (potentially confusing) family relationships. In all, he succeeds in making clear why JQA was the first subject of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. Verdict: Unger does a masterful job. Although there are other books on John Quincy Adams, American history and political history buffs will find this stirring work irresistible.”
Internet Review of Books, 9/14/12
“Unger gives us the story of a person bred for great deeds…A thoughtful significant work, bringing this sixth president to life.”
Book Review, 9/12/12“Thorough…Mr. Unger spreads his focus around, never getting bogged down by the details…A powerful biography.”

Washington Times,
“Unger gives us the biography of one of the great intellects of that era, our sixth president, and son of the second, and how he interacted with both his fellow Americans and the foreigners with whom he was assigned to deal…We should be grateful to Harlow Unger for his detailed biography.”
Denver Post, 9/16/12“JQA had quite a life. Unger, an award-winning historian, spells it out.”, 9/20/12“Readers of this fact-packed, dense biography will certainly come away feeling that politicians like John Quincy Adams do not exist anymore.”

Encyclopedia Britannica blog, 9/26/12“Searching and thorough, though not overwhelming in length or detail, John Quincy Adams helps restore the second Adams to memory.”
AND Magazine
, 9/22/12
“There are few historians of the United States from the Revolution up to the Jacksonian era who have the knowledge and ability to make familiar faces seem brand-new and shine the spotlight on some of the more obscure figures or those who are often overshadowed by the most famous of the Founders…As is his style, Unger's John Quincy Adams is first-class history from cover-to-cover…Unger is one of the preeminent historians and chroniclers of our nation's first 75 years. Nobody is better-equipped to write this biography, and we're lucky that Unger has told the story of this underrated American icon, legendary diplomat, and tireless advocate of everything that is just and righteous in our country.”

Louisville Courier-Journal, 9/28/12“As our election season kicks off with crude and confounding incivility, it is pure pleasure to read about a statesman who refused to tout himself because he believed that votes should be cast for principles, not for the politician behind them…The superlative nature of Unger’s material alone would make for a rich life history. But his distinctive biographical gift is his ability to humanize rather than lionize his subject.”
Times, 9/23/12“Most Americans know very little of this former president…Unger has provided a palatable remedy to that national knowledge gap…An excellent portrait of Adams as a man of great intellect…Unger has brought the dour visage of Adams from the dim daguerreotype, with which many are familiar, to life.”
Tucson Citizen
, 10/1/12
“A fascinating biography of this almost bigger-than-life figure. Exciting and crisply written, this is a vivid biography that finally gives Adams the historic acclaim he deserves. This is more than a mere political biography since it is nothing less than the stirring story of our country finding its way during changing and often turbulent times.”
Reference & Research Book News
, October 2012
“This readable narrative biography for general readers interweaves many excerpts from Adams's diary as it celebrates Adams's triumphs.”
Bookviews blog
, October 2012“An extraordinary biography of an extraordinary man…I heartily recommend this book.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/7/12“Finely written…Unger deftly weaves into a narrative of what was a very demanding—even harrowing—career, choice reporting on the tragedies that dotted Adams’ personal life…Anyone still burdened with an image of an early American leaders bewigged, wearing shoes with silver buckles, rolling along cheerfully in horse-drawn carriages while thinking great thoughts should read this book…[Adams] wasn’t a great president, but he was a great American statesman and legislator.”,9/27/12
“This biography is a gift to all of us who love American History.”

Collected Miscellany, 10/13/12“A wonderful tribute to one of the greatest defenders of freedom in our nation’s earliest years.”
“Politics & Patriotism” blog, 10/17/12
“It’s not just the biography of an American who would grow up to lead his nation, or the story a much-loved son. It’s a lesson that many Americans need to get reacquainted with. What happens when parents help their kids get a good education, and then urge them to use what they learned? The short answer is that those kids grow up to be highly productive members of society, and better citizens…Unger’s work addresses more than the chronological sequence of a great man’s life. This biography demonstrates the value of character, ethics, and integrity.”
Warning Signs blog, 10/18/12
“[A] captivating biography.”

Miami Today, 10/25/12“[Unger] bring[s] to life a character he ranks among a handful of ‘truly virtuous and selfless leaders in American history.’”
“No one writes biography quite like Harlow Giles Unger. His last half dozen or so books have brought as many long dead presidents back to something like literary life…As the country rolls towards election, looking over our shoulder can be an interesting—and sometimes even helpful—exercise. And, as usual, Harlow Giles Unger delivers some of the best.”

The Federal Lawyer, December 2012“[A] compelling volume.”
Taft Bulletin
, Fall 2012
“[A] masterful biography.”

American History, February 2012“In Unger’s hands, Adams comes close to becoming an inspiring character… Unger makes him seem as overweeningly intelligent, clever, headstrong, insecure, brave and insightful as he probably was.”
Bee, 12/1/12“[A] captivating new book.”

Midwest Book Review, reviewed, November 2012
“A magnificent book…and one for the young scholar in your family whilst in high school or college.”

Washington Independent Review of Books, 1/2/13”[An] excellent biography…it is refreshing to find an author who, while still rigorous in his use of sources, is a champion for his chosen subject…The great strength of Unger’s approach is his extensive employment of diary entries by John Quincy Adams, allowing him to speak in his own voice. He also makes excellent use of the extensive correspondence between Adams and the rest of his family…For anyone looking for a thoroughly researched, entertaining and informative biography of the public life of John Quincy Adams, this is an excellent choice.”

January Magazine, Best Books of 2012: Non-Fiction, 1/5/13“The first few words of John Quincy Adams illustrate Unger’s skill: in a very few words he tells us everything we really need to know about his subject, introduces the idea of why we should care and teases us to go on. It’s a great ride.”
Lone Star Book Review, January 2013“If we want to have a better America then we need to read about John Quincy Adams and look for a leader who puts the nation’s interest first all of the time. John Quincy Adams is the standard by which we should judge all others seeking to fill the highest office.”
Tutu’s Two Cents, 11/28/12“Unger’s writing is clean, interesting, well-researched."

Roseburg News-Review, 1/10/13 “A fast-moving, intimate, and wonderfully entertaining biography…The book reads like a novel, except that, as fiction, the story would be implausible. Tragedy, triumph, intrigue, romance, Duels, liaisons, alcoholism, suicide, murder, political scandals…John Quincy Adams is a delight.”

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John Quincy Adams: A Life 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
hanro More than 1 year ago
What an extraordinary life! A child prodigy, JQA was a classical scholar, prolific diarist, linguist, diplomat, world traveler, frustrated poet, patriot. From childhood, he was groomed by both illustrious parents for a high place in society. "He was an aristocrat of an earlier generation, raised in an age of deference who spoke a rich language that ordinary people could seldom fathom, but in the end, they sensed that he spoke for their greater good and to protect their rights and freedoms." This is such an eye-opening book about an largely obscure President who has become in most instances a footnote in history books. HG Unger has written a very approachable portrait of a man who was ahead of his time in some instances but did not fully understand his time. Unger paints a picture of a man of contradictions, eccentricities and foibles. He was a man of high principles who did not have the common in touch in a society that expected both from its leaders. John Quincy aspired to the Presidency but did not feel it was right to campaign for the position. Having attained the Presidency, he did not reach out to forge the relationships he needed to advance his agenda in Congress. He finally found his public voice after his tenure in that highest office when he became the gadfly of the House of Representatives, esp. on the issue of slavery. There is so much I did not know about this amazing family!
JohnJayFan1 More than 1 year ago
Unger's book on John Quincy Adams really helped me see John Quincy as a big piece of the puzzle of the Founding Fathers.  This guy saw John and Abigail Adams up close and personal, he was their son.  His personal doctor was Dr. Joseph Warren.  He saw the battle of Breed's Hill/Bunker Hill actually happen with his mother.  He traveled with his father to Paris, studied French there and got to know Ben Franklin quite well. He and his father and John Jay visited Parliament in the gallery right after we won independence from the British.  This guy had a front row seat to the American Revolution.   He later became the Ambassador to Russia as a teenager.  He served as Secretary of State because of his vast European experience and fluency in languages.  He served as a one-term President .  If it ended there, John Quincy would have been ho-hum to me.  However, there is more to the man.  After the devastating loss for a second term as President, John Quincy later came back as a Congressman.  There had been an unwritten code in Congress in 1790 that Slavery would not be mentioned.  John Quincy made it his mission to keep talking against slavery.   There was a vote in the House of Representatives to shut up John Quincy on the subject of slavery.  Southern Democrats voted to silence John Quincy on a 95-82 vote. He defended  Cinque in the Amistad case in 1841 before the Supreme Court.  This book helped me to make a link between the Founding Fathers and LIncoln.  LIncoln got to see the fight against slavery in John Quincy's last month of life.  He died in the actual House of Representatives and Lincoln was there.  I believe Lincoln's "Four Score and seven years ago our fathers brought...that all men are created equal."  John Quincy helped Lincoln make that link. Highly recommend the book and the last chapter is the climax.   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Wonderful Biography. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the life of John Quincy Adams. Mr. Unger wrote a very engaging book about Mr. Adams. I have read many books about John Adams but not about his son. John Quincy was an outstanding American and patriot. I did not realize that John Quincy was such a power in Congress. It is too bad that we don't have more John Quincy Adams today in Congress. What a better world it would be if some of today congressmen had the rhectoric and knowledge of the constitution as Mr. Adams. Maybe more would get done. Highly recommend this book. Disagree with one of the reviewers that this book was like a text book. This book was well researched and gave an excellent portrait of our sixth president.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Before reading Unger's superb bio of John Quincy, about the most I knew about him was that his father was a one term president, and so was he. Turns out that there was more to the man than a mediocre one term as president. As a diplomat, John Quincy was more than able to hold his own with the likes of Franklin, Jefferson, Jay, and later even Henry Clay. His intervention helped the very young U. S. avoid several European messes that might have devastated our nation and, in fact, helped the U. S. rise in the eyes of more established nations. His astute and objective way of dealing with Catherine the Great, Napoleon, and even the British, helped lead our nation through the diplomatic minefield of the early 19th century. His Presidency, however, although not a total failure, was not so good. Had he used the same tactics, on congress and the nation, that he ultimately used as a later member of congress, he might have had a much more successful presidency, but he refused to go to the people, to tell them his ideas, to sell them on why he wanted to expand the nation's roads, canal systems, educational systems; the result was total failure at the polls for reelection. As a member of congress, from Quincy, Massachusetts, he was a total thorn in the side of the opposing parties, but a true champion of the nation, as a whole. Generally speaking, he was a fantastic diplomat, Secretary of State, and Member of Congress, but because he had puritanical beliefs that prevented him from going out to the people, his presidency was doomed. It's a great book, easy read, and invaluable learning experience about the last son of a founding father.
Patito02 More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable read. History has seldom been this interesting. For those of us who are not professional historians, this book fills in many gaps in our knowledge of this important and fascinating son of one our most important and influential founding fathers, friend of Thomas Jefferson and protege of George Washington. It is well researched and documented with many primary sources. However, it is an easy and quick read and would make a very fun read on a snowy winter evening. Don't miss this one!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ZachWilliams More than 1 year ago
Another exceptional book. Unger is a tremendous writer, and this is absolutely worth reading. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not the best president but an amazing diplomat and abolitionist
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book read more like a text book, than an interesting biography. I would presume there are more interesting biography's available.