Book Review: the Letters of John and Abigail Adams

This non-fiction book is a collection of letters going between John and Abigail Adams written during the American Revolution. A lengthy introduction by the editor, Frank Shuffleton provides a thorough overview of Mr. and Mrs. Adams. The content of the Adams’ letters range from the ordinary to the historically significant.

A good portion of the letters chronicle John and Abigail’s daily life – his participation in the Continental Congress, and hers in raising the children and maintaining the Adams’ estate. As the Adams’ were separated for long periods of time, the letters provide an in depth look at not only current events during the pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary periods, but also the Adams’ marriage. Some of my favorite parts were when Abigail would chide John for not writing more often, and both parties frequently expressed their distress at the separation.

The reader is at times, like the Adams were themselves, plagued by the Revolutionary postal system, or the lack thereof. While the book is arranged chronologically, often several letters would pass before the other party had a chance to respond to a previous letter, making it difficult on the reader. Also making it difficult for a pleasure reader is the system of footnotes. Each letter is individually footnoted, and the reader must continually flip to the back of the book to gain historical reference. A time consuming task, that for me, because more troublesome than it was worth in that it broke up the “story”. And I really wanted to read the historical context – but I only made through a dozen or so letters flipping back and forth.

My favorite parts of the book often centered on Abigail’s political opinions, as her letters gave a unique insight into a woman’s perspective. I loved one particular letter in which she clearly expressed her opinion to John about the education of women: “If we mean to have heroes, statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women.” Abigail was, without a doubt, a woman ahead of her time.

I would recommend this book to a Revolutionary War aficionado/history buff, or students looking for an amazing collection of Revolutionary primary source documents. The casual reader might find this book a bit slow.

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