Book Review: Passionate Sage by Joseph Ellis

2209Title: Passionate Sage

Author: Joseph Ellis

Genre: History, Biography, Nonfiction, American History, Politics, Presidents

PublisherWW Norton & Company

Published: February 17, 2001

Page Amount: 288 pages

Blurb From Goodreads:A fresh look at this astute, likably quirky statesman, by the author of the Pulitzer Award-winning Founding Brothers and the National Book Award winning American Sphinx. “The most lovable and most laughable, the warmest and possibly the wisest of the founding fathers, John Adams knew himself as few men do and preserved his knowledge in a voluminous correspondence that still resonates. Ellis has used it with great skill and perception not only to bring us the man, warts and all, but more importantly to reveal his extraordinary insights into the problems confronting the founders that resonate today in the republic they created.”—Edmund S. Morgan, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University.

Why Read: Like I said two weeks ago, American history has become more than a simple past time for me. I find myself seeing out books that try to go in-depth and analyze who the people were who founded America. How am I supposed to see and understand the different parts of my country without understanding the people who made it? Two weeks ago, I posted my review of Thomas Jefferson’s biography by Ellis as well, so it only felt right to follow that up with one of Adams- the temperamental cousin to Jefferson’s stoic nature.

Review: If there’s one way to describe John Adams, my first word choice would be saucy. What would our own revolution be without Adam’s snarky remarks and sassy moments that made? I don’t know if I want to know the answer to that, and Ellis doesn’t either. Luckily for me, I was already convinced of Ellis’s great biographical skills after reading his analysis of Jefferson – so expectations were high – and were met. Passionate Sage was an absolute ride from start to finish, and even though I was sick while reading it, it was well worth the longer healing time from staying up late reading about the absolute Adams.

Ellis takes apart Adams, from his overly dramatic letters to his attempt at following up Washington as second president. If you think about it, we as a country don’t think of Adams in the same way that we regard Hamilton, Washington and Jefferson – even though he was the top Federalist in the country, and had to deal with growing partisanship, internal struggles and petty fights alike. After finishing Sage, it struck me how much Adams is ignored. Where are the accolades honored in his name? Where is the hit-track Broadway musical? (Actually 1776 The Musical has just become critical listening for all of you)

As he did with the Jeffersonian biography, Ellis slowly makes his way through the life of the second president – from humble beginnings to the very sad end. It happens with all of the biographies of great men, that they end up falling into old age, and then into history. Adams, like Jefferson, knew that he was important and that what he wrote would be passed into posterity. Somehow though… that didn’t stop him from wanting (and definitely being) a sass monster in all of his late letters to Thomas Jefferson (Thank GOD they reconnected). Those letters are partially what was worth reading this biography for. That’s not to say he wouldn’t continue to be close to Abigail (his wife) until her death, upon which he said “I wish I could lay down beside her and die too.”

Wow. That was depressing. I just had to work in that quote somehow, since it really touched me. All jokes and deathbed comments aside, it is an absolutely beautifully written text and I think everyone should read it. End.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

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