The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality

Isenberg, Nancy & . Viking. Apr. 2019. 576p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780525557500. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780525557517. BIOG
OrangeReviewStarIsenberg and Burstein (both history, Louisiana State Univ.) examined the diaries, letters, readings, and writings of John Adams and John Quincy Adams to disprove misperceptions regarding their ideas about democracy, as well as their dispositions and motivation. For these authors, the presidents were not the antidemocracy elitists history has commonly depicted them to be. They were principled, dedicated public servants whose reputations were, admittedly, affected by their temperament. But more significantly, their true legacies are clouded because of their nonconformist aversion to the nefarious political practices and popular democratic notions of their times. This book documents their tireless defense of representative government and warnings about the dangers of unrestrained democracy. As leaders, both continually worried about the reliability of a government influenced by divisive political parties, partisan media, and fraudulent politicians, as well as impressionable, emotion-driven voters who favored celebrity over expertise, merit, and seasoned judgement. Neither was afraid to risk unpopularity for the sake of what he considered right.
VERDICT Committed general and academic readers will benefit from taking in this well-written and -researched study in its entirety, partly for setting the Adams' legacy straight, and additionally for the implications the story has on modern politics.
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