First Family

Abigail & John Adams
First Family: Abigail & John Adams. Knopf. Oct. 2010. c.320p. index. ISBN 978-0-307-26962-1. $27.95. BIOG
On the heels of Woody Holton's prize-winning Abigail Adams, renowned historian Ellis (history, Mount Holyoke Coll.) returns to the well-trod ground of the founding era, this time shifting his focus to America's "first family" and political dynasty, the Adamses. Bringing his talents for narrative writing to the task, Ellis recounts the compelling relationship that included an awkward courtship and a life of sacrifice along with raising a family and constructing a legacy. However, here—unlike in Edith B. Gelles's Abigail & John: Portrait of a Marriage and G.J. Barker-Benfield's forthcoming Abigail & John Adams: The Americanization of Sensibility (based on advance information)—Abigail is frequently relegated to the sidelines as the narrative becomes yet another biography of John. And there is nothing new here.
VERDICT Lacking the intellectual depth of Ellis's previous American Sphinx and the originality of his Founding Brothers, his new book nevertheless imparts a poignant tale. Biography buffs who haven't yet read about John and Abigail may well enjoy this; those familiar with the subject have no need for it.
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