Book Review: The Revolutionary John Adams

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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Cheryl Harness, who knows a thing or two about the presidents (having written biographies of Washington, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt), paints a compelling portrait of John Adams, the nation's second president and an often overlooked hero of the American Revolution.

Using her own words and illustrations, Harness paints a picture of Adams, every bit as revolutionary as his cousin Sam but more reserved in how he expressed that desire to be free of England. Where Samuel Adams was more prone to acting first and thinking of the consequences later, John Adams was more apt to work to get a consensus of opinion and then express his thoughts in writing.

Above all, John Adams believed in law. And he thought that what the British were doing more than anything else at that time--slapping taxes on the American colonists left and right--went against common law because the Americans had no say in how or why those taxes were created, approved, or administered. A brilliant lawyer, he made quite a name for himself when he defended the soldiers accused of murdering Americans in what came to be known as the Boston Massacre. He was respected still for his voice of reason and his passion for independence.

And through the events of his life, from his birth in tiny Braintree, Massachusetts, through the years of the Revolution and then his ascension to the presidency, and especially through his decades-long correspondence with his wife, Abigail, John Adams comes alive on the pages of this fun book. With just a few exceptions, each page has a quote from John, and the majority of those are things that he wrote to Abigail. The illustrations are lifelike and compelling. The maps are large and kid-friendly, as are the words used on those maps.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this exciting book is the nonpolitical, nonpresidential parts of the lives of John and Abigail and their family (including future president John Quincy), all of which are presented in the same detailed way as the "important stuff." The author makes sure that these "other parts of life" have prominent play, showing the Adams family moving seemingly all over the place, from Quincy to Boston to Washington, and the Adams children visiting the courts of Europe. In this way, she paints the life of John Adams in a complete way, something that many biographies do not.

All in all, I recommend this book. It has a surprising amount of text in it, considering all the wonderful illustrations that are found therein, and the prose and the art work together to present a seamless whole that shows just how important John Adams was to the revolutionary cause in his beloved Country.

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