Sunday, March 04, 2018

Gordon Wood's Friends Divided

I thoroughly enjoyed Gordon S. Wood's Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (2017). It is essentially a co-biography focusing on their relationship. Their human-ness comes through nicely, their pettiness, insecurities, ambitions, self-deception, etc. Jefferson loved the French Revolution no matter what, hated the the idea of industrializing, and overall was naive. Adams was too pro-monarchy and prone to self-pity for how he was not appreciate enough. And they sniped at each other.

Fundamentally, Adams believed the worst in people and Jefferson the best. Jefferson grasped the meaning and promise of the American revolution while Adams had a darker view about how humanity would always be unequal. So, as Wood, points out in perhaps the best last sentence I've ever read in a biography: "That's why we honor Jefferson and not Adams."

The book is erudite but accessible and nicely paced. I already knew the basic story but got a lot out of it.


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