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30 review for The Education of Henry Adams Volume 1

  1. 5 out of 5

    Henry Beckett

    The Education is an autobiography of a unique type. The twenty most turbulent years of his life (and, from the perspective of the reader of a sentimental novel, the most engaging story to tell) are conspicuous in their absence, since they occur right in the middle of the narrative. Instead, the focus is on two things: (1): the day-to-day existence of a well-to-do American who admits from the beginning that the deck was stacked in his favour, and (2): an analysis of history, culture and politics The Education is an autobiography of a unique type. The twenty most turbulent years of his life (and, from the perspective of the reader of a sentimental novel, the most engaging story to tell) are conspicuous in their absence, since they occur right in the middle of the narrative. Instead, the focus is on two things: (1): the day-to-day existence of a well-to-do American who admits from the beginning that the deck was stacked in his favour, and (2): an analysis of history, culture and politics from an educated man who was always on its periphery, be it geographically - he serves as Private Secretary to his father, acting as Ambassador to the Union during the US Civil War - or figuratively, as he discusses politics and economic policy with those who are directly involved with government, while Adams never held a position there. Even on the subject of history - the subject he taught at Harvard for over a decade - Adams appears like an outsider, always eager to downplay his authority. In spite of this, the book ends on a marvellously spiritual & philosophical note: Adams declares his "Dynamic theory of History" and explains the role of chaos not as a simple entropic 'uncreating', but as a unique and unmistakable force that aligns not only our own consciousness, but that of history as well. Adams argues that chaos is intrinsic: it's part of the self. Henry Adams focuses on his understanding of discussions surrounding contemporary issues relevant in his own life. He talks a lot about British politics, viz. political affiliation with the Union & Confederacy during the US Civil War ("the Rebellion", in his signature dry humour), the introduction of the Gold Standard, and the nature of different Presidencies. He discusses these to an audience that (ostensibly) lived through the events, or at least were intimately familiar with them. For this reason, portions of the book are virtually inaccessible to the contemporary lay-reader in their unannotated purity - but an understanding of Adams' unique perspective on these issues (as difficult as it sometimes may be) allows the reader to greater appreciate his "Eighteenth century education", and it's this theory of education & history that makes the book worthwhile. If reading The Education gives us any picture of Henry Adams' character, it's (1): that he frequently deprecates himself with a sharp irony (which is augmented in no small part by) (2): he is a deeply inquisitive & well-read scholar who had a tremendous ability to appreciate how unique the cultural and scientific landscape of 1850-1900 truly was. This second point is where much of the intrigue of The Education lies. Reading Adams muse on the mighty force of the Dynamo, or speculate on the culturally constructed aspect of Gender, make this reader realise how far-ahead of his own time he was - in some aspects. Unfortunately this forward-thinking attitude re: science and culture did not extend itself to Adams' practical life. Occasionally he makes reductive comments about Women as though they are some Other, unknowable being. At others, he makes comments that even his contemporaries may have considered antisemitic. Overall, the book has a progressiveness and intrigue that comes from a well-read old man recounting his experience in a politically, culturally and scientifically turbulent point in history. Its concluding theory of history is fascinating and has enormous implications about the self, & I've found myself reflecting on these since finishing the book a week ago. At the same time, the heady discussions of 19th century American & British politics were over my head, and while the occasional prejudiced comment was hardly noticeable to Adams' 1907 audience, it leaves a sour taste in the reader's mouth 100 years later.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    Henry Adams was the great grandson and grandson of two American Presidents as well as being his father’s secretary as Ambassador to England during the Civil War. He was an author of several well received books on economics and history as well as this book which when published was universally highly acclaimed. I had read the book many years ago and found it interesting. This reading has left me much more impressed by it. He writes in third person which took me a while to get used to and for three-f Henry Adams was the great grandson and grandson of two American Presidents as well as being his father’s secretary as Ambassador to England during the Civil War. He was an author of several well received books on economics and history as well as this book which when published was universally highly acclaimed. I had read the book many years ago and found it interesting. This reading has left me much more impressed by it. He writes in third person which took me a while to get used to and for three-fourths of the book I was confused why he kept referring to himself as totally ignorant. I could not understand why he thought he was not educated. It finally struck me as to what he was getting at. He was seeking unity in a world of multiplicity. Science (especially Darwinism) furnished him a model by which to follow. In science you can predict what something is going to do or become. He felt without this ability, you could not refer to yourself as educated. Yet, in real life as well as the field of history (He taught history at Harvard for seven years), it is impossible to predict accurately what is going to happen. So, his question is, how can you call yourself educated if you can look at past events and current circumstances and not know what is going to happen in the future? Without that ability, he considers himself ignorant. The last five chapters of the book are especially enlightening as he uses his lifelong friendship with John Hay (one of Lincoln’s personal secretaries and the Secretary of State for Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt) to express his belief in the futility of political achievement as well as to illustrate the toll it takes on a person to participate in public service. It is disturbing to witness the decline of Hay and end the book on the event of his death. Also in these five chapters are excellent histories of industrial progress, philosophy, scientific discoveries and the writing of history. He speaks of a certain growing confidence toward the achievement of knowledge and then shatters that feeling of confidence with the work of Madame Curie on radium. He senses in the discovery of radioactive material a change in everything. The possibility of unity is shattered and replaced with the sense of multiplicity which carries with it too many options. The book ends around the year 1900. Adams is 60 years old. He looks back over his life and reflects and admits he knows nothing while at the same time being at peace with that.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carl

    Struggled through the first book. Told in the third person, the story of his life from the perspective of whether each particular life experience provided any educational value comes off as arrogant. The same fellas he complains about or criticizes throughout, appear to be nothing more than Adams projecting. He almost brags of never earning a dollar before age 26 or 27 and seems to wear it as a badge of honor. All while being the grandson and great grandson of John Quincy Adams and John Adams. I Struggled through the first book. Told in the third person, the story of his life from the perspective of whether each particular life experience provided any educational value comes off as arrogant. The same fellas he complains about or criticizes throughout, appear to be nothing more than Adams projecting. He almost brags of never earning a dollar before age 26 or 27 and seems to wear it as a badge of honor. All while being the grandson and great grandson of John Quincy Adams and John Adams. In making multiple trips to Europe and experiencing the world as few others had the complaining and whining gets a little old. While some may appreciate the self reflection, I found it boring. I’ll get through Book 2 as well, but it will be a month of my life I’ll never get back.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Read this as part of a personal challenge. Mostly boring as it gets but some interesting parts around the British reaction to the Civil War and the debate over the gold standard. His super dry humor was also nice at times. ONLY for history nuts and people who doggedly and irrationally try to read every book on a random list (like me).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Brilliant! This books's concerns entering the 20th century are not too removed from the concerns we have today in the first few decades of the 21st century. The irrecoverable shocks of innovation. The abyss of ignorance. The nunc age? Is it hopeful? Where do we go from here?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Talbot Hook

    An odd book, delightful at times and tedious at others. I enjoyed the historical remembrances and the social critiques (especially of the English), but I don't think I am growing much as a result of having read the first part of this autobiography. That is to say, I fail to see a pragmatic form of knowledge I can take from it. Perhaps the second part will be more enlightening. I hope that he will tell me how he was, at last, educated. The prose is strangely self-deprecating, all the while it betr An odd book, delightful at times and tedious at others. I enjoyed the historical remembrances and the social critiques (especially of the English), but I don't think I am growing much as a result of having read the first part of this autobiography. That is to say, I fail to see a pragmatic form of knowledge I can take from it. Perhaps the second part will be more enlightening. I hope that he will tell me how he was, at last, educated. The prose is strangely self-deprecating, all the while it betrays the author's knowledge and ability to write. He tells us in nearly every chapter how he is failing in his education, but we as readers are unlikely to accept such claims. And, after a while, I must admit, it becomes tiresome. One can only decry Harvard, Oxford, Politics, Mechanization, and Evolution (among many other foundations and systems of thought) for so long, it seems. If nothing else, read this book for quotes. It has those in spades, and they range from insightful to delightful.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    I couldn't put this down--alright, it was hard to follow but fascinating!!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  9. 4 out of 5

    Roberta

  10. 5 out of 5

    David

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Swanson-nystrom

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andy

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gerard

  14. 5 out of 5

    Steve Schmidt

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sera

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anna Neill

  17. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tom Ashley

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paul Kreymborg

  20. 4 out of 5

    Allen Mozek

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tristan Dutcher

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Frisch

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  24. 4 out of 5

    Heath Robinson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Craig Shelton

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeb Haley

  28. 4 out of 5

    Richard

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jack LeSueur

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jay Sandover

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