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The Education of Henry Adams records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838-1918), in early old age, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. It is also a sharp critique of 19th century educational theory and practice. In 1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition printed at his own expense. Com The Education of Henry Adams records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838-1918), in early old age, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. It is also a sharp critique of 19th century educational theory and practice. In 1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition printed at his own expense. Commercial publication had to await its author's 1918 death, whereupon it won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize.


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The Education of Henry Adams records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838-1918), in early old age, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. It is also a sharp critique of 19th century educational theory and practice. In 1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition printed at his own expense. Com The Education of Henry Adams records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838-1918), in early old age, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. It is also a sharp critique of 19th century educational theory and practice. In 1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition printed at his own expense. Commercial publication had to await its author's 1918 death, whereupon it won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize.

30 review for The Education of Henry Adams

  1. 5 out of 5

    William2

    Epistemological inquiry in the form of self-denigrating autobiography. Written in the third person, at times overbearingly acerbic. Author Henry Adams was grandson of President John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of President John Adams. He was a Boston Puritan born in 1838 who at sixteen attended Harvard College—severely berated here—and went on to pursue a career as a journalist, novelist and historian. His historical gamut stretches from the American Revolution to the years just before World Epistemological inquiry in the form of self-denigrating autobiography. Written in the third person, at times overbearingly acerbic. Author Henry Adams was grandson of President John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of President John Adams. He was a Boston Puritan born in 1838 who at sixteen attended Harvard College—severely berated here—and went on to pursue a career as a journalist, novelist and historian. His historical gamut stretches from the American Revolution to the years just before World War I. His writing is wry with patches of brilliance and, less often, turgidity. There are some extraordinary scenes. In one it's 1860 and Henry Adams travels as a courier for the American consulate to Sicily to find Garibaldi "in the Senate house toward sunset, at supper with his picturesque and piratic staff, in the full noise and color of the Palermo revolution." He also meets William Makepeace Thackery, Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, Charles Lyell, Ulysses S. Grant, Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few. It was fascinating for me to learn that in 1861, when the author arrived in England as a private secretary to his U.S. diplomat father, that the British recognized the legitimacy of the Confederate belligerency and came close two years later to recognizing the Confederacy as a state. Then came the Trent Affair in which two Confederate diplomats (Mason and Slidel) were seized by a U.S. vessel from a British mail steamer—clearly an act of war. The author describes the tentativeness of their position in London at the time. Mostly the first half of the book is a merciless dissection of British royalty, society, manners, dining (ugh), and eccentricity in general in the latter half if the 19th century. Adams views it as wholly self-centered and self-regarding, a closed world without lessons to offer him. He's says so in a singular, scabrous overview that's at times very funny. It occurs to me that the The Education of Henry Adams (1906)—whether intentionally or not—serves as a kind of corrective to James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson (1819). In it many of the assumptions underlying that earlier work are called into question. Dr. Johnson's famous bromide—"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."—gets a thorough refutation. Adams' insights come at the expense of himself and anyone nearby. His irony morphs at times into vitriol. Lauded as a unique view on the American story. I think it very well may be. This has for me been one of those great interstitial reads, in which, using the framework of autobiography, the writer is able to cover many of the nooks and crannies of history often overlooked in more general texts. Neil Sheehan does much the same thing but with biography in his Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. I recommend both books highly, though from a literary point of view Sheehan's is the better written work. Time has not been kind to Adams' style. Though there must have been a day when it was considered muscular, its phrasing today strikes one as slightly archaic and stilted at times. Its historical insights may be unique, but the text's omissions are as telling as its inclusions. Indeed, Henry Adams' world seems strangely Islamic with half its population going unmentioned. Women had virtually no role in the society of his day—they certainly did not have the vote—except as helpmeets and incubators of heirs. It's very strange to read historiography which excludes them so painstakingly. (Tellingly, Clover, his wife of many years, is completely written out of the book. This seems truly strange when one learns by way of a Wikipedia search that in 1885 she killed herself by drinking darkroom chemicals. Adams takes a page or two to rhapsodize about the Augustus St Gaudens' statue he commissioned for her grave, in Rock Creek Cemetery, but he never tells us it's for his wife. This we must learn by independent means.) It is the ultimate form of self-denigration to declare that one is beyond education. The kind of almost omniscient learnedness that Adams pursues is a literary convention that dates to the ancients. He returns to this hobbyhorse over and over. It wears thin, for he is only able to keep to his steed by views increasingly abstract. The writing—always a challenge—grow less coherent the deeper into the book we go. So an at times fascinating if ultimately problematic read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    Amazing. There are a just a few books (Meditations, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Brothers Karamazov) that I feel every person on the planet should read. This is one of those books. If you are a historian, a diplomat, a Civil War buff or an amateur philosopher, this book will strongly resonate.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    One of the oddest books I've ever read, and am ever likely to read: an autobiography written in the third person, which tells us almost nothing at all about the author/central character, this seems more like a pre-modernist bildungsroman than anything else. The weirdness doesn't end there- Henry Adams spends much of his time philosophizing about history while the narrator (call him Mr Adams) spends most of his time explaining that Henry Adams is a fool who has no idea what he's talking about; He One of the oddest books I've ever read, and am ever likely to read: an autobiography written in the third person, which tells us almost nothing at all about the author/central character, this seems more like a pre-modernist bildungsroman than anything else. The weirdness doesn't end there- Henry Adams spends much of his time philosophizing about history while the narrator (call him Mr Adams) spends most of his time explaining that Henry Adams is a fool who has no idea what he's talking about; Henry Adams involves himself in politics, the academy, and Grand Tourism but Mr Adams rants about the uselessness of politics and the academy, and rolls his eyes at Henry's failure to understand or properly enjoy any of the things he sees while Grand Touring. As if that's not hard enough to deal with, Mr Adams' assumes that you've already heard of him and all his friends, and that you know what they were about. Sometimes this works okay (for instance, I know a bit about Swinburne and the presidents he encounters); often it doesn't (Henry, Mr King and Mr Hay were clearly very close friends, but what exactly the latter two did, what they believed, and what impact their actions had on the greater world remains a mystery to me). If you're deeply versed in 19th century American politics, you'll probably find his comments on those men and dozens of others amusing and interesting. I am not so versed. Despite which, this is an amazing, brilliant book, well worth the considerable effort needed to read it, because Mr Adams and Henry Adams are pretty obviously men you would like to spend time with in heaven. One of them, or maybe both, would amuse you with lines such as: "Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces. The men become every year more and more creatures of force, massed about central power-houses. The conflict is no longer between the men, but between the motors that drive the men, and the men tend to succumb to their own motive forces." and "Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds." I don't know, though, if I'd like to spend much time chatting with Adams himself.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Quo

    The Education of Henry Adams stands as an amazing, formidable 5oo page book but it can also be at times exhausting to read. Henry Adams was one of the most educated men in America's history, the great-grandson of John Adams, the nation's 2nd president and the grandson of John Quincy Adams, the 6th American president. And while a lifelong learner, a diplomat, a world traveler, a well-regarded author, a historian of considerable reputation, a talented linguist, both a graduate of and a professor f The Education of Henry Adams stands as an amazing, formidable 5oo page book but it can also be at times exhausting to read. Henry Adams was one of the most educated men in America's history, the great-grandson of John Adams, the nation's 2nd president and the grandson of John Quincy Adams, the 6th American president. And while a lifelong learner, a diplomat, a world traveler, a well-regarded author, a historian of considerable reputation, a talented linguist, both a graduate of and a professor for 7 years at Harvard University, he employs the word Education in a most ironic fashion. And interestingly, the entire tale is told in the 3rd person. It may seem rather a mystery that Henry Adams, born as Clifton Fadiman once said, "not with a silver spoon but with an entire mouthful of silver", spends so much of his semi-autobiography being so self-effacing. But one can only imagine how much pressure there may have been on someone with that extreme a gift of social standing & political legacy not to have ever been elected or even to have sought public office and not to have had any children to carry on the heritage of the Adams Family. And yet, all of his Adams predecessors seemed to value the quality of being a statesman rather than a politician. What to make of this book with its rather constant references to education as accidentally gained & a failure in the case of Mr. Henry Adams? My thought is that, rather than a disguised memoir, The Education of Henry Adams seems a masterful treatise contrasting the dominant forces of the 11th & 12th centuries with what he envisioned to be the driving force on the eve of the 20th, with most of Adams' professional life lived in the 2nd half of the 19th century. There is a continuous search for a unifying force in both the medieval phase of world history, that which Henry Adams taught as a chaired professor at Harvard and the age of science & machinery. Eventually, though seemingly a fairly secular man, Adams settles on the concept of the Virgin Mary as the principal harnessing force of the medieval period and the turbine as its equivalent in the modern era. In fact, The Education of Henry Adams acts as a kind of sequel to his earlier Mont Saint-Michel & Chartres, the much briefer book that encapsulates the author's fascination with the image of the Virgin as a driving force and with medieval cathedrals as the period's symbolic thrust. Adams felt that between the pyramids of 3,000 BCE & the cross which became a unifying Christian symbol in 300 C.E, no new forces arose to affect "western progress". Later in his book, Adams spends time dealing with just how the microscope & the telescope changed the manner in which we look both inward & outward, in both cases to expand horizons. It was Adams' grand design to trace development backward from modern multiplicity to medieval unity in this 2nd volume, whereas the earlier work had gravitated in the direction of unity. Much of this book considers moral vs. political authority & Henry Adams details the many journeys he took in search of an enhanced knowledge of the world at large and as an antidote to his frustration with life in Washington. He traveled at various times to the Far East, Egypt, the Middle East and to the Pacific Islands, as well as making countless trans-Atlantic crossings to Europe & Great Britain. At one point, he commented that "all the historian won was a vehement wish to escape". At age 65, he decided that "his education was complete & he was sorry that he'd ever began it." Being named Adams & born in 1838 seemed both a supreme gift & a curse, with a constant goal of establishing his own identity, that of a scholar, at the root of much of what he accomplished in life. Ultimately, Henry Adams concluded that the great initial promise of American Democracy had begun a process of disintegration, becoming increasingly tarnished by the administrations of Jackson & Grant, among others. However, in spite of this seeming pessimism, he continued to study & to intellectually counter the concepts of chaos vs. continuity and force vs. inertia. What one reviewer ages ago termed "sentimental nihilism" seems instead to be a rather serious & very compelling attempt at self-analysis, couched in prose passages I found in many cases to be quite uplifting. There is no question that Mr. Adams was a Boston Brahman with a very aristocratic bent & many would fault the book for the author's seeming intolerance of Jews & those of a less patrician background. At one point while abroad, he makes reference to "great masses of idle & ignorant tourists." While he failed to incorporate a broader spectrum of humanity into his worldview, I suspect that this was a rather common failing for children of great privilege born almost two centuries ago. Henry died before women got the vote but after African-American males did and he seems to have taken little notice of the latter, though D.C. at that point in history was still considered a very "southern town". And while quite definitely against slavery & the southern secession that led to the Civil War, Adams spent the entire period of the war assisting his father in London, appointed by President Lincoln, acting as aide-de-camp to his father's ambassadorial position for 7+ years, in large measure working to prevent the British from assisting the Confederacy, especially when it appeared that the northern forces were likely to lose the war. The image of Henry Adams as a kind of Faust-figure seems apt at times but he was known as a loyal friend & devoted to his brothers & a sister, whose death at 40 while living in Italy was a serious blow to his sense of well-being, though not nearly as large a jolt as the death of his wife, for she & Henry were a devoted couple & frequently entertained America's "best & brightest" at their home in the nation's capital. In fact, one of the more discomforting aspects of The Education of Henry Adams is the failure to mention the death of Henry's wife or anything else during a 20 year gap. Again, Adams saw himself as a failure in many respects & the two books were self-published, not made available to the general public until after his death, though his 7 volume work on the early American presidents + 2 novels, published anonymously, were quite successful. Beyond that, a stroke put an end to Adams' work on his primary autobiographical legacy, The Education. What I think limits the book somewhat is an overabundance of names of cabinet members of the various presidential administrations & the many political figures he encountered while in England. Beyond that, Henry Adams rather too ambitiously posits a kind of over-arching theory of the universe, even invoking prehistory but always through the lens of a historian, rather constantly admitting that a classical Harvard education failed to bestow on him the required mathematics & the tools of science to fully navigate within an increasingly dynamic world. In spite of that, he tried to read everything he could muster on science & attempted to master the field of statistics as well. What The Education of Henry Adams really ends of being is a very personal work of veiled epistemology, though with a third person point of view, constantly asking what one man or woman can possibly really understand about the nature of life, particularly given the author's distrust of political reality, this in spite of having spent much of his life in the nation's capital either writing about the presidency & the congress or being part of the the inner circle of those who governed America over his approximately 60 years on the scene.All a teacher can do is to teach a student to react to forces. To educate--one's self to begin with--had been the effort of one's life for 60 years & the difficulties of education had seemed to go on doubling every 10 years. No scheme could be suggested to the new American but the great influx of new forces seemed near at hand & its style of education promised to be violently coercive. The movement from unity to multiplicity, between 1200 & 1900, was unbroken in sequence & rapid in acceleration. Prolonged one generation longer, it would require a new social mind. It must enter a new phase subject to new laws. Thus far, for five or ten thousand years, the mind has successfully reacted, and nothing yet proved that it would fail to react--but it would need to jump.*My edition of the book is a 1931 Modern Library hardcover edition, bound in signature & it should last another century. All but 2 of 20+ versions listed at G/R are not in fact bound books but Kindle editions, with the remaining 2 both paperbacks. Even more amazing is that the Modern Library declared that the 1919 Pulitzer Prize winning The Education of Henry Adams was their choice as the best non-fiction book of the 20th Century, though it does not have a very large reviewership at Goodreads.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    Once more! this is a story of education, not of adventure! It is meant to help young men—or such as have intelligence enough to seek help—but it is not meant to amuse them. Everyone agrees that this book is difficult and odd. An autobiography of an American man of letters, the son of a diplomat, grandson of a president, historian, journalist, secretary, all told in the third person, written for his private circle of friends. At once claiming to be the story of one man’s life, a critique of th Once more! this is a story of education, not of adventure! It is meant to help young men—or such as have intelligence enough to seek help—but it is not meant to amuse them. Everyone agrees that this book is difficult and odd. An autobiography of an American man of letters, the son of a diplomat, grandson of a president, historian, journalist, secretary, all told in the third person, written for his private circle of friends. At once claiming to be the story of one man’s life, a critique of the educational methods of the nineteenth century, a parable of the fin de siècle, and a new theory of history, the book is, in reality, none of the above, and is instead the sigh of an old man looking back on his life. I must admit that I found this book exasperating in the extreme. One quickly gets the impression that, when Adams uses the word “education,” it is meaningless or worse than meaningless. He goes to London with his father, and becomes intimately acquainted with the workings of British politics, all during the difficult years of the American Civil War, and complains that he received no useful “education.” He teaches at Harvard for seven years, a professor of Medieval History, and concludes: “On the whole, he was content neither with what he had taught nor with the way he had taught it. The seven years in teaching seemed to him lost.” He becomes a journalist in the capital, and then works on a seven-volume history of America during Jefferson’s presidency; and still, after all this, he insists he has received no useful “education.” And after every phase of his life, when Adams rings the same gloomy bell, the reader asks: “What on earth would satisfy you, Mr. Adams?” Another exasperating element is the degree to which Adams assumes a familiarity with the intricacies of 19th century politics. Reading the chapters when he was in England felt like reading a grocer’s shopkeeping books. It was disjointed, jerky, and, worst of all, didn’t explain a thing. At first, I assumed this difficulty resulted from Adams’s originally writing the book for his circle of friends; but the obscurity goes even further: it is as if Adams wrote the book only for himself. The book swings wildly in tone from dry note-taking to half-formed and half-coherent abstractions, all written in a prose style lucidly opaque. Adams also gives the impression of being a bit muddle-headed. He spends some time talking about Lyell’s geology and Darwin’s evolution, and it soon becomes apparent he understands neither. He goes on long tangents about “force,” while it is obvious that what Adams means by that word is as meaningless as what he means by “education.” He ends the book on a very confused and seemingly pointless attempt to give a mathematical explanation of history, but never reaches above vague commonplaces, endlessly repeated. I seldom came across an insight of his that was insightful. In short, the impression was that Adams had taken all of the stuff of his life—his doings, his friendships, his thoughts, his career, his background—and left it out to bake in the hot sun, until all the savor and succulence was scorched out of it, leaving only a tough jerky that wearies the jaw in the attempt to chew the husk. Still, after all this, I must admit that this book has a strange power. There were times I could not put it down, even when I felt I wasn’t understanding a thing. Adams always seemed to be only two steps away from a great insight, an astounding thought; but he never quite reaches it, which is why the book can seem so tragic. He was always searching and never finding; and the reader is left in doubt what he was searching for, and whether anyone will ever find it. In his elegant, knotty prose, he turns out aphorism after aphorism—all apparently insightful, but in reality empty—popping like soap bubbles leaving nothing but air. And what saves the book is that Adams knew this, and yet could do nothing better.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mackenzie

    there is no book like this anywhere else in American literature. It annoys, it fascinates, it bores, it amuses... a densely textured, thoughtful, at times exasperating story of growing up in the American 19th Century by the great-grandson of one president and the grandson of another -- who freely admits he should have lived in the 18th Century.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    Henry Adams was the original celebutante: famous for nothing other than being related to the two John Adams(es), he was in the unique position of having access to the upper crust of post-revolutionary America without having the burden of any kind of responsibility. This book is a guided tour of 19th-Century America, told with surprising wit and self-awareness-- his description of Harvard as (and I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly) a place where rich children went to drink beer and call themselve Henry Adams was the original celebutante: famous for nothing other than being related to the two John Adams(es), he was in the unique position of having access to the upper crust of post-revolutionary America without having the burden of any kind of responsibility. This book is a guided tour of 19th-Century America, told with surprising wit and self-awareness-- his description of Harvard as (and I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly) a place where rich children went to drink beer and call themselves lawyers is fantastic. It humanizes a period of history that is too often reduced to formality and statues and, more amazingly, provides a picture of life American history that's genuinely fun to read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Manray9

    Nothing I could write would do justice to The Education of Henry Adams. Adams combines erudition, keen observation, wit and clear prose in creating the best example of the memoirist’s art.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    When this book was published posthumously in 1918, it attracted rave reviews and a Pulitzer Prize. Over the years, it became one of those rare books that other people wrote books about, analyzing it and dissecting its intricacies. When this edition was published in 1999, modern library declared it the number one nonfiction book of the twentieth century. Imagine my surprise, then, when I read it and discovered that it does not deserves such plaudits. Rather, I can say with some confidence, and no When this book was published posthumously in 1918, it attracted rave reviews and a Pulitzer Prize. Over the years, it became one of those rare books that other people wrote books about, analyzing it and dissecting its intricacies. When this edition was published in 1999, modern library declared it the number one nonfiction book of the twentieth century. Imagine my surprise, then, when I read it and discovered that it does not deserves such plaudits. Rather, I can say with some confidence, and not just as a matter of taste, that it is not a good book. Perhaps there is a certain type of reader, schooled in Emersonian flights of fancy, or latinate circumlocutions, that thrills to this sort of book, but I doubt they would thrill for long. It is filled with glittering generalities about "Force," "Mind," "Matter," "Thought," "Science," and so on, usually elaborated with sentences with over three (!) semicolons in them. What Adams is getting at in all these metaphysical maunderings is hard to tell, despite the maddening repetition of the book. It's something about the history of humanity being a struggle between man and nature, or between countervailing and "accelerating" forces, which the industrial world has merely bought to a climax, but which forces are already escaping our control. Or something like that. What this really means and why I should believe it, I haven't the foggiest. The fact that every observation or action is framed under the conceit of furthering "the student's (Adam's) education," is both tedious and tenuous. The only interesting parts of the book, though they are snuck in between the speculations, are stories of Adams's actual life: of his being silently dragged to a Quincy, Massachusetts elementary school by his grandfather, former President John Quincy Adams; about traveling to Washington DC to work with his congressman father, Charles Francis Adams; to DC during the treason winter of 1860-61; and then as private secretary to his father when the latter was appointed Minister to the Court of St. James for the course of the Civil War. Adams knew just about everybody of importance in the era, from Prime Minister Lord Palmerston to President Theodore Roosevelt, and his quick character sketches of these men (Palmerston's "passion for popularity," Roosevelt as "pure act") can be interesting. His time as professor of Medieval History at Harvard, a subject for which he admits he knew nothing and cared less when appointed, and his later career as a Washington socialite are less scintillating. His longtime friendship with Secretary of State John Hay, and noted geologist Clarence King add some pathos to the story, but they are only seen in glances. Mostly, this book is better left on the shelf of classics, where it can linger unread and un-missed.

  10. 4 out of 5

    James Henderson

    I have read several great confessional autobiographies over the centuries, Augustine and Rousseau come to mind, but my favorite is Henry Adams' narrative, The Education of Henry Adams. The Preface and four opening chapters provide a solid foundation for the entire book. They focus on his youth in Massachusetts and time spent in Washington, D. C. and at Harvard College through his twentieth year. His attention points to the nature of his own education growing up in a family whose very name was syn I have read several great confessional autobiographies over the centuries, Augustine and Rousseau come to mind, but my favorite is Henry Adams' narrative, The Education of Henry Adams. The Preface and four opening chapters provide a solid foundation for the entire book. They focus on his youth in Massachusetts and time spent in Washington, D. C. and at Harvard College through his twentieth year. His attention points to the nature of his own education growing up in a family whose very name was synonymous with the Presidency of the United States. Born in 1838, both his Great Grandfather and Grandfather had been presidents, while his father looked forward to an Ambassadorship to England during the Civil War. Henry's education would be continued during that period as secretary to his father. But first he narrates the experience of growing up torn by family connections between the small town of Quincy and the metropolis of Boston. The two towns provide just one of the contrasts that concern young Henry; contrasts that include town (Boston) versus country (Quincy), Winter versus Summer, and his own family ties between the Brooks of Boston on his mother's side and the Adams on his father's side. It was the interstices between these and other contrasting experiences that provided young Henry with the "seeds of moral education". Even this early in his life, as he reflects from the view of the twentieth century, he questioned what and who he was and where he was going with his life. The community and culture that formed Henry's mind and being included family friends that would become historical figures for those of us born in the latter half of the succeeding century; figures that included, in addition to his family, Ellery Channing, Waldo Emerson, Richard Henry Dana, and above all for Henry, his hero, Charles Sumner. Henry worshiped the Senator and Orator and looked up to New England statesmen like him that expressed "the old Ciceronian idea of government by the best". People like Daniel Webster and Edward Everett who governed Massachusetts. Henry, however, was destined to move on to Washington with his father as the Adams family had for decades been a part of the national stage. Henry did not like school and rather preferred the free play with his peers. In spite of his opinion of school it is clear that he was continuing his education at home and was soon to move back north to enter Harvard College in his sixteenth hear. His thoughts on his education at that time rang true to this reader as he described his travel to Washington, not as what happened but as what he remembered. And this was "what struck him most, to remain fresh in his mind all his life-time, . . the sudden change that came over the world on entering a slave State. He took education politically." His time in Washington ended with a remark that "he had no education", a continuing contradiction that stemmed from his own reaction to the "official" education he was undergoing in schools that contrasted (once more see above) with the true education in which his experience was creating memories. Harvard does not suit his taste either - the curriculum had no particular quality that could impress the man that Henry was becoming; a man who was not only a reader but a writer. He was impressed by Russell Lowell who "had brought back from Germany the only new and valuable part of its Universities, the habit of allowing students to read with him privately in his study. Adams asked the privilege, and used it to read a little, and to talk a great deal." His friendship with Lowell led him to connections with the transcendentalists although he never became one. He also became friends with one Robert E. Lee at Harvard and enjoyed a coterie of Virginian friends despite their Southern ways. At the end of his formal education he was able to conclude that "As yet he knew nothing." A bit of harsh judgment for the Senior Class Orator, but great minds are sometimes hardest on themselves. The remainder of the autobiography takes him on a journey through Darwin and Chicago and "The Dynamo and the Virgin" into the beginning of the twentieth century. His story is always interesting and his prose is some of the best I have encountered. I may comment further on it as I continue to read and reread about his thoughts on a very particular education.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    This is my second least favorite book thus far from the Lifetime Reading Plan. My least favorite being the Q'uran. Henry Adams was the grandson and great grandson of Presidents. Although a Bostonian, he inherited an eccentric outsider-dom from his famous forebears, and remained to the end of his life apart from the business community of that city. Adams has the disconcerting habit of speaking of himself in the third person like Jimmy from Seinfeld. "Henry Adams doesn't like this steak! Henry Adam This is my second least favorite book thus far from the Lifetime Reading Plan. My least favorite being the Q'uran. Henry Adams was the grandson and great grandson of Presidents. Although a Bostonian, he inherited an eccentric outsider-dom from his famous forebears, and remained to the end of his life apart from the business community of that city. Adams has the disconcerting habit of speaking of himself in the third person like Jimmy from Seinfeld. "Henry Adams doesn't like this steak! Henry Adams wants you to send it back!" As a part of the family of Founding Fathers, he stands between two centuries, the eighteenth and the twentieth. He wrote this book in 1904, and at age 66 he is still forward-looking, wondering what the twentieth century has in store. He was fly on the wall for the nineteeth. After concentrating the narrative on his education, which includes Harvard, he concludes that the education one picks up accidentally is more valuable then what one received intentionally at even the most respected institutions. After that, the bulk of the heart of the book is spent on Charles Francis Adams' (Henry's dad's)tenure as American Minister in London during Civil War years, and Henry's tenure as his personal secretary (Nepotism? Naaaahh!)At first, the American minister is shunned by members of Parliament, as the predominant opinion was that the Union would not survive the Civil War. But C. F. Adams is persistent, circumstances improve, and the Minister attains victory in the Laird ironclad affair. Adams has little good to say about the character of English politicians in general, but ends up making a few very close friends. When he reaches 1870, he suddenly skips twenty years. It just so happens that during this period was when he met and married his wife, who with Henry, and others, comprised the predominant intellectual salon in the U.S. This was also the period where Adams had his salad days as author and Harvard history professor. Seems to me this would have been prime material to include, but as he felt he wasn't being "educated" during that period, he skips it. Unfortunately, the post 1890 years are anticlimactic. At the end of the book, he tries (IMO unsuccessfully) to articulate his "dynamic theory of history". In reading about this, I couldn't help but think of the closing chapters of Tolstoy's "War and Peace", where the great Count makes a more lucid case for a scientific approach to history. Like Tolstoy, Adams seems to imagine a future figure not unlike Isaac Asimov's Hari Selden, a "psychohistorian" who can use the science of history to predict future events. Also unfortunately, Adams was a clear product of the Victorian Age. Those guys never told the real dirt on themselves. This would have been a good book in which to do so, as one is educated by his youthful maistakes and indiscretions. It's a shame, but one thing you never think when reading this book: "Oh Henry Adams! What kind of crazy shit are you gonna do next?" The style of the book is mannered, curlicued, and sometimes opaque. For those who wonder why, this book is exactly why the world needed a Hemingway.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Olsen

    I slogged through a Kindle edition of this classic, dodging the typos, and struggled with what to make of it. It wasn't at all what I expected of an American patriarchal autobiography. It was relentlessly, even annoyingly, self-effacing and pessimistic. Chapter after chapter details what he didn't learn in Boston, in London, in Germany.... from the senators and ambassadors he grew up with. I couldn't figure him out until I finally decided that he was really talking to himself the whole time. He I slogged through a Kindle edition of this classic, dodging the typos, and struggled with what to make of it. It wasn't at all what I expected of an American patriarchal autobiography. It was relentlessly, even annoyingly, self-effacing and pessimistic. Chapter after chapter details what he didn't learn in Boston, in London, in Germany.... from the senators and ambassadors he grew up with. I couldn't figure him out until I finally decided that he was really talking to himself the whole time. He didn't seem to care much about his readers (despite his concern about educating the next generation of Americans for the 20th century, etc) and he didn't seem to care much about creating a narrative (the only through-line is chronology and the theme of Failed Educations). He can write beautifully so stretches of description and analysis kept me going to the end, but most of the paragraphs are frustratingly choppy. He'll write a short abstract sentence. Then another one. Then another. And you'll wonder..... what is he talking about?? Despite all this complaining, this book is like nothing else I've ever read. Now I'm interested in reading the new biography of his wife (who is never, not once, mentioned in the autobiography).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne Russell

    The "hallelujah" did escape, and loudly, from my lips when this read was finally done, but that reaction was only to the last quarter of the book or so. Otherwise, well worth the read. As the book begins, he vividly and concretely describes his youth, and throughout his middle-aged years also, his ponderings are grounded in specific descriptions and prompts for reflection. Since he has two Presidential ancestors and is part of the Bostonian elite, his access to the most prominent figures of histo The "hallelujah" did escape, and loudly, from my lips when this read was finally done, but that reaction was only to the last quarter of the book or so. Otherwise, well worth the read. As the book begins, he vividly and concretely describes his youth, and throughout his middle-aged years also, his ponderings are grounded in specific descriptions and prompts for reflection. Since he has two Presidential ancestors and is part of the Bostonian elite, his access to the most prominent figures of history during historically significant times makes for fascinating reading (e.g. he serves as the Ambassador to England's secretary during the Civil War). However, as the book closes in on his later years, he starts to replace real life events with postulations about a dynamic theory of history that he has conjured out of his lifetime of humanistic study. At this point, the only life experiences we hear about are points of interest in traveling Europe and health updates about Secretary of State John Hay. The pontificating in this section of the book is laborious reading. Bravo for his section on the power of women and the detrimental effect of Westernized de-sexing of women.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    The Education of Henry Adams is rich in personal observations, filled with nineteenth-century US history. Even his mile walk to school at age 6 has historical interest, because the 77-year-old man who held his hand and walked with him was the sixth US president, John Quincy Adams, Henry’s grandfather. For the record, Henry’s great-grandfather was the second US president, John Adams (signatory of the Declaration of Independence), then his grandfather John Quincy Adams the sixth president, and his The Education of Henry Adams is rich in personal observations, filled with nineteenth-century US history. Even his mile walk to school at age 6 has historical interest, because the 77-year-old man who held his hand and walked with him was the sixth US president, John Quincy Adams, Henry’s grandfather. For the record, Henry’s great-grandfather was the second US president, John Adams (signatory of the Declaration of Independence), then his grandfather John Quincy Adams the sixth president, and his father the US ambassador to England during the Civil War. His maternal grandfather Peter Chardon Brooks was one of the 100 wealthiest Americans, a merchant millionaire, which was rare in the 1700s and early 1800s. Adams was alive twenty-two years before the Civil War, and from his earliest years was appalled at slavery and the retrograde violation of human dignity in the southern defense of slavery (100). He met presidents from, of course, his grandfather John Quincy, through Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and many more, through twentieth-century presidents McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. He died in 1918, the same year that World War I ended. It was a long way from the early American pioneer days of 1838 when he was born. When Adams was born, transportation and communication had not changed in 10,000 years. When he died he had seen the introduction of new transportation and communication that the twentieth century took for granted. Henry served as assistant to the ambassador to England for eight years when he was fresh out of Harvard University. Returning to the US around 1869 he started a career he loved as a journalist. But his family, friends, and professors he respected, persuaded him to take the position of history professor at Harvard. He did it for seven years. One of his students was Henry Cabot Lodge. Other than the friends he made during this period, he hated teaching and considered it a waste of seven years. He had little faith in standard teaching methods and outcomes. He valued the active mind and to “know how to learn” rather than the stuff that people spend most of their time studying (314). He believed in slower-paced learning to more fully and deeply absorb subjects as opposed to fast-paced surface learning. On the other hand, he felt a little guilty after Harvard had greeted him as an adult with open arms: “Yet nothing in the vanity of life struck him as more humiliating than that Harvard College, which he had persistently criticized, abused, abandoned, and neglected, should alone have offered him a dollar, an office, an encouragement, or a kindness” (305). He returned to his writing career, which over his lifetime included novels, the eight-volume History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, historical and legal essays, the two books I’ve reviewed, and many others. He was one of America’s most esteemed historians though he spent his life with a sense of personal failure and a low estimation of his own education. His lifelong pursuit was to extrapolate and understand the trajectory of human evolution, socially, politically, industrially, scientifically, theologically, and technologically. One of his comments on human evolutionary development sounds very modern. As history students know, Ulysses S. Grant had been a great general, but was corrupt as president. Speaking of Grant, Adams cuts to the chase: “He had no right to exist. He should have been extinct for ages. … That, two thousand years after Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, a man like Grant should be called…the highest product of the most advanced evolution, made evolution ludicrous. … Darwinists ought to conclude that America was reverting to the stone age” (266). The Education is rife with insightful commentary on the world spinning around him, sometimes moving too fast to comprehend, sometimes moving incomprehensively backwards. He saw paradigm-shift inventions from telegraph and trains, to telephone and automobiles (he even bought a car in his later years), steam then electricity, inventions like photography, then film and the early Hollywood silent films, finally airplanes and the discovery of radium and radiation. Adams traveled more than most Americans in the nineteenth century. He spent many years throughout Europe, Russia, Asia, Africa, the Pacific islands and the Caribbean. He was an early observer of the merging of Western Cultures, noting “Hamburg was almost as American as St. Louis” (414). The Education has hidden treasures, offhand observations that end up being the most memorable. For example, he notes the affectation of eccentric behaviors in people considered highly eccentric. Eccentricity itself becomes a convention. He observes that “a mind really eccentric never betrayed it. True eccentricity was a tone—a shade—a nuance—and the finer the tone, the truer the eccentricity” (370). Adams’ final thoughts show his disappointment: “He saw his education complete, and was sorry he ever began it” (458). He abhorred the ever-worsening “persistently fiendish treatment of man by man;…the perpetual symbolism of a higher law, and the perpetual relapse to a lower one” and principals of freedom deteriorating into principals of power and the “despotism of artificial order” (458), referring to the rise of corporate dominance over society. He particularly disliked the growing influence of corporate power: “The Trusts and Corporations stood for the larger part of the new power that had been created since 1840, and were obnoxious because of their vigorous and unscrupulous energy…They tore society to pieces and trampled it under foot” (500). Adams had good friends who met tragic fates, his wife committed suicide at a young age, and as he grew older, found himself “A solitary man of sixty-five years or more, alone in a Gothic cathedral or a Paris apartment…” (460). So this is The Education of Henry Adams. You may wonder why I liked it so much, and recommend it. The book is a retrospective provided by one of our most observant students of life, with access to the most interesting places and people in their most interesting times. The book itself is a fascinating education for anyone who reads it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Thorpe

    This is one of those books that kept showing up on lists, but I never had any desire to read. I always found it was described in ways that I didn't quite know how to categorize based on my pre-existing knowledge of a type of book - was it biography, history, philosophy? How was it entirely about his education - it seemed important, but did I want to read a book about that? It was tough to tell and so I read other stuff. Finally, I decided to read it and I am going to admit it's pretty different, This is one of those books that kept showing up on lists, but I never had any desire to read. I always found it was described in ways that I didn't quite know how to categorize based on my pre-existing knowledge of a type of book - was it biography, history, philosophy? How was it entirely about his education - it seemed important, but did I want to read a book about that? It was tough to tell and so I read other stuff. Finally, I decided to read it and I am going to admit it's pretty different, man. Almost entirely in a good way. Henry Adams (yeah, that Adams) is a generally humble, 19th century dude from an 18th century mega-family who sorta wanders through the Boston, Harvard, London, Germany, Washington DC of the 1800s and early 1900s. The book is about 75% personal biography and then ends with a sort of metaphysical speculation on how it all fits together and may very well make more sense than I was able to make of it. I'll come back to the second part at the end. But let's start with the first part, which is really quite great and unlike anything else I've read. He reflects on small experiences throughout his life, providing a contemporary sounding narrative of just what a trip it was for anyone to live through a period where most people were farmers in a young country which then had a civil war, industrialized, had railroads pop up everywhere, and then capped it off with a fundamentally changed understanding of the physical and chemical universe. Adams takes these changes on not as some grand attempt to describe an epoch, but rather as a painstaking effort to understand little things in his life, why he chose to do what he did, why others did what they did, how he could or couldn't understand a particular behavior or another. So let me give you an example of how this is really a story about his education. In one section, he provides a 50 page analysis of a series of conversations between a handful of English politicians during a diplomatic negotiation with the US during the Civil War in which he was present. He provides a complete explanation of what he thought was going on at the time, what he thought he knew and didn't know, what other people told him was going on, and then he relies on various source material that came out over the next fifty years to conclude what actually happened, what could or couldn't be known, and what it ultimately means for the role of a diplomat. It's striking, humble stuff and it's through this sort of story telling that Adams leads you to believe he really can show you the universe in a grain of sand of his particular experience, if he just polishes the sand long enough and looks at it from enough sides. It's also in these experiences that the book really does provide a unique form of education. Now the second part. I like to imagine Henry Adams finished the hard work of writing his life's biography, analyzed countless episodes from all angles. Then he pauses and thinks about what it all means in totality. He just starts rambling in a stream of consciousness, probably lights up a joint and then really gets going. After like four hours, feeling pretty sure he'd just presented a unified human knowledge to cap his life's experience, he looks up at his secretary and says "did you get that" and the secretary looking at him like "well, yes... but..." and him saying "great, we got it!" and then heading off to pub, or whatever. That's probably not how it happened, but that's how I chose to imagine it and let me tell you it makes the last part of this book much more readable. Amazing book, four stars!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Perhaps, in another life, Henry Adams would have been a great thinker, one who, like Benjamin or Nietzsche, penetrated the myths of modern society and showed the world a glittering realm of possibility. There's a sense of the doom of modernity that wreaths his thoughts like a fog-- in line with T.S. Eliot, Thomas Carlyle, and other anti-moderns. It's a conservatism that, unlike that of Christians and free marketeers, at least deserves a certain sympathy. Pathetic, perhaps, but ultimately you fee Perhaps, in another life, Henry Adams would have been a great thinker, one who, like Benjamin or Nietzsche, penetrated the myths of modern society and showed the world a glittering realm of possibility. There's a sense of the doom of modernity that wreaths his thoughts like a fog-- in line with T.S. Eliot, Thomas Carlyle, and other anti-moderns. It's a conservatism that, unlike that of Christians and free marketeers, at least deserves a certain sympathy. Pathetic, perhaps, but ultimately you feel bad for its practitioners, realizing that they're just damaged people-- like Mr. Adams, unhappy nostalgics looking for a way out of the alienating, discordant present. He's kinda whiny, but I get the feeling I'd still enjoy a couple beers with him. And with his kinda cash, he'd be footing the bill.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lisajean

    A third-person autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams is unlike anything I've ever read before. Adams does not come across as especially insightful or even particularly likeable, but I found myself compelled to keep reading. It's a fascinating picture of our country at the turn of the 20th century. A third-person autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams is unlike anything I've ever read before. Adams does not come across as especially insightful or even particularly likeable, but I found myself compelled to keep reading. It's a fascinating picture of our country at the turn of the 20th century.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    “Life is a narrow valley, and the roads run close together.” Fascinating and sad. An anomalous document: an autobiography written in the third person by a grandson and great-grandson of American presidents; Henry Adams. Written late in life these are Adams’s reflections on his lifelong search for truth and meaning. “He never thought to ask himself or his father how to deal with the moral problem that deduced George Washington from the sum of all wickedness. In practice, such trifles as contradicti “Life is a narrow valley, and the roads run close together.” Fascinating and sad. An anomalous document: an autobiography written in the third person by a grandson and great-grandson of American presidents; Henry Adams. Written late in life these are Adams’s reflections on his lifelong search for truth and meaning. “He never thought to ask himself or his father how to deal with the moral problem that deduced George Washington from the sum of all wickedness. In practice, such trifles as contradictions in principle are easily set aside; the faculty of ignoring them makes the practical man; but any attempt to deal with them seriously as education is fatal.” Written over a century ago of his experiences as much as a half century before that. A life distilled, as much as can be, during that life. His name gave him access few would enjoy; his apparent wealth gave him freedom to travel the world (trips to Europe were annual); his openness invited the confidence of great authorities; his quietness drew out secrets. Adams did not write to be published; it shows. Dense prose. Long, boring passages of introspection. Constant references to works unfamiliar in this century. Constant foreign language phrases, untranslated. Hard to imagine a young modern reader wading through it all. Older readers will nod and sigh in sympathy. (Reading an electronic version facilitates reference linkage.) “Better take sides first, and reason about it for the rest of life.” A primary source for American history and politics in the latter half of the nineteenth century, usually a void between the Civil War and World War One. Adams was a participant and a confidant of power players. He supped with presidents; he interviewed leaders of science, art, philosophic communities. He never mentions his wife or his married life, choosing to skip those decades as when he lived as opposed to was educated. Her loss and the manner of her lose obviously impacted him greatly. Having decided early that he had no religious impulse, Adams looks elsewhere for the truth. He started with the admission that he knew nothing, and that all his schooling taught him noting. He looks in geology, biology, physics, art, literature, architecture, and of course history. “Of course” because he was a professor of history at Harvard. “The clouds that gather round the setting sun do not always take a sober coloring from eyes that have kept watch on mortality; or, at least, the sobriety is sometimes scarcely sad. One walks with one’s friends squarely up to the portal of life, and bids good-bye with a smile.” He even returns to seeking truth in religion, though the specter of this child of Puritans apparently reducing Christianity to the Mary cult is mystifying. He seems not to be even aware that Christianity is anything other than Gothic cathedrals, stained glass windows, and organizations. “With out waiting further experiment—as he took for granted that arsenic poisoned—the rule that a friend in power is a friend lost.” Uncovers the dark underbelly of power politics in his day. Watergate resembles a church picnic compared to the lies and deceptions practiced by the British government on behalf of the Confederacy. National leaders were just as clueless and wrong-headed as today. “The attempt of the American of 1900 to educate the American of 2000, must be even blinder than that of the Congressman of 1800, except so far as he had learned his ignorance.” Adams clearly got a lot right. The increase of power, with internal combustion replacing external, and electricity and even the atom; the globalization of politics; the urge toward women’s rights and racial equality were all clear to him on 1905. That he totally misunderstood women, race, or life should be no surprise. He admitted as much. He lived to see the world war which swept away all he found familiar. “Perhaps some day—say 1938, their centenary—they might be allowed to return together for a holiday, to see the mistakes of their own lives made clear in the light of the mistakes of their successors; and perhaps then, for the first time since man began his education among the carnivores, they would find a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder.” In the end, Adams thinks he succeeds, though any modern reader will blush at his errors. He throws out the atom with the ether, he mistakes historicism for history, and he lets his hopes drown his knowledge. “Boys never see a conclusion; only on the edge of the grave can man conclude anything.”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Library Biography #32! I have so many emotions and thoughts about this book. First, props to my reading group that actually inspired me to get through this book!! The Education of Henry Adams is not a quick read. I found it to be like nothing else I have read before. I had to be fully submerged and engaged with the text to get the most out of it. I couldn't get distracted or be in a noisy, distracting environment (usually not an issue for me) to comprehend what Henry Adams was trying to convey. I r Library Biography #32! I have so many emotions and thoughts about this book. First, props to my reading group that actually inspired me to get through this book!! The Education of Henry Adams is not a quick read. I found it to be like nothing else I have read before. I had to be fully submerged and engaged with the text to get the most out of it. I couldn't get distracted or be in a noisy, distracting environment (usually not an issue for me) to comprehend what Henry Adams was trying to convey. I rated this a 3 star because I know I didn't get everything I could have out of this book. Let me put it this way, I know very little about 1800's politics to follow. Adams does have little glowing tidbits along the way that I could relate to and admire. Honestly, Henry Adams deserves more from the American people. He deserves to be heard! He made many remarks about the times in which he lived, that still ring true today! Potential nerdy heartthrob!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mommalibrarian

    Henry Adams was the fly on the wall for many years. His self-report is that he never had any power, his actions had no effect and he never really understood anything. I don't know how true any of that was but he was still complaining at the end. The book made me want to know a lot more about the 'fly-over' parts of US history. I am now certain that we have had several absolutely horrible presidents and survived. You will have to read the book to see who Adams put in that category. Interesting ti Henry Adams was the fly on the wall for many years. His self-report is that he never had any power, his actions had no effect and he never really understood anything. I don't know how true any of that was but he was still complaining at the end. The book made me want to know a lot more about the 'fly-over' parts of US history. I am now certain that we have had several absolutely horrible presidents and survived. You will have to read the book to see who Adams put in that category. Interesting tidbits: - "slave-power [money interest in] overshadowed all the great Boston interests [morality]" -"Average human nature is very coarse, and its ideals must necessarily be average. The world never loved perfect poise. What the world does love is commonly absence of poise, for it has to be amused." [Obama and Trump] - "no one took Harvard College seriously. All went there because their friends went there, and the College was their ideal of social self-respect." - "college drinking was not of lasting negative impact but.. the habit of looking at life as a social relation - an affair of society - did no good. It cultivated a weakness which needed no cultivation." - In Britain during the Civil War, sentiment was that the US Federal government would fail and Jefferson Davis would make a nation. At this time Britain had already abolished slavery but was dependent on southern sources of cotton for its mills. The British public found Lincoln a laughable figure. - the creation of railroads "required all the new machinery to be created - capital, banks, mines, furnaces, shops, power-houses, technical knowledge, mechanical , population, together with steady remodeling of social and political habits, ideas, and institutions to fit the new scale and suit the new conditions." [as tumultuous as the process of computer to AI] - a US Senator pushed for a suit against Britain for aiding the south. He maintained that the British support extended the civil war by two years, cost the US $2.125B and thought we should get Canada as compensation. - "morality is a private and costly luxury" This is a very dense book and if you follow up on every curious side story it will take you forever to read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sher

    The Education of Henry Adams is an exploration of politics and culture in the mid-19th C through early 20th C. The voice is third person, which is odd for an autobiography. The narrative traces Adams' time through the Civil War period when he was in England as a private secretary for his father who was a diplomat. Various American presidents come under Adams's scrutiny Lincoln, Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few. The book doesn't get a five star from me for its clarity, because I found muc The Education of Henry Adams is an exploration of politics and culture in the mid-19th C through early 20th C. The voice is third person, which is odd for an autobiography. The narrative traces Adams' time through the Civil War period when he was in England as a private secretary for his father who was a diplomat. Various American presidents come under Adams's scrutiny Lincoln, Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few. The book doesn't get a five star from me for its clarity, because I found much to question in this book such as why doesn't he ever mention his wife, and why does he portray himself as such a failure, and what does he mean by "education." through each decade of his life? The conflicts between traditional morality and the past generations of Jefferson and Adams and the forces of science and technology are key to being included on his journey into the modern age. Literary critics call this work a unique melding of autobiography, coming of age, and social commentary, and I found it so. It's a work to be read if you are interested in 19th C American Intellectual history.

  22. 5 out of 5

    James Henderson

    The memoir of a man and a family, Henry Adams was the son of a diplomat/ politician, grandson of a president and the great-grandson of another. The Adams family had produced leaders for the country since its founding and Henry Adams was heir to that leadership. In his Education he produced one of the best autobiographies ever written, chronicling the rapid change of the last half of the nineteenth century while sharing personal experiences with his father, at Harvard, Washington and elsewhere. I The memoir of a man and a family, Henry Adams was the son of a diplomat/ politician, grandson of a president and the great-grandson of another. The Adams family had produced leaders for the country since its founding and Henry Adams was heir to that leadership. In his Education he produced one of the best autobiographies ever written, chronicling the rapid change of the last half of the nineteenth century while sharing personal experiences with his father, at Harvard, Washington and elsewhere. I highly recommend this narrative for all readers interested in good writing and the history of the United States.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 3 out of 5 stars for the Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams. Please note:// There are light spoilers so I marked my review accordingly. I found this definition of education online: ed·u·ca·tion [ˌejəˈkāSH(ə)n] NOUN • the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university • the theory and practice of teaching • the body of knowledge acquired while being educated • an enlightening experience This definition is probably the way most people would define educatio 3 out of 5 stars for the Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams. Please note:// There are light spoilers so I marked my review accordingly. I found this definition of education online: ed·u·ca·tion [ˌejəˈkāSH(ə)n] NOUN • the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university • the theory and practice of teaching • the body of knowledge acquired while being educated • an enlightening experience This definition is probably the way most people would define education, and is the way I would define it myself. Adams challenges this classical definition of education by changing what most people would consider to be a noun (a person, place, or thing) into a verb (action). In this autobiography, I believe his goal was to illustrate to his readers that education is an action or a life long pursuit, not something that simply "is". Adams treated his personal education as a fluid, ever-changing, and dynamic force that was always yearning for renewal. A difficulty I had with his theory of education was that he never seemed happy or content throughout his life - he was ALWAYS searching for something, and I personally believe that at some point(s) one has to take life as it is, or as it comes, and one shouldn't exhaust him/herself constantly pursuing education/knowledge like Adams did in his life. Did this book open my mind to seeing education in a new light? My answer to that is maybe it did a little bit. Adams raises some interesting points in this book and it is interesting throughout. He gets a little heavy handed for me in some parts. He definitely lived an eventful life, though. Henry Adams is the grandson of John Quincy Adams and the great grandson of John Adams. Imagine being descendant to two former presidents! Adams served as personal secretary to his father Charles Francis Adams who served as ambassador to England during the Civil War. The U.S. sent an Adams to England for 3 generations- John brokered the peace with England to end the American Revolution, his son, John Quincy settled with England to end the War of 1812. Charles Francis Adams deftly kept England out of direct interference in the American Civil War, for which he should be highly commended. After serving as secretary, Henry became a journalist for a while, then taught history at Harvard, then became (more or less) a freelance U.S. historian writing "History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison" , among other similar historical works. His life spanned from 1838-1918, so he lived through the American Civil War, saw the turn of the 20th century and even lived through World War I. His life and times were indeed eventful, to say the least. I was personally more interested in reading this autobiography to learn about the Adams family descendants to find out what happened to the family after John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The politics appear to have ceased with Henry Adams. I believed he rebelled against his legacy, which may (or may not) have been his biggest mistake he made during his life. He seemed to blaze his own trail, and for that reason, if nothing else, I would recommend this book for other readers to see how he went about it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I really enjoyed this; much of it was a fascinating look at the concept of education through the Gilded Age period of American history. Some very interesting insight into foreign relations and diplomacy at that time. Adams writes about his life in the third person (weird), and he was very open about his almost constant failures through much of his life (refreshing). Dated, chauvinistic, and patronizing views about women, but not really misogynistic as we think of it now. The science discussions we I really enjoyed this; much of it was a fascinating look at the concept of education through the Gilded Age period of American history. Some very interesting insight into foreign relations and diplomacy at that time. Adams writes about his life in the third person (weird), and he was very open about his almost constant failures through much of his life (refreshing). Dated, chauvinistic, and patronizing views about women, but not really misogynistic as we think of it now. The science discussions were mostly beyond me and gave me brain cramps, but still a very remarkable work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim Townsend

    This book was interesting but moved slowly. Adams didn't have many friends, was a misanthrope, and didn't fit anywhere except as mediocre student in the school of life. This book was interesting but moved slowly. Adams didn't have many friends, was a misanthrope, and didn't fit anywhere except as mediocre student in the school of life.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jon Frankel

    Henry Adams’ The Education of Henry Adams is intellectual autobiography told in a slightly mocking, gently ironic third person. Henry Adams is never off the page. He anatomizes himself with the same acuity, but greater clarity, than the other Henry, Mr. James, analyzes his characters. Adams was born in 1838 and bears witness to the industrial, scientific, cultural, and intellectual revolutions of the 19th century. He is aware that he shares a womb with the future, even as his instinct draws him Henry Adams’ The Education of Henry Adams is intellectual autobiography told in a slightly mocking, gently ironic third person. Henry Adams is never off the page. He anatomizes himself with the same acuity, but greater clarity, than the other Henry, Mr. James, analyzes his characters. Adams was born in 1838 and bears witness to the industrial, scientific, cultural, and intellectual revolutions of the 19th century. He is aware that he shares a womb with the future, even as his instinct draws him to the past, the medieval past of the High Middle Ages, of Dante, and Aquinas, of the cathedrals of Chartres and Mont St. Michel. A provincial boy, he grows into a true cosmopolitan, traveling the world, teaching at Harvard for 7 years, writing about art and politics, and presiding over a legendary Washington DC salon. He wrote a multivolume history of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. He knew everyone. As a very young man he accompanied his father, a congressman, and son of John Quincy Adams, to the court in London, as personal secretary. Their job was to prevent England from entering the civil war on the side of the south. His closest friends were John Hay, who served presidents from Lincoln to Roosevelt, and Henry Cabot Lodge, senator from Massachusetts, cousin of American philosopher Charles Pierce. In The Education the scientific revolution, especially Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also in theoretical physics, provokes a spiritual crisis that Adams resolves into a theory of history. I have never encountered a more fascinating, ruminative mind in action. Adams ponders, is troubled by, and works out the complex philosophical/spiritual/ethical challenge of emerging modernism with the mind of an average person, and this is what is so exhilarating. His very modesty allows you to share his puzzlement. And the thing is, he seems to love the sensation of alienation, he enjoys the antiquation of a world he grew up in (the 18th century is his world in many ways, not the 19th). He gently weaves a thesis out of chaos and perceived order. His mind is deeply, intractably dialectical. He seems to have absorbed Marx. He anticipates Freud. Chaos Theory and Quantum Mechanics would not have surprised him at all. Post-modern skepticism is already in his mental framework. It is no wonder that the great historian of American politics, Walter Lefebre, assigned this book to all of his first year graduate students. This book makes it to number one on all the greatest hits of nonfiction lists. There’s a reason for it. It is totally brilliant from beginning to end, and it is one of the few books I wish had kept going and going and going.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Frederick

    I'll augment my review later, but I'll give my first impression of this book now, having finished reading it yesterday. Adams's life, in itself, is interesting. He seems to have been a man of good grace, kindness and ability. (He was extremely well-placed, being the direct descendent of both Presidents Adams.) As the book progresses, more and more of the education he claims not to have shows, until, by the end, he almost seems to be throwing educational firecrackers at the reader. I learned THIS I'll augment my review later, but I'll give my first impression of this book now, having finished reading it yesterday. Adams's life, in itself, is interesting. He seems to have been a man of good grace, kindness and ability. (He was extremely well-placed, being the direct descendent of both Presidents Adams.) As the book progresses, more and more of the education he claims not to have shows, until, by the end, he almost seems to be throwing educational firecrackers at the reader. I learned THIS. Bang! I learned THIS! Bang! THIS! Crash! THIS! Boom! So, I sense that the story really is about a fellow who served people around him with great humility for most of his life, who finally got to say what he really thought of being the constant servant. I am being a bit unfair. Adams shows, by the end of the book, that he has a tremendous understanding of physics. (He was among the first to witness a demonstration of the X-ray.) This autobiography, published nine years before Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, builds the same way that great novel does. This makes me wonder if Joyce read THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS. [Probably not until AFTER the publication of PORTRAIT, inasmuch as Adams' book was only available in a privately printed edition as of 1906. It was published commercially in 1918, shortly after Adams' death. He won a Pulitzer posthumously. So Joyce would have been aware of him before ULYSSES. But would he have liked him?] Adams is really saying, "I have lived!" But I can't help wondering if he really thought his knowledge of physics was a sign of his gift, or the fact that, throughout his adult life, Presidents and senators called upon him to act as advisor or diplomat. He seems to think this political capacity of his is trivial. Or does he? It is a sly book, with a tone of clarity, but I can't really tell if he believed his own theory of force. I sense he thought building his theory was his life-work. He periodically drew attention to other scientists, which reinforces my concept of him as a diplomat. I'm not sure he would have called himself a scientist, of course. He seems to have preferred to call himself an historian. But if he was an historian, why is his thrust one of theory?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Illiterate

    Adams sees life/history as ludicrous/chaotic. So he has a marvelously caustic view of politics/academia. His science of history is metaphorical or silly.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    The Education of Henry Adams is on my list of books to re-read. I first read it as a senior undergrad in the '75-'76 academic year at the University of Illinois. It was an introductory political theory course. In addition to EOHA, we read Civilization and Its Discontents, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a few others. EOHA was our "conservative book". It was a fluff course that I took to fill in my social science requirements. But the books we were assigned are all worthwhile and I would lo The Education of Henry Adams is on my list of books to re-read. I first read it as a senior undergrad in the '75-'76 academic year at the University of Illinois. It was an introductory political theory course. In addition to EOHA, we read Civilization and Its Discontents, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a few others. EOHA was our "conservative book". It was a fluff course that I took to fill in my social science requirements. But the books we were assigned are all worthwhile and I would love to read them again. I don't remember much from Henry Adams except the lingering impression that, if his intelligence was not so obvious, he would seem almost a crank. I specifically plan to re-read EOHA because some friends have been busting my chops that I am a liberal. I think that I am an old-fashioned moderate and that they are radicals. Not that any of that matters. But I am re-aquainting myself with some of the old conservative chestnuts to gain a sense of how right (or wrong) that I am about my own political leanings.

  30. 4 out of 5

    J. Dunn

    I'll agree with the ratings of this among the best nonfiction of the 20th century. It is another of my favorite genre, the "books about everything." It covers roughly the period from 1850 to 1905, and hits on almost every major historical and intellectual development of the time, but from a unique personal and anecdotal perspective. Adams was a man of great gifts and cultivation, but with a unique, eccentric, mugwumpishly conservative temperament that makes his collision and confrontation with t I'll agree with the ratings of this among the best nonfiction of the 20th century. It is another of my favorite genre, the "books about everything." It covers roughly the period from 1850 to 1905, and hits on almost every major historical and intellectual development of the time, but from a unique personal and anecdotal perspective. Adams was a man of great gifts and cultivation, but with a unique, eccentric, mugwumpishly conservative temperament that makes his collision and confrontation with the early modernist era he lived through especially instructive and relevant to our own time. The filters of what his worldview did and didn't take for granted reveal fresh insights about our country's rapid and jarring growth from an agrarian experimental republic into a modern industrial superpower.

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