Henry Adams sought, late in life, to thwart prospective biographers by writing his own biography. Published soon after his death in 1918, The Education of Henry Adams was rightly greeted as a masterpiece. Not until thirty years later, with the appearance of the first volume of Ernest Samuels’s biography, did it become apparent how much the story had been colored by Adams’s singular philosophy of history and how great was the disparity between the protagonist of the Education and Adams as he actually was. Upon its completion in 1964, Samuels’s life of Henry Adams was hailed as “one of the great biographical achievements of our time”; its laurels included a Pulitzer Prize.
Ernest Samuels has now distilled his ample narrative into a single absorbing volume. We see Adams as a lively undergraduate, in contrast to the jaded young man of the Education; as budding writer, newspaper correspondent, eager participant in political maneuverings in Washington and at the American embassy in London; as teacher at Harvard and editor of the North American Review; settled in Washington, as scholar, biographer, historian, novelist; as insatiable traveler; as friend and adviser to statesmen; as elderly cosmopolite spending half of each year abroad; and always as witty chronicler of the social scene and trenchant commentator on the events of his time. We are drawn into the personal drama of Adams’s middle years: his married life with Clover; the halcyon period in Washington in the early 1880s, catastrophically terminated by Clover’s depression and suicide; his growing passion for Elizabeth Cameron; and his flight to the South Seas. Throughout the book we follow the genesis and progress of his writings, from his muck-raking journalism in President Grant’s Washington, through the social and political criticism of his novels, his biographies, and his great History, to the classic Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, the daring theories of the Education, and his last essays.
Few biographies have so broad a canvas—sixty years of American political, social, and intellectual life, from the pre–Civil War years to the First World War. And few offer so revealing a portrait of a complex human being and an extraordinary career.
This book…is a complete success. Nowhere does it seem compressed or unintelligible…or skimpy. Rather it seems both economical—not a word wasted—and ample—all relevant topics are thoroughly explored… In all, Henry Adams is a remarkable feat of the biographer’s art… I am glad that this brilliant, crotchety man has got a biography, and gladder still that it was written by Ernest Samuels.
This welcome distillation reaffirms the enduring reputation of the original work and should earn for Samuels a new generation of admirers… And the book is a pleasure to read. ‘Take your own life,’ Adams once advised, ‘in order to prevent biographers from taking it in theirs.’ But even at his most crotchety…Henry Adams himself might not have been able to resist this enthralling book.
Written with suavity and utter assurance.
[This] is a very readable history of the intellectual development and influence of America’s most creative—and, in later years, morosely crotchety—minds… Samuels’ contribution to our understanding of Henry Adams…is distinctive and profound.
The revision and abridgment of the three volumes have been performed with uncanny skill. What results is one of the most powerful literary–intellectual biographies ever done of an American.
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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