Cover: The Letters of Henry Adams, Volume 1-3: 1858–1892 in HARDCOVER

The Letters of Henry Adams, Volume 1-3: 1858–1892

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$335.50 • £268.95 • €302.00

ISBN 9780674526853

Publication Date: 01/01/1982


2016 pages

3 halftones

Belknap Press

The Letters of Henry Adams


Adams was one of the great letter writers of the English language. Proof is now offered in [this] major publishing event.—Otto Friedrich, Time

Henry Adams has become ‘an indispensable figure in American thought’ during the 60 years, 1858–1918, covered by his correspondence. No mind more richly furnished and widely ranging appeared among his American contemporaries. Treasures of The Letters depend on what the reader is seeking. If it is autobiography, there is far more of that here than in The Education of Henry Adams… If it is the period and its drama of events, here was a reporter with a box seat and inside information. If it should be the life of the mind, Adams read everything of consequence and usually knew the authors. His picture of transatlantic society is filled out by foreign correspondence and residence abroad about half the time. Seekers for the exotic will find nothing richer in travel literature than his diary—letters from the long stay in the South Pacific islands. And the universal taste for love letters is served by the long withheld or doctored letters to Elizabeth Cameron, the beautiful young wife of the senator from Pennsylvania.—C. Vann Woodward, The Washington Post

This magnificent edition of letters deserves several reviews—as a monumental scholarly achievement, as an illuminating contribution to American history, as a brilliant example of the art of letter writing, and most of all as an extraordinary personal record of an eminent American, the grandson of one president and great-grandson of another… In all, a colossal achievement.—Edward Condren, The Los Angeles Times Book Review

These brilliant letters [are] an incomparable commentary on politics, literature, science, and the world at large in the last half of the nineteenth century… Henry’s sometimes fiendishly accomplished, subtle, and ironic mind has fascinated readers of The Education of Henry Adams ever since it was posthumously published in 1919… What will always fascinate those with a taste for history is Adams’ personal experience of history and his grasp of events. I know of no other American, except his grandfather, who saw so much of the great world of Europe and America, described everything so closely, and so obsessively called himself a ‘failure.’—Alfred Kazin, The New Republic

To say that one awaits the concluding volumes of these letters with greedy impatience is to understate the case.—John Clive, The American Scholar

The public knew Henry Adams, if it knew him at all, as a historian, and that was only one of the several arts he practiced that he publicly professed. But he was also something of a novelist, a poet, a painter, and an autobiographer. And as [these volumes] amply prove, he was also a master of the vanishing art of letter writing and the arts of friendship that go with it… The letters in themselves—gracefully mixing intimate with public affairs, the profound with the hilarious, filled with humor, pathos, learning, esoterica, gossip, and insider state secrets, and exploding with fury, frustration, and contempt over the stupidities of his times—are an invaluable contribution to American literature and the intellectual history of this period… In short the letters are an indispensable source of information about their author and the large part of his life and work he kept private.—C. Vann Woodward, The Washington Post Book World

Adams’s letters…reveal an elegant style, a supple intelligence, and a remarkable capacity for observation… His accounts of Samoan life (1890–91) are amazingly precise and sensitive evocations of an alien culture. The letters also show Adams’s sustained capacity for loyalty, tenderness, and warmth toward family and friends. His playful letters to children are particularly touching; they express a sensibility that is almost entirely suppressed in his Education.—T. J. Jackson Lears, The Wilson Quarterly

Henry Adams’s mind was one of the most interesting, in its foibles as well as in its power, in American intellectual history; one of the most complex, restless, wide-ranging, and supple. And the letters enable one to follow the development of his mind from phase to phase as, of course, none of his books nor even all his books taken together quite do. Only a reader of the letters will quite realize how great was the variety of ideas to which at one time or another Adams turned his mind, or with what agility and boldness his mind played over most of them. Now it is the shallow careerism of Alexander Hamilton, now the particular place of sex in Japanese life, now the vulgar mercantile quality of the architecture of the Valois and Touraine. He glances at Anglo-Saxon poetry, and his quick, offhand remarks might have come from a literary critic of genius; he animadverts on the evolution of finance capital, and seems to have given most of his life to the problem; he finds himself reflecting on the un-self-consciousness of his father and that whole generation of New Englanders, and suggests in half a dozen sentences a sustained and searching essay in psychological history… His letters of travel owe half their power to his ingrained habit of going beyond the mere surface of things, the mere look of foreignness and picturesqueness, and making the difficult effort of social and psychological understanding. It is what the best travel-writers do, of course, but how many have Henry Adams’s acuteness, his malleability, his freedom from the formulated and the preconceived?—Newton Arvin

Adams is one of the best letter-writers in the language. Whether he is describing the South Seas or the Arctic Circle, a book just read or an idea just conceived, he brings to them all an idiosyncratic and witty alertness that makes one more than ready to forgive his pose of despair.—Marcus Cunliffe

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