First Family by Joseph J. Ellis
Abigail and John Adams

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Synopsis

The Pulitzer Prize–winning, best-selling author of Founding Brothers and His Excellency brings America’s preeminent first couple to life in a moving and illuminating narrative that sweeps through the American Revolution and the republic’s tenuous early years.
John and Abigail Adams left an indelible and remarkably preserved portrait of their lives together in their personal correspondence: both Adamses were prolific letter writers (although John conceded that Abigail was clearly the more gifted of the two), and over the years they exchanged more than twelve hundred letters. Joseph J. Ellis distills this unprecedented and unsurpassed record to give us an account both intimate and panoramic; part biography, part political history, and part love story.

Ellis describes the first meeting between the two as inauspicious—John was twenty-four, Abigail just fifteen, and each was entirely unimpressed with the other. But they soon began a passionate correspondence that resulted in their marriage five years later.

Over the next decades, the couple were separated nearly as much as they were together. John’s political career took him first to Philadelphia, where he became the boldest advocate for the measures that would lead to the Declaration of Independence. Yet in order to attend the Second Continental Congress, he left his wife and children in the middle of the war zone that had by then engulfed Massachusetts. Later he was sent to Paris, where he served as a minister to the court of France alongside Benjamin Franklin. These years apart stressed the Adamses’ union almost beyond what it could bear: Abigail grew lonely, while the Adams children suffered from their father’s absence.

John was elected the nation’s first vice president, but by the time of his reelection, Abigail’s health prevented her from joining him in Philadelphia, the interim capital. She no doubt had further reservations about moving to the swamp on the Potomac when John became president, although this time he persuaded her. President Adams inherited a weak and bitterly divided country from George Washington. The political situation was perilous at best, and he needed his closest advisor by his side: “I can do nothing,” John told Abigail after his election, “without you.”

In Ellis’s rich and striking new history, John and Abigail’s relationship unfolds in the context of America’s birth as a nation.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Joseph J. Ellis

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Joseph J. Ellis won the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers. His portrait of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx, won the National Book Award. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and their youngest son.
 
Published October 26, 2010 by Vintage. 322 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, War. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Despite this, writes Ellis, “Abigail and John remained resolute, infinitely resilient, the invulnerable center that would always hold.” The author’s beautiful writing draws the reader wholly into this relationship, bringing new perspective to the historical importance of this enduring love story.

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The New York Times

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Ellis writes in his new book that “they were effectively regarded as a political team” — or as one television dramatization of their lives more crudely put it, “America’s first power couple.” There have been numerous collections of John and Abigail’s wonderfully candid and witty letters,...

Dec 20 2010 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

The New York Times

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Joseph J. Ellis explores the exceptional partnership of John and Abigail Adams.

Nov 05 2010 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

Book Reporter

John had been keeping a journal since his teens, and both had a flair for writing, allowing them to chronicle not only their obvious devotion to each other over the years, but also the remarkable activities of the times in which John, as Vice-President, President and father of a President, was so...

Jan 22 2011 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

Los Angeles Times

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Ellis notes in his engaging "First Family: Abigail & John Adams," "because the relationship between Abigail and John was so seamless, any biographer of one almost automatically ends up writing about both."

Oct 31 2010 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

Dallas News

By PHILIP SEIB / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News Philip Seib is a professor and director of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California.

Dec 05 2010 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Since 1840, when Charles Francis Adams first published his grandmother's letters, the story of John and Abigail Adams has often been told.

Nov 10 2010 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

Historical Novel Society

The husband-and-wife team from Braintree, Massachusetts, also provide 21st century readers with the chance to examine their 1,200 letters dealing with a range of subjects as mundane as New England weather to the fascinating people and politics of a turbulent era.

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Chicago Tribune

Ellis informs readers that Abigail and John Adams, no less, perhaps, than any of us, endured their share of sexual frustration.

Nov 03 2010 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

https://bookpage.com

This was not the case, however, with the passage of the four pieces of legislation that are known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, which John signed and later acknowledged were a permanent stain on his term of office—the most prominent example of when Abigail’s judgment failed (but for which John ...

Nov 02 2016 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

The New Republic

Describing the famous Adams-Jefferson retirement correspondence has been a favorite Ellis project, and in his new book it affords him still another opportunity for some fun, not least by demonstrating that Jefferson finally had to concede that his sunny views of French intentions toward the Unite...

Nov 15 2010 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

Bookmarks Magazine

The political situation was perilous at best, and he needed his closest advisor by his side: “I can do nothing,” John told Abigail after his election, “without you.”

In Ellis’s rich and striking new history, John and Abigail’s relationship unfolds in the context of America’s birth as a nat...

Oct 25 2010 | Read Full Review of First Family: Abigail and Joh...

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