About ten years ago, on a whim I happened to pick up David McCullough‘s biography of John Adams. At that time, I remember being mesmerized by the extraordinary depth of McCullough’s work, and very much enthralled by Adams and his incredible wife, Abigail. To be honest, I can’t say for sure whether I ever finished the book – I think I might’ve taken too much time and, having renewed it once, had to return it after two months.
On a whim, again, I decided to borrow it again, and this time to make sure I finished it. But again, although I am not what one would call a slow reader, I’ve already had to renew it once (for an additional 30 days, to give you an idea). Surely, I’ve got a great deal going on with work, family, yard work, etc., but I wouldn’t say I don’t have enough time. In fact, delving into history and the man’s life and times and family has proved to be a pretty awesome respite from the regular heyday of modern life, and I sometimes feel like perhaps I am enjoying it too much, too often. … Nah, that can’t be.
The thing is, almost every single page has some fantastic nugget that sparks in my brain, and I want to grab a notebook and take down the excerpt. Sometimes it’s a quote, something pertinent or relevant that someone wrote or said (between John and Abigail, they offer massive numbers of supremely insightful thoughts and phrases!). But there are also their circumstances, both personally, within their own family, and on a broader spectrum particularly in John’s public life. (Did you know that he is one of THE most important figures in getting the Declaration of Independence off the ground?)
Needless to say, taking down notes at almost every turn of the page does slow down the reading process, but it also intensifies the reading experience tenfold by absorbing the meat of the words and events and people in a way no textbook could ever – EVER – hope to achieve. Perhaps I’ll make it a point to write a summary of sorts and include a few of the quips I find most notable.
In the meantime, if you’ve never been one much for history because textbooks never interested you, I encourage you to pick this book up. McCullough does a phenomenal job of really bringing you INTO the context of the lives of the men and women who lived this history. Not only will you have a new appreciation for a few historical figures and their contributions to the lives we enjoy today, and for how truly precarious our beginnings were, but you’ll look at some of the issues our nation faces today in a different perspective – a more broad and complete one, I’d say.
Have you read a biography lately? Is there a particular biographer you find most pleasurable to read? And most importantly, what have you gleaned from exploring someone else’s life, and perhaps time?