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The Education of Henry Adams [Paperback]

By Henry Adams (Author)
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Item description for The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams...

Outline ReviewMany great artists have had at least intermittent doubts about their own abilities. But The Education of Henry Adams is surely one of the few masterpieces to issue directly from a raging inferiority complex. The author, to be sure, had bigger shoes to fill than most of us. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather were U.S. presidents. His father, a relative underachiever, scraped by as a member of Congress and ambassador to the Court of St. James. But young Henry, born in Boston in 1838, was destined for a walk-on role in his nation's history--and seemed alarmingly aware of the fact from the time he was an adolescent.

It gets worse. For the author could neither match his exalted ancestors nor dismiss them as dusty relics--he was an Adams, after all, formed from the same 18th-century clay. "The atmosphere of education in which he lived was colonial," we are told,

revolutionary, almost Cromwellian, as though he were steeped, from his greatest grandmother's birth, in the odor of political crime. Resistance to something was the law of New England nature; the boy looked out on the world with the instinct of resistance; for numberless generations his predecessors had viewed the world chiefly as a thing to be reformed, filled with evil forces to be abolished, and they saw no reason to suppose that they had wholly succeeded in the abolition; the duty was unchanged.
Here, as always, Adams tells his story in a third-person voice that can seem almost extraplanetary in its detachment. Yet there's also an undercurrent of melancholy and amusement--and wonder at the specific details of what was already a lost world.

Continuing his uphill conquest of the learning curve, Adams attended Harvard, which didn't do much for him. ("The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught.") Then, after a beer-and-sausage-scented spell as a graduate student in Berlin, he followed his father to Washington, D.C., in 1860. There he might have remained--bogged down in "the same rude colony ... camped in the same forest, with the same unfinished Greek temples for workrooms, and sloughs for roads"--had not the Civil War sent Adams pre et fils to London. Henry sat on the sidelines throughout the conflict, serving as his father's private secretary and anxiously negotiating the minefields of English society. He then returned home and commenced a long career as a journalist, historian, novelist, and peripheral participant in the political process--a kind of mouthpiece for what remained of the New England conscience.

He was not, by any measure but his own, a failure. And the proof of the pudding is The Education of Henry Adams itself, which remains among the oddest and most enlightening books in American literature. It contains thousands of memorable one-liners about politics, morality, culture, and transatlantic relations: "The American mind exasperated the European as a buzz-saw might exasperate a pine forest." There are astonishing glimpses of the high and mighty: "He saw a long, awkward figure; a plain, ploughed face; a mind, absent in part, and in part evidently worried by white kid gloves; features that expressed neither self-satisfaction nor any other familiar Americanism..." (That would be Abraham Lincoln; the "melancholy function" his Inaugural Ball.) But most of all, Adams's book is a brilliant account of how his own sensibility came to be. A literary landmark from the moment it first appeared, the Autobiography confers upon its author precisely that prize he felt had always eluded him: success. --James Marcus

Product Description
This classic autobiography includes accounts of Adams's residence in England and of his "diplomatic education" in the circle of Palmerston, Russell and Gladstone.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   212
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.8" Width: 6.9" Height: 1.1"
Weight:   0.85 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 18, 2007
ISBN  9568530347  
ISBN13  9789568530341  

Availability  0 units.

More About Henry Adams

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Born in 1838 into one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Boston, a family which had produced two American presidents, Henry Adams had the opportunity to pursue a wide-ranging variety of intellectual interests during the course of his life. Functioning both in the world of practical men and afffairs (as a journalist and an assistant to his father, who was an American diplomat in Washinton and London), and in the world of ideas (as a prolific writer, the editor of the prestigious North American Review, and a professor of medieval, european, and American history at Harvard), Adams was one of the few men of his era who attempted to understand art, thought, culture, and history as one complex force field of interacting energies. His two masterworks in this dazzling effort are Mont Saint Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams, published one after the other in 1904 and 1907. Taken together they may be read as Adams' spiritual autobiography--two monumental volumes in which he attempts to bring together into a vast synthesis all of his knowledge of politics, economics, psychology, science, philosophy, art, and literature in order to attempt to understand the individual's place in history and society. They constitute one of the greatest historical and philosophical meditations on the human condition in all of literature.
Raymond Carney is well known for his writing on the relationships between American art, thought, and culture. He has been a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, served as an artistic consultant to the Whitney Museum of American Art, and written extensively on American and British poetry, ficiton, drama, dance, painting, and film. His two most recent books are American Dreaming (University of California Press) and Figures of Desire (Cambridge University Press). He teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Henry Adams was born in 1949.

Henry Adams has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Penguin Classics

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Product Categories

1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > United States > General
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > United States
4Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
5Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States
6Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Education > General
7Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Education
8Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Education > General
9Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Education

Reviews - What do customers think about The Education of Henry Adams?

Poor printing job  Jun 27, 2008
I bought this version and started reading it, but ended up buying another version. This version is poorly printed - the pages are overlarge for a paperback, and the margins at the spine are too narrow. Because of the width of the page it wasn't possible to read one line without moving my head, and since the book didn't lie flat I would have to peer into the spine area to get the last word on any line on the left hand page. Pick another version that's easier to read.
The Education of Henry Adams  May 30, 2008
The main problem I had with this book was the format. The 7-1/2X9-15/16" and the very narrow margins made reading difficult for me. I had to bend the binding back to read the end of a the very long line of text on the left page and the beginning of a line of text on the right. I also often had to use my finger to return the to the correct start of the next lenghty line. The truly made reading less enjoyable than it should have been. I suspect I would rate it higher in a more standard format book.
This will be one of my book club's readings this academic year and I can review it after the meeting within 12 months. I suspect many of us in the club will give it higher than 3 stars - which as I have indicated is marred by the difficulty in the physical (visual) reading.


Is the emperor wearing any clothes?  Feb 1, 2008
It took me a few months to grind my way through this, and I must conclude that unless you are a serious student of history--a professor or grad student, or highly-motivated undergrad--you are not going to get much out of this book.

I've got undergraduate and masters degrees (in computer science), am fairly widely read, and have a pretty good knowledge of history. Nevertheless, I usually could not figure out what Adams was getting at in his overly poetic abstractions. As other reviewers have pointed out, Adams can never simply describe concretely what he sees, but instead has to formulate some sort of generalization, as when the "dynamo"--a machine he sees at a World's Fair--becomes a symbol for the sweeping forces of mechanization and industrialization. That sounds insightful, but did he really need an entire chapter to describe how it upheaved his soul?

Adams wrote this book for his close circle of friends, not the general public. This manifests when he casually tosses around the names of obscure people without explaining who they are, as if we are just supposed to know. I often kept Wikipedia open as I read.

Unless you are already an expert on 19th-century U.S. history, be prepared for a hard slog and, I regret to predict, a lack of fulfillment.
A complex first-person history of America as it became a super power  Jan 9, 2008
"The Education of Henry Adams" is a difficult book to review. But be forewarned: "The Education" will not appeal to many readers. It is hardly a book you'd bring to the beach or try to read for leisure. I first came across the book in a foreign policy seminar I took in college. While my professor took great pains to tell us how important "The Education" was -- it was named by Modern Library as the greatest non-fiction book written in the 20th Century -- the book was just boring to a 19-year, and almost certainly beyond my limited means and interest. Recently inspired by a blog series on the New York Times web site about "The Education", I decided to dust off my old copy, hoping that a few years wiser, I would be able to get through the whole thing, and even more importantly, have a better appreciation for Adams' book. After finally finishing it -- including the many detailed footnotes in the Samuel' edition -- I can safely say that while several parts of the book were very interesting, I would not recommend "The Education" to everyone.

"The Education of Henry Adams" is for all intents and purposes, a very unusual autobiography of Adams -- though I am sure Adams would disagree with that label -- told in the third person, chronicling the interesting life of a man born into an extraordinary family history, who led a fascinating life, but who never quite fit into the changing America as the 20th Century began to dawn. Henry Adams was a historian and one-time professor of history at Harvard. Born in 1838, Adams was the great-grandson of John Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams, and the son of Charles Francis Adams, the esteemed Minster to England during the Civil War. The book is written in such a manner that each chapter covers a year or series of years in Adams' life, beginning in 1838 and ending in 1905 (though Adams himself died in 1918, he ended the book in 1905; further, the book does not cover the 20-year period of his marriage to Marion "Clover" Hooper, who tragically killed herself in 1885 following a long depression).

Part of what makes "The Education" so compelling -- at least to me, is that the book serves as an eyewitness account of some of the most important events and periods of American history between 1840 and 1900. Adams offers very insightful and sharp observations of many of the great events of his time; though, it is important to note that Adams was in Britain for the entire Civil War, serving as a private secretary to his father, so Adams does not offer great analysis of what was going on in America during the Civil War. Perhaps not coincidentally, some of the most boring chapters in "The Education" are those covering the years 1860 to 1870.

More than anything else, however, "The Education" is a story of a man who felt out of place in the fast-changing America of the late-19th and early 20th Century. From Adams' perspective, the book is a tale of his pursuit of an "education" in life that would help him adapt to, understand, and live in the new America. Throughout the book, Adams laments his abject failure in accomplishing this objective, and generally considered himself a failure unable to live in the United States as it entered onto the world stage as a super power. Reading the book, it was very interesting to me how Adams conceived himself as a man of the 18th Century, and I think his inability to live up to the political successes of his ancestors -- who could?! -- was hugely depressing to him as he went through life.

"The Education" has several chapters on numerous recurring themes which Adams well examines and often lampoons, such as American politics and the U.S. Senate (his chapters on the pitiful Grant Administration and the state of U.S. politics are extremely funny and pretty much on-the-mark, even 130 years later), the conduct of diplomacy (given Adams' family history and his own interests, he had a tremendous background in diplomatic issues, and was best friends with Secretary of State John Hay), and the rise of technology and its affect on the United States (his chapters on the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the 1900 Paris Exposition are two of the best chapters in the book). Regarding the latter area, Adams was both intrigued by and terrified of emerging technologies like the faster locomotives, cars, and other devices, which he called the "dynamo". In several passages, he predicted that while new technologies would advance civilization and America's standing, they would also reap devastating results for the world. Given the birth of the Atomic Age and what has happened since, one could argue that Adams was incredibly prescient.

Despite the book's many pluses, it is not without its considerable flaws. Perhaps I am just not educated enough myself, but the book is extremely hard to read today. First written by Adams around 1903, "The Education" does not all translate well to 2008, and I had to read many of the passages and pages multiple times to understand what Adams was trying to say. Further, while Adams' wit and self-deprecating humor are amusing at first, it becomes very grating as Adams seems to refer to himself as a failure on every single page. Finally, there are certain periods of Adams' life -- particularly his lack of service during the Civil War and his marriage (which he does not mention once in the book) -- which he disappointingly did not discuss much at all.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, "The Education" is not a book for everyone. It takes a good deal of time to fully read and digest, and its themes are fairly nuanced and not always terribly exciting. That being said, if you're a student of history and interested in learning about American development between 1840 and 1900 from one of the 19th Century's great historians (Adams wrote a nine-volume history of the U.S. during the Jefferson and Madison Administrations, which, to this day are considered the gold standard in early American history books), you should consider checking the book out. If you do want to read "The Education", I strongly recommend that you purchase Ernest Samuel's edition. Samuels wrote a three-volume biography of Adams, and knew more about Henry Adams than anybody else. Samuels also included a wealth of detailed footnotes throughout the pages; while many people like to avoid footnotes, they are quite valuable with a book like this where Adams is constantly referencing old German words and 15th Century French figures as if his readers were all supposed to know them! So, the Samuels edition (the one with the green cover and published by Riverside Editions) is the edition you want.

I liked "The Education" and I would like very much to read his forgotten histories of the Jefferson and Madison years, but I have to admit that I don't know if I could ever make it through them considering Adams' writing style!

Three stars.
Interesting Read  Apr 30, 2006
This book wasn't the greatest book I've ever read, but I had huge expectations for it because the only reason I read it was because the "Modern Library" list ranked it #1, but I still thought the book was very good. I wasn't familiar with Henry Adams and didn't know why I should care what he did during his life, but the further I got into the book the more interesting it became. I've been traveling through Europe for a year and thought that Adams and I shared similar opinions about traveling and other things about Europe, so that was interesting due to the large time gap. But I enjoyed the story because I thought it was an interesting depiction of America, Europe and how one has difficulty understanding the world and the challenges one experiences during life. A book worth reading.

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