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Education Of Henry Adams, The

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Many 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 père 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

The New York Times Book Review
There are sentences, paragraphs, whole pages that the reviewer is deeply tempted to quote. Suffice it again to recommend the public to read the book as a whole.

Alfred Kazin
"The pleasure of reading The Education is the pleasure of seeing history come alive."

Book Description
The Education is much more a record of Adams's introspection than of his deeds. It is an extended meditation on the social, technological, political, and intellectual changes that occurred over Adams's lifetime. Adams concluded that his traditional education failed to help him come to terms with these rapid changes; hence his need for self-education. The organizing thread of the book is how the "proper" schooling and other aspects of his youth, was time wasted; thus his search for self-education through experiences, friendships, and reading.

Download Description
As a journalist, historian, and novelist born into a distinguished family that included two past presidents of the United States, Henry Adams was inescapably a part of the American experience. The Education of Henry Adams (1918) recounts his own and the country's development from 1838, the year of his birth, to 1905, and became an immediate bestseller, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1919. The Civil War, economic expansion, and the growth of the United States are among its subjects, as well as his own 'dynamic theory of history'.

The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Autobiographical work by Henry Adams that was privately printed in 1906 and published in 1918. Considered to be one of the most distinguished examples of the genre, the Education combines autobiography, bildungsroman, and critical evaluation of an age. Its chapter entitled "The Dynamo and the Virgin" contrasts the Virgin Mary, the unifying force acting on the European Middle Ages, with the dynamo, as representative of the forces of technology and industry acting upon civilization in the early 20th century. Adams marks the destruction of the human values that supported the achievements of his forebears and fears a future age driven by corruption and greed.

Inside Flap Copy

'I cannot remember when I was not fascinated by Henry Adams,' said Gore Vidal. 'He was remarkably prescient about the coming horrors.'

His political ideals shaped by two presidential ancestors?great-grandfather John Adams and grandfather John Quincy Adams?Henry Adams was one of the most powerful and original minds to confront the American scene from the Civil War to the First World War.

Printed privately in 1907 and published to wide acclaim shortly after the author&'s death in 1918, The Education of Henry Adams is a brilliant, idiosyncratic blend of autobiography and history that charts the great transformation in American life during the so-called Gilded Age.

With an introduction by renowned historian Edmund Morris.

About the Author
Edmund Morris is an historian and author of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Sylvia Jukes Morris.



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