Books

FIRST FAMILY by Joseph J. Ellis | Review

“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.”

{Goodreads.com} 

When/where did I read this book? I listened to the audio book version of this book while commuting to work an hour each way. Since the audiobook is about eleven hours long, it took me about a week.

Why did I read this book? I’ve always been interested in Abigail Adams, but it can be tricky to find whole books written about women in history like that. When I saw that Ellis–one of my favorite historians–had written a book about the Adams marriage, I knew that I had to read it!

+ Focuses on Abigail. This book almost feels as though it focuses more on Abigail than on John, perhaps because she tended to write longer, more emotional letters whereas his were often just quick notes. Whatever the reason, I really liked the focus on Abigail!

+ Presents a Founding Father as a flawed person. I completely would have guessed that this book was written by a woman if I hadn’t known who the author was ahead before reading. It seems quiet biased against John, pointing out all the ways he prioritized fame, status, and political prestige over his duties as a husband and father. For instance, he went on and on about politics in a series of letters at one point, completely neglecting to ask how Abigail was doing as she gave birth to a dead child while he was away. I love how this book helps deconstruct our vision of the Founding Fathers as these heroic, flawless, moral gods that could do no wrong.

+ Spotlight on a marriage. At its core, this book revolves around the marriage between John and Abigail. Not many books focus on historical marriages, especially in the balanced, nuanced, thoughtful way that Ellis does in First Family. Before reading this book I had no idea that John and Abigail spent so much time apart–it’s remarkable that they were able to hold their marriage together throughout their entire lives.

+ Quotes. I’m a sucker for a good meaningful quote, and this book is brimming with them. In particular, I love Abigail’s words: “When he is wounded, I bleed” and “A woman may forgive the man she loves an indiscretion, but never a neglect.” Nothing better than a good quote!

Questions of subjectivity and credibility. It’s no secret that the reach of historians only extends so far. While dates and names can often be surmised from old belongings, newspapers, and letters, there’s one aspect of the past that historians will never be able to fully uncover: people’s innermost thoughts and emotions. One may point to a diary entry or personal letter written to a loved one as evidence of this inner dialogue, yet even those kinds of documents cannot always be trusted as being completely accurate. Ellis even describes this problem in First Family, pointing out the performance aspect of the letters Abigail and John wrote back and forth to each other while John was overseas on diplomatic duties. Apparently John insisted that Abigail make a copy of all of the letters she sent him in order to keep a record for posterity. John did the same–he was acutely aware that they were part of an important moment in American history that would be looked back on for years to come.

With this in mind, I found it a bit hypocritical that Ellis clearly relied on such subjective, posing documents in order to create such a detailed account of this marriage. I suppose that an aspect of history is making educated guesses, and so long as they are recognized as such up front I’m okay with it. However, at times it was difficult to distinguish hard fact from Ellis’ subjective best guesses. A clearer distinction between the two would have made this an even more powerful, striking read.

Joseph J. Ellis has a way of making frequently idealized historical figures feel so human, and his portrayal of John and Abigail Adams here is no exception. I would highly recommend this book (and the audio book version!) to anyone looking to learn more about Abigail Adams and her marriage with John. Without her, I would argue that John would never have become the successful man he was.

What are your thoughts on First Family? Have any recommendations for other books about Abigail Adams? Let me know in the comments section below!34

Yours,

HOLLY

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Books

THE QUARTET by Joseph J. Ellis | Review

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 is a comprehensive, cohesive, carefully crafted analysis of the transition from distinctly powerful states in America under the Articles of Confederation to a nation of united states under the newly ratified Constitution. By focusing on the brilliant men who made this shift possible– George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison— Ellis emphasizes just how influential and integral the Founding Fathers were at creating the nation we still know today.

Joseph J. Ellis is a brilliant historian. I absolutely loved his book Founding Brothers when I read it in high school for my AP United States history class, so I purchased The Quartet as soon as I learned it was being released in 2015. Unfortunately, life got in the way (as it does) and I’ve just gotten around to reading it now. But trust me: it was well worth the wait!

A major strength of The Quartet is the interesting perspective Ellis takes on the events between 1783 and 1789. History textbooks spend pages and pages about the dramatic, exciting battles of the American Revolution, and then BAM! Washington was suddenly and unanimously elected to be the first President of the United States. But what happened in between? Why is this transition from states that wanted nothing to do with each other to a nation striving to be unified rarely discussed? Ellis explains what happened in the interim to create the governing body and form the nation we are still familiar with today. He refers to this as the Second American Revolution, one that may have lacked violence but was brimming with tense, vitriolic ideological debate.

As always, Ellis’ writing is well-organized, clear, fluid, and poignant. Although the book is structured in sections that focus on events chronologically, the overarching text highlights the four men that made it all happen. Of course, they weren’t the only people contributing to the effort, but they pulled all the strings they could to achieve the vision they intended. While the lives of Washington and Hamilton are often taught in great detail, students are much likely to learn about the work of John Jay and James Madison. Most importantly, Ellis adeptly humanizes these iconic and almost legendary figures in American history that we think we know so well (think again!).

These events may have happened centuries ago, but their legacies continue to affect us even now. While reading The Quartet I was suddenly struck by how removed from the initial writing of the Constitution we make ourselves when we discuss it today. The Constitution was intended to be a living document that would change over the course of history as suited the needs of the nation. Although the United States has changed considerably since 1789, there are many aspects of our culture that unfortunately remain the same. Why haven’t we turned to the Constitution to make more positive changes happen? Should we? These are the kinds of questions that make studying history so important, and I appreciate Ellis for continually reminding us of them. 

Overall, Ellis has once again hit the proverbial nail on the head with The Quartet. While Founding Brothers still holds a special place in my bookish heart, this book is a very close second. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether or not you’ve studied history in the past.

What are your thoughts on The Quartet? Do you have a favorite time period in history to read about? Any recommendations for great history books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant to Read in 2017 (But Didn’t)

Happy Tuesday!! As you have probably noticed by now, I’m pretty awful at sticking to TBR lists. Whenever I make one for a specific month, season, or read-a-thon I inevitably end up scrapping the entire thing and just reading whatever seems appealing in that moment. As a result, there are SO MANY books that I mean to read in 2017 but didn’t find the time to do so. Fortunately, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic focuses on just that! Here are just a few of the books I meant to read in 2017 but didn’t:

 

 

What books were you hoping to read in 2017? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Bookish, Haul

An Accidental Book Haul

You know when you drive by a used bookstore and say to yourself: “Well, maybe I’ll just pop in for a few minutes…” That happened to me recently, though a few minutes quickly turned into a few books making their way to the check-out counter with me. Sometimes you just can’t help it…

These are the secondhand books I ended up purchasing:

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros

I read a few of the stories in this collection for my Modern Latin American class this past semester and really enjoyed them, so I was thrilled when I saw this book on the shelf. Cisneros writes stories about life and culture on the border between Mexico and the United States, which is an incredibly fascinating and important focus. Though this collection is in English, there are plenty of Spanish words and phrases incorporated in her beautiful writing. From what I’ve read of this collection in the past, I know that her writing really makes you think about how we define culture, identity, and borders.

¡Yo! by Julia Alvarez

I’ve always wanted to read something by the prolific writer Julia Alvarez, but I never knew where to start with her novels. When I saw this sitting on the shelf I just decided to go for it and make this my starting point with her work. I was mostly intrigued by the fact that Yo is the name of the protagonist of the novel, yet it also refers to the pronoun “I” in Spanish… I love double meanings like this! I’m really looking forward to finally reading some of Alvarez’s writing.

Solibo Magnificent by Patrick Chamoiseau

I’ve never heard of this book or author before, but after reading the blurb on the back cover I couldn’t put Solibo Magnificent back on the shelf. It sounds like a strangely charming yet morbid story, one unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I’m really interested in learning about oral tradition in general, so I feel like this will be a really interesting book to read from that perspective as well. Fingers crossed this turns out to be a great impulse buy!

J.B.: A Play in Verse by Archibald MacLeish

Okay, I’m going to be completely honest here: I basically bought this book solely because of the gorgeous cover design. (I know, I’m the worst. But just look at that cover! How can you blame me??) After researching it a bit, I learned that it actually won both a Pulitzer Prize AND a Tony Award!!! Needless to say, I’m very excited and intrigued to read this play. I can’t believe I never heard about it until recently!

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

Joseph J. Ellis is one of my favorite historians. I love his book Founding Brothers, so when I saw this in the used bookstore I knew I had to grab it. I haven’t read many biographies, but this one on George Washington promises to be meticulously researched, brilliantly written, and incredibly interesting. I haven’t read much non-fiction lately, so this will be a great change of pace whenever I actually get around to reading it.

Hopefully I’ll find time to read at least a few of these books before I leave for England! What are your thoughts on these books? What books have you purchased or received recently? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant to Read in 2016 But Didn’t Get To

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Happy Tuesday! I hope you’re all doing well after the holiday season. I know that I always feel a bit blue, but Top Ten Tuesday never fails to cheer me up. This week I’ll be sharing the Top Ten Books I Meant to Read in 2016 But Didn’t Get To. My list of books was so long that it was actually kind of difficult to narrow it down… but I managed!

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What are some books that you meant to read in 2016 but never got around to? What do you think of the books I mentioned? Which one of these should I put at the top of my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Haul, more books

More Books: Christmas Edition!

MORE BOOKS

Happy Holidays, everyone! Now that Christmas is officially over, it’s time for me to turn off the festive tunes and put away my Santa hat– but not before one last Christmas-themed post! I haven’t posted a book haul in a while, so I thought it would be a fun way to talk about some awesome recent additions to my bookshelves.

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Color Me Swoon by Mel Elliot

My amazing friend got me this for Christmas, and it’s honestly the best thing ever. It’s an adult coloring book solely about male celebrities! This article about it in USA Today will give you a better picture (no pun intended) of what it looks like inside. THANKS HANNAH!

IMG_2612The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

To my surprise and delight, one of my neighbors in my dorm gave this to me for Christmas. It seems like an interesting story that takes place at a boarding school– and you all know how much I love a good boarding school story!!

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About Grace by Anthony Doerr

One of my favorite novels of all time is Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, so you can imagine my delight when I was in Barnes & Noble one day and discovered that he had published another book in 2004. I’ve actually already finished reading this one since I about it a little over a week ago, and although it didn’t come close to matching All the Light We Cannot See I still really enjoyed it. Full review to come!IMG_2610

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This is another book that I bought for myself when I visited my local independent bookstore (I know, I know, I have a book buying problem). It’s written in the form of letters (that you mail) about letters (of the alphabet), which doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever read before. This should be interesting!

IMG_2615Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I love United States history. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you probably know that the enthusiasm for APUSH that I had in high school has never really left me. When I learned that this 800-page long biography of Alexander Hamilton existed, I had to ask for it for Christmas ASAP. Thanks, Santa!

IMG_2617The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis

This was another Christmas gift that I couldn’t help but ask for. I love Joseph J. Ellis’ book Founding Brothersso I have high expectations for this one!

I can’t wait to read all of these exciting books! I still have a few weeks left of winter break before my next semester of college starts, so hopefully I can squeeze in a few more books.

What books have you gotten recently? What do you think of the books in this haul? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

Book Review: FOUNDING BROTHERS

founding brothersAuthor: Joseph J. Ellis

Number of Pages: 290

Publisher: Vintage

Release Date: January 28, 2000

“In this landmark work of history, the National Book Award—winning author of American Sphinx explores how a group of greatly gifted but deeply flawed individuals–Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Madison–confronted the overwhelming challenges before them to set the course for our nation.
The United States was more a fragile hope than a reality in 1790. During the decade that followed, the Founding Fathers–re-examined here as Founding Brothers–combined the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the content of the Constitution to create the practical workings of our government. Through an analysis of six fascinating episodes–Hamilton and Burr’s deadly duel, Washington’s precedent-setting Farewell Address, Adams’ administration and political partnership with his wife, the debate about where to place the capital, Franklin’s attempt to force Congress to confront the issue of slavery and Madison’s attempts to block him, and Jefferson and Adams’ famous correspondence–Founding Brothers brings to life the vital issues and personalities from the most important decade in our nation’s history.”
– Goodreads.com

I read this book over the summer mainly because it was on the list of suggested books to read in preparation for my AP US History class. In elementary school I fell in love with this time period- the late eighteenth century- because it was such an exciting time. it was the aftermath of the Declaration of Independence and the center of the ratification of the Constitution, and so many things were changing all at once! People were high on the victorious Revolution, but there was still tension between the states. Needless to say, I was looking forward to reading this book.

However, I was also sort of apprehensive. Nonfiction books can be pretty dry sometimes, and who wants to be stuck reading a boring book? (No one!) But I am so happy to say that this book was, to quote the Ninth Doctor, FANTASTIC. I’m actually going to go as far as to say that this is definitely one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read!

Joseph J. Ellis is both an amazing writer and an extremely talented historian. He used a lot of big words that I had to look up, but it didn’t take away from the reading or the flow of it. I could easily understand most of it, which is saying something for a girl who doesn’t know all that much about the politics during this time period. The writing itself was witty and actually had me laughing at some points- strange, I know. I can’t believe what an amazing historian he is. By the end of this book all of my thoughts on the Founding Fathers had been scrambled and tangled, and it took me a while afterwards to properly sort them out. Ellis showed sides of these famous men that I had never knew existed. I came to question Jefferson’s morals, adore John and Abigail Adams (I totally ship them! :)), see Washington as a kind of king, and so on. I read about both the good and the bad, the pleasant and the unpleasant.

Overall, Founding Brothers proved to be an eye-opening, thought-provoking, and fascinating book. If you are interested at all in United States history then I highly recommend this one!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!

Yours,

HOLLY