Thursday, December 31, 2015

the other adams family

There is a good reason I am not a hobbyist.  I simply do not have enough discipline to even be a parvenu.

Over two years ago, I told you about one of my projects -- to read at least one biography of the 43 men who have occupied the White House (pail by comparison).  I had crossed off 16 names back then.

You would think in the past two years (considering the amount of reading I do), I would have whittled down the list considerably.  If so, you would be wrong.

I have bumped off only two more presidents.  Admittedly, big names.  Wilson and Truman.  But just two.  Rumor has it that the Mafia has a better track record than that.

This is how the list now looks.

My original thought was to read the biographies in chronological order.  And it appears that is how I started.  But appearances are deceiving.

One of my college degrees is in history -- with an emphasis on the Federalist-Republican era of America's founding.  The checks beside Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe represent a stack of biographies -- and an ongoing interest in the period that was sparked by a trip to the East Coast during the summer of my junior year in high school.  I would have read those books without the artifice of a project.

And then I stopped at John Quincy Adams -- just about the same point where school children lose track when trying to recite the list of presidents.  If it had not been for the parcel of human interest stories during the presidency of George W. Bush comparing the legacy of the two Bushes with the tale of the two Adamses, I doubt most people would remember John Quincy.  That is, unless they have seen Amistad.

My problem was finding an authoritative biography on our sixth president.  Most of the better-known presidents have attracted professional biographers with academic credentials.  Not so John Quincy.

I am auditioning the latest attempt -- John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan.  One of the great marketing tools Amazon uses to sell books is to provide free samples of their offerings.  Just like Costco.

Having taken advantage of that option, I am now prepared to buy it for my Kindle.  (Amazon's customer service results in revenue.)  Kaplan is an academic with a rather light writing style and an eclectic set of biographical subjects: Lincoln, Twain, Dickens, Henry James, the irascible Gore Vidal.

But he will provide me with enough information (672 pages) to put a deserved "X" beside the name of John Quincy Adams.

I will then face the task of finding a good biography on America's first professional politician to be elected president -- Martin Van Buren.  Now, there is an interesting figure.

In two more years, I may actually have done just that.  Finished off only John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren.  But I am slowly edging toward the 50% mark.

Just in time to add another president to the list.

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