I wanted to apply Christian principles of reading a non-Christian, non-theological book in light of a biblical worldview as it’s been expounded in this series.
I like the direction that the author Joseph Ellis has taken in this book by focusing on John Adams and his relationship with his wife Abigail. Many biographies can easily focus too narrowly on the individual while neglecting the family life or see it as a side-line to the story even though family life might not be (or should not be) as peripheral in that individual’s actual day to day life. As a Christian, I find biographical sketches that discusses an individual’s family life helpful in that it reveal more about a man or woman’s character and who they really were versus their public persona; while this also serves as a helpful tool to “demythologize” our heroes whom our hearts (an idolatrous factory indeed) are prone to make into a idealized figure rather than the historical person with flaws, idiosyncrasies, etc. This makes Ellis’ book all the more interesting since it explore the relationship of John Adams and his wife! The author does this largely by studying John’s and Abigail’s written correspondences over the span of several decades. Those decades cover some of the most important moments during the founding of America by an influential figure involved in charting the new nation’s direction. The author makes it clear that the archive of the Adams’ correspondence is rather unique—in terms of the volume of letters that survived and how much the two wrote to one another compared to their contemporaries. These correspondences were also unique in that Abigail was quite informed and involved in John Adams’ political career than most wives were during the era. She freely shared her opinions about political matters in her discourse. This does not mean that Abigail fit the modern notion of a feminists; Quite the contrary her letters demonstrated that she was incredibly submissive to her husband’s decisions that was difficult for her especially those concerning long separation for the sake of John’s legal and then eventually political career. It gave me a deeper appreciation of the risks and sacrifices that the founding father took in the war of independence. For the sake of personal curiosity, I was keeping my eye out in the book for any information on John and Abigail’s spiritual life and I wished the author could have explored that more.