Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams

Title:  Louisa:  The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams
Author:  Louisa Thomas
Publication Information:  Penguin Press. 2016. 512 pages.
ISBN:  1594204632 / 978-1594204630

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Louisa Catherine Adams waited at the doors."

Favorite Quote:  "Wherever she lived, she was always pressing her nose against the glass, not quite sure whether she was looking out or looking in."

"She was certain she would not be remembered like her husband, John Quincy, or her father-in-law, John Adams, or her son, Charles Francis Adams, men who considered themselves architects of American history."

"In John Quincy's famously massive diary - some fifteen thousand pages in fifty-one volumes - Louisa appears very little, even when he was pursuing her. Except when she was ill, he rarely recorded anything particular about her - not the way she looked, or the things she said, or the way she made him feel. She was merely marked as present or absent, sick or well. This doesn't mean he didn't think of her - indeed his silence was often telling; it may suggest he thought of her much more than he wanted to admit."

The above three passages occur within the first couple of chapters of this biography of Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams. She titled her own attempts at memoirs with the unassuming titles, Record of a Life, Narrative of a Journey, and the Adventures of a Nobody. Previous biographies written about her have referred to her as the "Other Mrs. Adams."

Admittedly, I knew nothing about Mrs. Adams prior to reading this book. This introduction and these references pose a woman, perhaps shy, perhaps retiring and in the background as her husband finds his way to the Presidency.  The book paints a somewhat different picture of the unusual route Louisa found to the height of American politics and of the critical role Louisa Adams played in her husband attaining the Presidency.

The book is first and foremost Louisa's story. The writing style is part story with almost a diary-like feel with many personal details. I learned that Louisa Adams is the only first lady not born in America. I learned that through she became well known for her dinners and evenings, she preferred a quieter life. I learned that she suffered from many ailments throughout her life. In this way, this detailed history remains very much the story of a life.

At the same time, this book is all history chronicled with quotes, document excerpts, names, and dates. Through Louisa Adams' story, the book presents an image of that time not only in United States history but also the world. Louisa Adams was born in England, grew up in France, met and married John Quincy in England, and traveled through Europe and America. She was daughter-in-law to John Adams, the second United States president. She became the First Lady of the United States. With its focus on Louisa Adams, this book provides a unique perspective on this time in history.

The details of the book capture the history and demonstrate the extent of the research. The meticulous notes and index at the end are great research tools for an academic audience. The details are also where I falter in this book. I find the level of detail a little overwhelming. I find myself researching other sources to learn the history more succinctly and then going back to sections in the book to focus on the personal details. A summarized historical timeline to provide context within the book would help me immensely. I picked up this book as a casual reader with an interest in history. I noted this book was about a time period and a person about whom I know very little - a perfect opportunity to learn more. I enjoyed learning about Louisa Adams, but perhaps, I am not a serious enough reader for this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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