Phyllis Levin’s “The remarkable education of John Quincy Adams” is a detailed look at the life and family of our sixth president from his childhood through serving as ambassador to Russia during the War of 1812 and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. John Quincy’s time as Secretary of State, as President and in Congress doing his best to assault the “peculiar institution” of slavery, is still ahead of him. These are the years, according to Levin’s title, when John Quincy receives his “remarkable education.”
During the early decades of the United State’s existence it was very common for people to keep journals, diaries. Thanks to the Adams family observation of this popular pastime and their, and their ancestors, digilant preservation of letters, provided Levin with a wealth of primary documentation to work with. At one point she even mentions what John Quincy had for dinner, as a demonstration of the wealth of resources available, not from any compulsion for completeness. The family journals and letters, along with the standard documents related to his and his father’s government service, provided Levin detailed insight on John Quincy’s public, personal and private lives.
My real interest in John Quincy Adams lies in his work in Congress, after his time in the White House and long after the events of this book. Still, Levin kept me interested. Her writing is excellent, nothing about the book is dry and scholastic except the quality of the research. I think any one interested in the Adams family, the early history of the United States, or of its diplomats will be interested in this book.