Thursday, March 27, 2008

John Adams

Finally finished the book. What I ended up feeling, besides a certain affection for Adams himself, was what I often feel when I read history these days: how small our world has become, and how small the people in it have become as well. We were born to a father of Freedom, a mother of Commerce, and now we are a nation that is about ... what? Rush Limbaugh shouting nonsensical anger about whether to build a fence to keep workers out; when, not if, we should invade which defenceless country, and how best to prepare for it; and all this while our self-proclaimed most freedom loving "pundits" preach a doctrine of fear and quake in their think tanks over the menace presented by countries that can't even build their own cars or rifles. The "MSM" is obsessed with blue dresses and home purchases, cackles, cleavage; and while in Adams' day everyone knew and understood the biases of their media, our modern media pretend to be entirely unbiased when in reality their affections can be bought and their reporting thereby slanted by nothing more than a slab of ribs and a verbal pat on the head from the likes of John McCain.

I ended up really liking the book, and in particular liked Abigail Adams, who I thought was more remarkable than anyone else in it, Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton included (this is, by the way, a criticism of McCullough: that simply should not have happened, yet I suspect anyone who reads the book will end up with the same attitude. He really failed to do those three justice, and was particularly savage to Hamilton). But now I'm going to stay away from Revolutionary War history for awhile. I'm pretty certain that the more I read about that era the less I'll like this one, and that's an entirely unhealthy thing.

One other note was how well everyone wrote back then. People today just don't write nearly as well as the people of that era, for whom letter writing was an art. Their ability to turn a phrase or draw a clear and relevant analogy simply amazes me. This happens every time I read letters from that era -- I end up stunned by how clearly they are able to get across meanings, how they are able to bare their intellectual souls, as it were, how important language obviously was to them. I'm pretty certain this isn't a case of selection bias -- where they write better because only the best citizens wrote back then -- because I've read many, many letters from some of the best writers of the modern age, and they just don't compare in thoughtfulness, or in force or richness of expression. I think we today are poisoned by the ease and ubiquity of communication, which makes it cheap to our minds, so we treat it cheaply. The Orwell-E.B. White cult of plain writing also plays a part, I believe, although I'm not one to talk too much about that as I was brought up in that particular faith, and am entirely unable to escape its doctrines even were I to muster up the courage to try.