Friday, April 16, 2010

Abigail Adams by Woody Holton

Oh, I do love a good biography. And this is a good biography. I knew absolutely nothing about America's second First Lady, and only slightly more than absolutely nothing about the War of Independence (or Revolutionary War, depending on which side of the pond you're looking from).

Woody Holton has, I think, done a good job with both subjects in Abigail Adams. This is a very readable and well-paced biography, avoiding over-simplification and over-analysis alike. The angle (there always has to be an angle, straight biography being out of fashion) is how Abigail could be a successful businesswoman and stock market trader in a time when married women were not legally allowed to own any money at all. Holton shows how, during the long stretches when Abigail was separated from husband John Adams due to the latter's political postings, she built up a private fund of wealth that probably made John Adams' political career possible. Ever the proto-feminist, she left her fortune to her female relatives and ignored the men, because they were favored by the legal system anyway. Two thumbs up, Nabby!

I loved the extensive quoting from Abigail's letters, 18th-century spellings and all. Holton handled them so well that they never became cumbersome or halted the flow of the text, and that's quite an achievement. He's also very adept at keeping the reader oriented as to where he or she is, sprinkling the text with unobtrusive reminders as to which Adams is which.

I learned a lot from this book, and will seek out more of Holton's work in the future. Gets the "excellent" rating.

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