Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Genius of John Adams (and David McCullough)

Everyday for the past six months, I've stepped on the treadmill, turned on my iPod, and hammered out several miles while listening to John Adams.

In my past life, I taught history.  I loved parts of it...other parts I endured.  Sorry to those that love Chinese history, but it was incredibly difficult to get tenth graders and myself to distinguish between the Ming, Qin, and Xin dynasties.  On the other hand, I love American History, specifically the era of the Revolutionary War.

It was quite a shock to realize how little I knew about John Adams.  What wasn't a shock was to read an amazing book by David McCullough.  His ability to weave history into something real, present, and captivating is a gift.  One of my favorite talks by McCullough, The Glorious Cause of America, focuses in on 1776.  I listened to it several times, then finally jumped into John Adams, anxious for more.

I learned so much from the example of John Adams, realizing how ignorant I have been of his life. My favorite lesson came early in the book:  both John and Abigail would repeatedly quote, "Be Good and Do Good".  Living this motto, they repeatedly sacrificed their own desires and wishes to serve America.  I think of myself as patriotic, but I realize that I have much to BE and to DO if I am to live up to the patriotic standard that John Adams and others like him set.

One depressing part about reading the book came on the last page.  I felt like I was losing a tutor and inspiring friend.  I want to read it again-now-and learn everything I missed on the first reading.  I heard it said once that a book that didn't require a second reading probably wasn't worth reading at all.  I agree with that:  if I can learn everything in a first reading, it probably isn't that great of a book.  On the other hand, a book like John Adams can't possibly be understood in one reading, and therefore has much to offer.  So, when I read it again, I'll be on the watch for all the stories and strength of example I missed on the first reading.  One thing will be the same:  David McCullough will draw me into another time and place, helping me live in my time and place as a better and stronger person.  

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