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Extended Audio Sample First Family: Abigail and John Adams Audiobook, by Joseph J. Ellis Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (1,315 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Joseph J. Ellis Narrator: Kimberly Farr Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2010 ISBN: 9780739368756
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The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of Founding Brothers and His Excellency brings America’s preeminent first couple to life in a moving and illuminating narrative that sweeps through the American Revolution and the republic’s tenuous early years.

John and Abigail Adams left an indelible and remarkably preserved portrait of their lives together in their personal correspondence: both Adamses were prolific letter writers (although John conceded that Abigail was clearly the more gifted of the two), and over the years they exchanged more than twelve hundred letters. Joseph J. Ellis distills this unprecedented and unsurpassed record to give us an account both intimate and panoramic; part biography, part political history, and part love story.

Ellis describes the first meeting between the two as inauspicious—John was twenty-four, Abigail just fifteen, and each was entirely unimpressed with the other. But they soon began a passionate correspondence that resulted in their marriage five years later.

Over the next decades, the couple was separated nearly as much as they were together. John’s political career took him first to Philadelphia, where he became the boldest advocate for the measures that would lead to the Declaration of Independence. Yet in order to attend the Second Continental Congress, he left his wife and children in the middle of the war zone that by then had engulfed Massachusetts. Later he was sent to Paris, where he served as a minister to the court of France alongside Benjamin Franklin. These years apart stressed the Adamses’ union almost beyond what it could bear: Abigail grew lonely, while the Adams children suffered from their father’s absence.

John was elected the nation’s first vice president, but by the time of his reelection, Abigail’s health prevented her from joining him in Philadelphia, the interim capital. She no doubt had further reservations about moving to the swamp on the Potomac when John became president, although this time he persuaded her. President Adams inherited a weak and bitterly divided country from George Washington. The political situation was perilous at best, and he needed his closest advisor by his side: “I can do nothing,” John told Abigail after his election, “without you.”

In Ellis’s rich and striking new history, John and Abigail’s relationship unfolds in the context of America’s birth as a nation.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Written with the grace and style one expects from the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Founding Brothers . . . John Adams could not have a better biographer. Annette Gordon-Reed, The Los Angeles Times
  • The author’s fluid style penetrates a correspondence studded with classical references, political dish, felicitous turns of phrases and unvarnished pleadings of affection and anxiety. America’s first power couple enjoyed, teased and rescued each other during 54 years of marriage. John E. Lazarus, Newark Star-Ledger
  • Ellis’s strength is his ability to portray historical icons as real human beings, and his talent remains sharp . . . Ellis has made himself into a sort of bard of our early Republic, and [First Family] is a fitting addition to his repertoire. Anne Bartlett, Miami Herald
  • Richly detailed . . . erudite as well as eloquent, First Family proves that bedfellows can make superior politics. Jay Strafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • Ellis is that rare professional historian who can eloquently convey both information and insight with remarkable clarity . . . [he] has once again given us a consistently engaging dual biography and love story as well as an insightful exploration of early American history. Roger Bishop, Bookpage
  • First Family invites you into a sustaining marriage that survives revolution, personal tragedies and the vicious politics of the moment. In this election year, it’s valuable reading. Peter M. Gianotti, Newsday
  • The author’s beautiful writing draws the reader wholly into this relationship, bringing new perspective to the historical importance of this enduring love story. An impeccable account of the politics, civics and devotion behind the Adams marriage. Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • In addition to looking at the strengths of the Adams’ marriage, the book examines the toll taken by their years apart and the misfortunes in the lives of all their children except John Quincy. Ellis has produced a very readable history of the nation’s founding as lived by these two. Mary Ellen Quinn, Booklist
  • Ellis’s supple prose and keen psychological insight give a vivid sense of the human drama behind history’s upheavals. Publishers Weekly

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Christie | 2/20/2014

    " Much better than I expected, given low expectations grounded both in my general dislike of John Adams (stemming from his irredeemable arrogance and my loyalty to Virginia). Less about Adams as a man (although there's plenty of that) and more about the European side of the Revolutionary War (too often ignored), the machinations of government, and the rise of political parties. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Caroline | 2/16/2014

    " 3.5 stars. Good book. Author did a good job of constructing their life with little surviving correspondence. At times, felt like I was reading a text book, yet overall a good read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sarah | 2/15/2014

    " Easy to read historical perspective of an interesting relationship during the formation of our country. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Brian | 2/14/2014

    " Joseph Ellis continues his string of successes with another great book on the American Revolution. This book looks at the relationship between John and Abigail Adams shedding new light on how the preeminent political team and first dynasty in America shared their intimate thoughts with one another. Utilizing letters between the two, (of which we have many due to the volume of time they spent apart) as well as sources from their children, Ellis is able to paint a vibrant picture of life in early America and explore how these patriots contributed towards their cause. From the shrewd political mind of Abigail to the limitless ambitions of John's vanity we see how two people shaped the course of the United States. This book also provides a look at John Quincy Adams as the heir apparent and one who was groomed for greatness. Little has been written in depth on JQA particularly his childhood so this was a very interesting account. Overall another wonderful book and one that sheds new light on how this family operated in American history. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Anne Slattery | 2/12/2014

    " If you like history, this is a good one. Abigail Adams is my hero; strong and smart. Great insight into their marriage,family and the beginnings of our country. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ashley | 1/31/2014

    " I really like Joseph Ellis. His engaging style is both informative and entertaining. I especially liked looking at John and Abigail Adams as individuals through the prism of their marriage and relationship. I would have given this book five stars for the writing and structure, but I feel like a lot of it was stuff I already knew. I'm not sure it adds any new angles or insights into either person. Still, it's well-written and very interesting. Thank you to John and Abigail for leaving behind so many papers and letters! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Eric | 1/9/2014

    " America's first presidential couple to reside in The White House, and our quintessential couple. Best friends and completely in love, they guided each other thru the trials and tribulation of a burgeoning nation, familial success, and irrevocable heartache. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deborah | 1/5/2014

    " There are many biographies of John and Abagail Adams. But this is the first one I am aware of that focuses on their relationship. Ellis gives a new perspective on John's personality and Abagail's insights. A must read for those interested in this famous couple. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Carrie | 12/27/2013

    " I really enjoyed this book because this is the kind of history I love - it brought John & Abigail to life and made them very real. You get a good sense of who they were and the sacrifices they both (and their family) made for the founding of this country. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Emily Ellis | 10/23/2013

    " After the Revolution it's not as exciting. Still worth reading , though. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rob Wagy | 10/15/2013

    " Again this is a great evening read... and it gave just enugh insight about other America "legends" that I would want to read more about other figures in history. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Diane | 7/1/2013

    " The best part of a trip to the bookstore is finding a new Joseph Ellis book. I so enjoyed his book on Adams, making this book a welcome find indeed. I recommend all of his books. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sgilbert | 6/19/2013

    " I learned so much about these two people and how much they influenced our history and who we are as a country today. John Adams was not always correct in his views or his predictions but was amazingly spot on more often than not. Incredible life and man "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jenny | 5/10/2013

    " I knew buying this it would be a hard sale. All I have to say is, "David McCullough". "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Scott | 10/19/2012

    " John and Abigail's letters allow Elllis to show life as it actually was lived among the revolutionary set. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Maria | 10/3/2012

    " I really enjoy this period of American history, and I particularly enjoy the writing of Joseph Ellis. I found the book very engaging and I recommend it to anyone interested in the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Tamara D. | 3/25/2012

    " Interesting and very informative. Tedious at times. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Russamun82 | 8/1/2011

    " A good biography of a very close and influential couple. What a wonderful story of a strong marriage and their sacrifices at the beginning of our nation "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ed | 7/22/2011

    " I really enjoyed the insights this book gave me into them as a couple and on their lives. I've read David McCollough's book and I do not feel one replaces the other. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kara | 6/25/2011

    " Another take on the Adams family- one.with a focus on the domestic side of their lives. Not as good as the mccullough book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ryan | 5/10/2011

    " Abigail seems like my kind of lady. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nicole | 5/5/2011

    " Insightful history of the Revolution and their marriage. Moving at times and yet still very real. Ellis' writing style is engaging without being sensational. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Lauren | 4/4/2011

    " The most personal and emotional account I have read of the Adam's family. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Susan | 3/5/2011

    " Such a wonderful love story - although Ellis can be hyperbolic at times, I enjoyed this audiobook. Never realized Jefferson was such a jerk... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Polly | 3/2/2011

    " An interesting, insightful look at the relationship between John and Abigail, as revealed in their letters. I used to think that Abigail was my role model for enduring long separations; I'm glad this book wasn't around 27 years ago for me to realize how hard it was for her. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jenny | 2/28/2011

    " I knew buying this it would be a hard sale. All I have to say is, "David McCullough". "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Marlene | 2/23/2011

    " This gives a slightly different perspective on John and Abigail Adam's than the David McCullough version. Loved the book. Wish history was taught more this way than a few dry paragraphs in a textbook. I think you will like this book if you enjoy reading about history. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Emily | 2/21/2011

    " After the Revolution it's not as exciting. Still worth reading , though. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bob | 2/4/2011

    " An interesting insight into the personal lives of a couple at the center of the founding of the US. "

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About the Author
Author Joseph J. Ellis

Joseph J. Ellis is the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. Educated at the College of William and Mary and Yale University, he served as a captain in the army and taught at West Point before coming to Mount Holyoke in 1972. He was dean of the faculty there for ten years. Among his previous books is Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams. He lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts, with his wife, Ellen, and three sons.

About the Narrator

Kimberly Farr is an actress and eight-time winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award for narration. She has appeared on Broadway and at the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Roundabout Theatre, Playwright’s Horizons, and the American Place. She created the role of “Eve” in Arthur Miller’s first and only musical, Up from Paradise, which was directed by the author. She appeared with Vanessa Redgrave in the Broadway production of The Lady from the Sea and has acted in regional theaters across the country, including a performance in the original production of The 1940’s Radio Hour at Washington, DC’s Arena Stage.