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Extended Audio Sample First Family: Abigail and John Adams, 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:
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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 by 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 by 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 by 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 by 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. "

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