In This Review

America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918
America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918
By Richard Brookhiser
Free Press, 2002, 244 pp

Brookhiser covers the two Adams presidents, the minister to the United Kingdom, and the great historian. Reminding readers that the phenomenon of political dynasties is an old American tradition, this book points to a gaping hole in contemporary American historiography: the absence of serious studies of leading families (and their fortunes) as a continuing channel of power and influence in American society. Lapidary in his prose and deft in his handling of the two presidents, Brookhiser excels at describing the intricacies of American foreign policy and is at his best in his portrayal of the diplomat Charles Francis Adams. The treatment of Henry Adams is less sympathetic and successful. There is more merit in Adams' histories of the Jefferson and Madison administrations and in The Education of Henry Adams than Brookhiser finds; readers should judge for themselves by consulting the excellent Library of America editions of these memorable works.