In This Review

Abigail Adams
Abigail Adams
By Woody Holton
Free Press, 2009, 512 pp

Readers who know Abigail Adams only through the biographies of her husband, John Adams, will appreciate this fresh, entertaining, and exhaustive take on the life of one of the most independent and influential American women of her time. Holton's biography is not without faults, however. His overeager attempts to burnish Adams' feminist credentials feel patronizing and forced, especially when he tendentiously dwells on her wish to keep and bequeath property in her own name. Fortunately, such lapses are rare enough that Holton's considerable biographical talents shine through: Adams and members of her circle emerge as rounded characters, and Holton is an admirable guide to their intellectual and political concerns. Even though private lives were less thoroughly documented in the eighteenth century than they are now, he gives his readers an unforgettable portrait of an American original.