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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Audiobook Review: First Family by Joseph J. Ellis

First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph J. Ellis
Unabridged, 11 hr. 31 min.
Random House Audio
Kimberly Farr (Narrator)
October 26, 2010
goodreads button

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Source: Downloaded audio from my local library
“The Pulitzer Prize–winning, best-selling author of Founding Brothersand 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.”
If you are interested in the relationship between John and Abigail Adams this would be a great place to start. While the book does focus on the political atmosphere surrounding the Adams’ it always comes back to the family. Ellis uses many, many excerpts from John and Abigail’s letters to illustrate for us in vivid details their undying devotion to their family and to each other. We get to see how politically savvy Abigail was and how much of an advisor she was for John through her own words. These letters provided great insight into their lives from their own mouths without the need for interpretation.

This book definitely has a pro-Adams slant when it comes to looking at his presidency. Now he is often looked at as a somewhat ineffective president even though he had played a large role in the forming of the fledgling country. In his book, Ellis chooses to look at the Adams presidency from the perspective of the time in which he was living rather than from the present. This leaves the reader with a more positive viewpoint.

A great amount of time was spent on the intricacies of the Adams/Jefferson relationship. The author seems to portray Jefferson in more of a negative light than Adams. He even goes as far as discussing how Jefferson may have committed treasonous acts while Vice President. As I haven’t yet read his book on Jefferson I don’t know if this is a constant bias of if just in the situation of comparing the two men.

The one negative for me while reading this book was that the author seemed to beat the proverbial dead horse on the point of John and Abigail knowing that their letters and writings would be read by posterity and that they were posturing for history in their letters. This concept came up innumerable times – after the first two times I got it.

As I said before, this would be a great book for those who are looking for more on the relationship of the Adams family and to a lesser extent the politics. I plan on reading another book on John Adams to get more of the political, but I would certainly read more by this author.


I don’t really have a lot to say about the narration here. It was well read but doesn't stand out remarkably in my head even a few days after completing the book. It might be better off to read this one in physical book form.

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book or the below audio sample?

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Joseph J. Ellis:

founding brothers
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

his excellency
His Excellency: George Washington
[My Review]

american sphinx
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

american creation
American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies of the Founding of the Republic

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789

revolutionary summer
Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence

passionate sage
Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams

after the revolution
After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture

Find Joseph J. Ellis: Website | Facebook 

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I heard Joseph Ellis speak about this book in Manchester VT last year and it was such an enlightening talk. He took questions from the audience and I was curious as to the extent of Abigail's role and participation in John's political career and how that was received by the press and public (since I write about so many European queens who were skewered by both in their day for being perceived as having an active role in governing their respective realms). Ellis told me that Abigail was perceived as the steady and sane one, calming down the loose cannon that was her husband and that everyone was very grateful for her active role.

    I've been so busy with my own deadlines that I haven't had the chance to read the letters. It would be neat to hear them voiced, though, in audio format. Thanks for your review!

  2. Leslie - It good to see you again! I think it would be awesome to hear him speak. He has written about several interesting people. I read this book partially because I am working on my Masters research paper on First Ladies and politics prior to the Civil War. Focusing mostly on Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Louisa Catherine Adams, and Sarah Polk. Finding so much interesting info. Hope the writing is going well! Can't wait for the next book!

  3. Sounds like an amazing Masters thesis!! Good luck!


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