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The Political Education of Henry Adams

Brooks D. Simpson

Recasts widely held views of one of America's most-cited commentators and of his "autobiography"

In this lively work of revisionism, Brooks D. Simpson offers a new understanding of Henry Adams's political career, looking beyond the oft-quoted Education of Henry Adams to discover the historian, journalist, and political gadfly as he truly was. In doing so, Simpson challenges portrayals presented by Adams's many biographers and reassesses positions of major historians. He demonstrates the unreliability of The Education as a factual account of post-Civil War American politics, cautions those who represent Adams as a typical political reformer, and discuss why Adams's fervent desire to achieve political success ended in abject failure.

Arguing that Adams sought political influence and power, not office, Simpson shows how the young republican sabotaged his career as a political journalist and behind-the-scenes manipulator of reform politics by offending the very people he sought to influence. Simpson contends that even as Adams wrote about his failure in The Education of Henry Adams, he sought to conceal its true causes behind a facade of witty, derisive remarks. In contrast, Simpson places the blame for Adams's failure squarely on Adams himself, concluding that personality rather than politics thwarted his promising career.

In addition to questioning widely held views of a man who remains a favorite among many contemporary intellectuals, Simpson questions Adams's appraisal of such leading figures as Ulysses S. Grant, reflects on the nature of political reform and its advocates, and contributes to our knowledge of political journalism. Simpson's study sheds new and important light on the politics of Reconstruction America as well as on the life of one of its most-cited commentators.

Brooks D. Simpson is associate professor of history and humanities at Arizona State University and former visiting Fulbright Scholar at University of Leiden. His previous books include Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861–1868

"Offer[s] an education tothose who have relied on Adams's own Education of Henry Adams for their sense of the spirit of the Guilded Age, or even for a fair impression of Adams himself. Other books on Adams abound—tons of them. But nobody has taken the trouble to take his political adventures so seriously, or to offer so extensive a challenge to the account he gave in his own autobiography."—Mark W. Summers, University of Kentucky



book jacket for The Political Education of Henry Adams


6 x 9
170 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-053-6
cloth, $34.95s


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