Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Joseph J. Ellis

From a Q & A with Joseph J. Ellis about his new book, First Family: Abigail and John Adams:

Q: You wrote about John Adams many years ago in Passionate Sage and, of course, he plays a role in Founding Brothers and American Creation as well as in your biographies of Washington and Jefferson. When and why did you decide to turn your attention specifically to John and Abigail?

A: As you say, my scholarly relationship with John Adams is longstanding. And if you hang around the Adams Papers long enough, you eventually realize that the “Family Correspondence” is the crown jewel. In earlier books I kept coming back to it for bits and pieces of evidence, and eventually decided that it was a story in itself that wanted me to tell it.

Q: How do you go about writing a biography of a couple, and their marriage, differently than you do writing a single subject biography?

A: Biographers of both John and Abigail invariably write about the other partner, but the partnership itself is a different kind of animal. I recall being impressed by a book by Phyllis Rose entitled Parallel Lives about five Victorian marriages. Perhaps that book gave me an idea that had been floating about in my subconscious for the last twenty years or so. Writing about them as a team also forces you to link the large political events they were living through with very personal issues like child-rearing, aging together, and health. In my judgment, that’s how most of us actually experience history. I very much wanted to capture that fusion of the public and the personal.

Q: How did they meet and was it love at first sight?

A: They met...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue