By Jane Hampton Cook
American Phoenix details the lives of John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa in the early 1800s. Long before his Presidency, John Q. Adams was involved in the shaping of early America. He served as a Senator, but stepped down before the end of his term due to a great rift between him and his constituency. His political career was dead, so he returned to his home in Boston and practiced law while teaching at Harvard. With great surprise, John learned that he had been nominated by President Madison to serve as the foreign minister to the Court at St. Petersburg, Russia. With America in her infancy, establishing the country as an independent nation was crucial. Trade agreements with Russia would be a monumental step in helping the fledgling country establish her independence. John Q. Adams accepted the nomination and within a month was sailing for Russia with his wife and youngest son. Louisa Adams was not consulted about the decision to leave their two oldest sons behind with family in America. It was the first of many heartbreaks she would experience in this season of life. The Adams planned to remain one year in Russia, then return to America. However, circumstance after circumstance prevented their return. The Adams were ultimately separated from their children for almost 6 years. During this so called “exile” to Russia John Q. Adams negotiated agreements that would establish American independence and establish her as an emerging world power. He is portrayed as the mythical phoenix – rising from the flames and ashes to live a new and resurrected life.
I really enjoyed reading this book about a President – before he was President – who I knew little about. I was a bit concerned about the length of the book when I first received it, especially since I rarely last through anything non-fiction. However, I was pleasantly surprised to become intrigued by the book. The story was engaging and kept me wondering, “What is going to happen next?” The first section and the last section seemed a little disjointed to me, just because the story was not in chronological order. The longest section of the book, however, is very nearly a day by day account of the Adams’ journey to and time in St. Petersburg. The author did an excellent job of telling this story and explaining all of the “back stories” that influenced the characters lives. I am now much better acquainted with the John Quincy Adams family and the world in which they lived. I observed to my husband that it is very hard to think of America as anything but a world superpower, but I now understand her struggle for independence from Great Britain much better. Overall, I give this book an A: an engaging and informative volume of non-fiction that even the fiction lover can love!
I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson publishers via www.booksneeze.com in exchange for my honest review.