Reviews for Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams

by Louisa Thomas

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The "vivid and propulsive" life of the wife of statesman and president John Quincy Adams. Drawing on a rich trove of letters, diaries, and memoirs, historian and journalist Thomas (Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Familya Test of Will and Faith in World War I, 2012) has created an enthralling, sharply etched portrait of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams (1775-1852), the wife of America's sixth president. Portrayed by many historians as sickly and delicate, a weak specimen when compared with her stalwart mother-in-law, Abigail, Louisa emerges as a spirited, ambitious woman who grew from a submissive girl to a politically astute writer and thinker. She learned early in her marriage that her husband's "first devotion was to his country, his second to his parents, and his third to his books." He could be exacting, supercilious, domineering, and "self-involved in unbelievable ways," but in times of distressmiscarriages, debilitating illnesses, and the deaths of three of their four childrenhe was lovingly tender. Louisa was, he said, his best friend. Louisa followed her husband wherever his duty took him: Prussia, St. Petersburg, London, Washington, and the Adams family homestead in Quincy, Massachusetts, which Louisa deemed an insufferable backwater. Travel was arduous: the trip from America to Russia took 80 days; Quincy to Washington, "three miserable weeks." Alone, Louisa traveled with her 5-year-old son from St. Petersburg to Paris, nearly 2,000 miles over 40 days, as Napoleon's troops invaded, proving herself shrewd and decisive; adversity, the author concludes, brought out her strength. Her warmth as a hostess helped to soften the effects of her husband's sullenness. "They must have a President that they dare speak to," she told him, when he coveted the highest office. Thomas effectively sets Louisa's eventful life against the backdrop of a nation transforming itself, debating foreign and domestic policy, including slavery, which John Quincy vehemently opposed. An elegant, deeply perceptive portrait. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Louisa Catherine Johnson married John Quincy Adams in London in 1797 and remained his devoted wife and companion for more than 50 years during their adventurous and frequently difficult marriage. Perhaps Adams lacked the exuberance, even spunk of her more celebrated mother-in-law, Abigail. Yet, as journalist and historian Thomas reveals in her comprehensive and fascinating biography, Adams was an admirable and extraordinary woman. Thomas examines the life and evolving character of Adams through the prism of her nation's own development and quest for a national identity. Adams was born in Britain to an American father and British mother, spent some of her formative years in France, and only arrived in the U.S. at the age of 26. Though she was technically born an American citizen, Adams initially seemed unsure of her place in her new country. She was also shy and often suffered from ill health, but she had a steely resolve, which she often displayed as she accompanied her husband across Europe, often amid warfare. As First Lady, she provided a charming counterweight to the president's stolid demeanor and lack of social skills. Thomas has written an excellent account of the life of this woman, who certainly merits greater attention and praise.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2016 Booklist


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In this elegant, sweeping biography, journalist Thomas (Conscience) unfolds the often difficult but always interesting life of Louisa Catherine Adams. Born in London in 1775 to an American father and an English mother, Louisa Johnson was raised to become the wife of a well-to-do American. As if on cue, in 1795 American diplomat John Quincy Adams, son of founding father John Adams, turned up at a dinner party at the Johnson home. John Quincy and Louisa married two years later. Being a diplomat's wife wasn't easy or glamorous. Thomas describes the social and political whirl of Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Paris in glittering detail without shying away from the stark realities. The Adamses were short of money, Louisa was frequently ill, and sometimes war threatened their safety. Between diplomatic appointments, John Quincy pursued law and politics in the U.S., moving Louisa and their children with him as he deemed necessary. He became a senator, secretary of state, president, and representative, with Louisa bolstering his career through her considerable social skills. Thomas wisely avoids the "behind every great man" canard, acknowledging that while Louisa's help was essential to John Quincy's career, of greater importance are the ways in which she learned about herself and the world and developed her own voice. Illus. (Apr.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Thomas (Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family) here turns her attention to Louisa Catherine Adams, who was born into a wealthy and well-traveled family, married into a political family, and became an extraordinary helpmate to her husband, John Quincy Adams. Born in London just before the American Revolution to an American father and a British mother, Louisa was educated and cultured. She had seen much of Europe and America before meeting and marrying Adams. Theirs was a love match-sometimes uneasy-that lasted for more than 50 years as Louisa found her place and her role within the context of the Adams family and the evolving United States. The book offers an interesting and personal look at a woman who helped extend the Adams family legacy while expanding her own. Kirsten Potter provides an engaging narration. VERDICT Recommended for listeners who enjoy American history, women's studies, and politics. ["This immensely readable account will be welcomed by general readers interested in U.S. history, women's history, and biography": LJ 2/1/16 review of the Penguin Pr. hc.]-Pam -Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

This is the first-full length biography of Louisa Catherine Adams (1775-1852), the wife of John Quincy Adams and America's only foreign-born first lady. Journalist Thomas (Conscience) offers a detailed and sensitive narrative, empathizing with Louisa's unorthodox life. Born in London on the eve of the American Revolution to an American father and a British mother, Louisa has unfortunately been overshadowed by her famous mother-in-law, Abigail Adams. Louisa's story is revealing, however, for her own struggles as a woman torn between two cultures, as a mother beset by tragedies, and as a feminist before the term existed. Married into a highly visible family, Louisa carved out a life for herself as the partner of a diplomat, president, and congressman. Thomas uses unpublished diaries along with memoirs to show how Louisa managed in a complicated but intimate 50-year marriage; endured the physical hardships of frequent travel, personal illness, and long periods of separation from her children; and charted a course as a political wife in an age when women were expected to eschew politics. Louisa's own writings provided an outlet; she believed her projects might inspire other women to recognize their strength and fortitude. VERDICT This immensely readable account will be welcomed by general readers interested in U.S. history, women's history, and biography. [See Prepub Alert, 10/25/15.]-Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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