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Project: Read These Letters

January 29, 2012

Here’s a fun question: “What can Abigail Adams, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson do for you?” This may be more or less the same question as “Why does history matter?” There are plenty of answers to that one.

A couple of years ago I picked up The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (edited by Lester J. Cappon, 1959). This collection is, according to Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, the “intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation and the most impressive correspondence between prominent statesmen in all of American history.”* Now, who wouldn’t want to read that?

The A-J Letters sat on my bookshelf for about a year, perhaps two, waiting in silence and patience to one day impart its wisdom to a thirty-five year old male of questionable intellect. According to Goodreads I began reading this book in December of 2010, but that record is deceiving as I remember it relocating from my shelf to my bedside table before my now 20-month old son was born. Prior to that my memory is blurred by the fog of a thousand sleepless nights.

The point is that as fascinating as this book sounds, I need a mechanism to facilitate me actually finishing it, which is why I’m writing this and why you may have been deceived if you thought this was a blog about why history matters. Surprise, you’ve stumbled upon an entirely selfish pursuit. I figure I’ve got about 48 weeks left in the year and about 230 letters (of 380) left to read, which makes 5 letters and a 300-word blog entry every week to discover what the fuss is about. Don’t bother about the math, it won’t add up.** And don’t expect a history lesson. This is read and reflect, folks—although I’ll do what I can to include some context. And your historical (and nonhistorical) insights are welcome.

*To be accurate, Ellis was referring just to Messieurs Adams and Jefferson.

**The math also does not take into account personal time devoted to Euro 2012, another historic event.

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3 Responses to “Project: Read These Letters”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Can’t wait to hear more of your thoughts – on this book (excellent, now I don’t have to read it but can still have some interesting snippets to through into conversation!) and anything else crossing your sleep deprived, befuddled mind!

  2. Teatree Says:

    I’m waiting too – will it be better than the movie?


  3. […] I know JA is having some fun (“Nothingarians?”), but some substantive discussion of the merits (and demerits) of religious thought, diversity, dissension, community, etc. would be appreciated from time to time, rather than the incessant “throw-the-bums-out,” especially if we’re calling this the “intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation and the most impressive… […]


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