John Adams in the margin


National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser calls John Adams “the greatest marginalist of the founding fathers, as pungent as he was copious.” Marginalist? You know, a man who writes in the margin of his books. How does Brookhiser know? He explains:

Later this month, the Boston Public Library is mounting an exhibition called “John Adams Unbound,” displaying some 3,700 volumes that belonged to the second president. They bring us close to a great and eccentric man, and give an object lesson in the history of book collecting. But they also contain a trove of marginalia. Some of the gaudiest examples will be displayed in open copies, which will be available permanently online at Zoltan Haraszti, a former keeper of rare books and editor of publications at the library, published many of Adams’s marginalia in his 1952 book, “John Adams and the Prophets of Progress.” But now this quadrant of Adams’s mind will be completely mapped.

Brookhiser’s column appears in tomorrow’s Sunday Times Book Review: “John Adams talks to his books.” Brookhiser’s fine book on John Adams and his posterity is America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918.


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