Saturday, October 30, 2010

John Adams and his Books

Tired of rancorous political rhetoric? Me, too, but it gives me comfort to know that it’s nothing new. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson held such angry differences of opinion that they did not speak or correspond for years, making up only after they had both retired.

John Adams, born October 30, 1735, served as the second President, Vice President under George Washington, diplomat to France, and founding father of the United States. Adams, known for sounding strong opinions, did not shy away from controversy.

We learned this and more about him at “John Adams Unbound” hosted by Watertown Regional Library. Watertown Regional was one of only 20 public libraries in the country to host this traveling panel exhibit. Over 700 people took advantage of this free step into history.

Our guide, Raynette, pointed out the main points of each panel. Among the highlights:

Adams was not a natural scholar, but his father and a good teacher helped him appreciate the knowledge contained in books. A Harvard graduate, John Adams continued his education throughout his life by collecting and reading books. Named a diplomat to France with no knowledge of French, he set sail with books. By the time he reached that country, he was able to communicate in their language.

Adams used his books! When his family collected leaves while out walking, they put them in his books to be pressed. Library curators discovered them there hundreds of years later.

The marginalia in his books reveal insights into his personality and opinions. Many of his books contain notes in his handwriting. Some of these notes led to correspondence with the books’ authors, including Mary Wallstonecraft, author of Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution.

Adams willed his collection of 3,000 volumes to the town of Quincy, Massachusetts. The library had several homes in Quincy before landing permanently at the Boston Public Library.

John Adams’ life attests to the power of books. He said, “I find that a great deal of thought and care, as well as money, are necessary to assemble an ample and well chosen assortment of books.” Today’s libraries contain books, magazines, newspapers, online resources, DVDs, CDs, and other materials as well as offering meeting spaces and free programs. John Adams would approve public support of these community institutions!

What’s your favorite thing about libraries? Or John Adams?

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