... in his elegant, sweeping Heirs of an Honored Name, Douglas Egerton artfully deploys the bracketed tales as a metaphor for the lost opportunities and fading fortunes of America’s first political dynasty ... Mr. Egerton does a remarkable job keeping all the similarly named Adamses distinct and distinctive, animating each personality with gripping anecdotes and pithy quotes ... True to the tradition of family matriarch Abigail Adams, Mr. Egerton remembers the ladies ... while Mr. Egerton buys into the Adams family’s own self-flagellation, I am not so sure he will convince readers accustomed to more entitlement and less humor from so-called American dynasties ... Douglas Egerton has done such a fine job in bringing these perennially dour but extraordinarily gifted people back to life that he ends up contradicting his own subtitle—for which readers should be grateful.
... a must-read for students of 19th-century America ... Egerton is to be praised for his in-depth coverage of not only the sons of Charles Francis Adams, but also the women who married into the family. Egerton uses the lives of Adams family members as a window into the Civil War era ... Egerton’s prodigious research clearly reveals that there were critical moments in which the Adams family could have impacted the direction of the Republican Party and, therefore, the nation as a whole. Whereas John Quincy Adams helped build a basis for antislavery party politics in the 1830s and 1840s that would eventually lead to a major transformation in American politics, his grandchildren were consumed with reversing these trends.
Rather than focusing solely on the famed Adams men, Egerton paints fully realized portraits of the long-suffering Adams women in all their resiliency, tempestuousness, and oft-stifled brilliance. From John Quincy Adams to his more and more politically distanced descendants, the reader traces the hopeful continuation of John Adams’ work to the highly disappointing choices made by his great-grandchildren. Deeply researched and brimming with anecdotes, from this narrative emerges not only the decline and fall of the Adams family but also the political scene of the nineteenth century, the rise of modern America, and the unavoidable parallels with our own time as a nation that finds itself increasingly divided.