John and John Quincy Adams: rogue intellectuals, unsparing truth-tellers, too uncensored for their own political good. They held that political participation demanded moral courage. They did not seek popularity (it showed). This is the story of the father and son presidents who foresaw the rise of the cult of personality and fought those who sought to abuse the weakness inherent in our democracy.
...ambitious and beautifully written ... This book offers an abundance of riches. It is both biography and family history of two brilliant men who were deeply concerned about the long-range prospects of their country ... Isenberg and Burstein push back on a number of accepted tenets of early American history.
After the bold premise and broad promise of the opening chapter, the book that follows is a surprisingly traditional political biography, covering the familiar ground of political campaigns, diplomatic missions and major crises during the two Adams administrations ... The strength of The Problem of Democracy lies in its masterful intertwining of the narrative of the two Adamses’ lives. This allows us to see how profoundly John Adams shaped his son’s intellectual and moral values and how intensely invested he was in every aspect of John Quincy’s career ... The Problem of Democracy offers a final warning to its readers who live in an era of 'alternate truths' and blind devotion to charismatic leaders: Personal charisma should not substitute for 'proven judgment, a sense of fairness, breadth of knowledge, and administrative command.'
The book functions more as an intellectual biography than a standard history ... There's an entire chapter focused on authors, most notably Cicero, who influenced 2 and 6 (borrowing from how the Bushes have referred to themselves as 41 and 43) ... At the heart of the book are essays...wrestling with the idea of democracy: what form governments should take; what sort of men should serve or even vote; and how much of a buffer should exist between governing and popular opinion ... While the book spends a bit too much time inside the heads of 2 and 6...it still does an excellent job capturing how those institutions fell into place over the long scope of the father's and son's careers.