McCullough, David G. John Adams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Born on July 7, 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, David G. McCullough is a narrator, historian, and lecturer. After earing a degree in English Literature from Yale University, the historian went on to pen his first book, The Johnstown Flood, published in 1968. Since the release of his first publication, McCullough has been responsible for writing at least nine other books, ranging in focus from Harry S. Truman, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Wright brothers, and of course John Adams. For his work on the books Truman and John Adams, the Yale University educated historian garnered two Pulitzer prizes. HBO adapted Truman into a TV film and John Adams[1] into a miniseries.

Despite being one of those rare occasions where the television adaptation is better crafted than the source material, according to Time Magazine writer Walter Isaacson, McCullough is “America’s most beloved biographer…” Isaacson writes that McCullough has “plucked Adams from the historical haze…and produced another masterwork of storytelling that blends [colourful] narrative with sweeping insights.” [2]

Even though HBO saw fit to adapt the book John Adams into a Tom Hooper directed seven-part miniseries starring Paul Giamatti in the title role,[3] “McCullough barely mentions Adams’s political writings; and what he has to say about the two-major works consists of brief quotations surrounded by utterly conventional plot summary and commentary.”[4] For anyone looking forwards to reading about Adam’s political writings, the way in which McCullough skimmed over this aspect must have been disappointing. This point was also observed by C. Bradley Thompson when he wrote in his article for Claremont “McCullough has almost nothing to say about Adams’s political thought.”[5]

While the historian’s original intention was to write a dual biography of Adams and Thomas Jefferson, it is evident as McCullough progressed though the research process he was more interested in the former political figure than he was in the latter.[6] “John Adams, it was said, was `a good husband, a good father, a good citizen, and a good man,”[7] McCullough wrote of the second president of the United States. Despite presenting his audience with extensive source notes covering each chapter individually, McCullough fails to mention where this quoted comment originated. Considering it has been suggested the historian is a “booster of John Adams,”[8] the historian might have made the comment himself.


[1] The production had within the seven episodes too many factual errors to number here.

[2] Walter Isaacson, “David McCullough’s John Adams shows the Real Drama of Revolutionary Times.” Time. Accessed July 4, 2017.,9171,999992,00.html.

[3] Tom Hooper, “John Adams.” Accessed July 4, 2017.

[4] Wilentz, Sean. “America made Easy.” New Republic.

[5] C. B. Thompson, “John Adams.” Accessed July 4, 2017.

[6] Dinitia Smith, “John Adams, Maligned and Misunderstood, Finds a 21st-Century Champion.” The New York Times, Jun 28, 2001, Late Edition (East Coast).

[7] David G. McCullough, John Adams. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), p. 548

[8] Smith, “John Adams, Maligned and Misunderstood, Finds a 21st-Century Champion.”