Summary and book reviews of Louisa by Louisa Thomas

Louisa

The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams

by Louisa Thomas

Louisa by Louisa Thomas
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Book Summary

An intimate portrait of Louisa Catherine Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, who witnessed firsthand the greatest transformations of her time.

Born in London to an American father and a British mother on the eve of the Revolutionary War, Louisa Catherine Johnson was raised in circumstances very different from the New England upbringing of the future president John Quincy Adams, whose life had been dedicated to public service from the earliest age. And yet John Quincy fell in love with her, almost despite himself. Their often tempestuous but deeply close marriage lasted half a century. 

They lived in Prussia, Massachusetts, Washington, Russia, and England, at royal courts, on farms, in cities, and in the White House. Louisa saw more of Europe and America than nearly any other woman of her time. But wherever she lived, she was always pressing her nose against the glass, not quite sure whether she was looking in or out. The other members of the Adams family could take their identity for granted - they were Adamses; they were Americans - but she had to invent her own. The story of Louisa Catherine Adams is one of a woman who forged a sense of self. As the country her husband led found its place in the world, she found a voice. That voice resonates still. 

In this deeply felt biography, the talented journalist and historian Louisa Thomas finally gives Louisa Catherine Adams's full extraordinary life its due. An intimate portrait of a remarkable woman, a complicated marriage, and a pivotal historical moment, Louisa Thomas's biography is a masterful work from an elegant storyteller.

1

The first time Louisa Catherine Johnson saw John Quincy Adams, she thought that he looked ridiculous. When he came to dinner at the Johnsons' house in London, on Wednesday, November 11, 1795, the young American diplomat was dressed in a strange boxy Dutch coat so pale that it appeared, absurdly, almost white. Watching him talk at the table, though, she did like him. He seemed spirited, showing no signs of exhaustion after a long and difficult journey from Holland, where he was the United States' representative. He was handsome, with penetrating, dark round eyes under a pair of peaked eyebrows, and a mouth that was full and strong. He liked a good story and a good glass of wine. Only twenty-eight years old, he was already a high-ranking diplomat—and the son of the vice president of the United States. No one who met him could miss his intense intelligence. Still, after John Quincy had gone, the girls sat in the parlor and joked a little about his unfashionable attire. ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Subtitled 'The extraordinary life of Mrs. Adams," this biography does not fail to meet the expectations it sets. Overall, Louisa is a crisply written, accessible biography that feels authentic to the lives of women at the time and paints a vivid and engrossing portrait of the sixth First Lady of the United States   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Thomas describes the social and political whirl of Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Paris in glittering detail without shying away from the stark realities.

Kirkus

Starred Review. An elegant, deeply perceptive portrait.

Library Journal

This immensely readable account will be welcomed by general readers interested in U.S. history, women's history, and biography.

Author Blurb Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Witches, Cleopatra, and A Great Improvisation
The thrilling, improbable life of our only foreign-born First Lady, to whom Quincy, Massachusetts seemed more exotic than Tsar Alexander's St. Petersburg... [a] nuanced, beautifully crafted portrait.

Author Blurb Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winner and bestselling author of American Lion, Franklin and Winston, and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Louisa Thomas has written a beautiful, wise, and compelling book...rigorously researched and written with grace, conviction, and insight, Louisa is a marvelous achievement by a biographer from whom we shall be hearing for decades to come.

Author Blurb Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life
"You will want to read every word of Louisa ... Chances are good that no first lady was unhappier in the White House than Louisa Catherine Adams, but hers was a long life of surprising adversity and high adventure, every chapter of which Thomas relates with brilliant sympathy and insight.

Author Blurb Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Quartet and First Family: Abigail and John Adams
For a long time I have been waiting for a biographer with sufficient style and emotional range to tell the quite extraordinary story of Louisa Catherine Adams in all its splendor and sadness. Louisa has been worth the wait.

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Beyond the Book

The Best FLOTUS?

In 2014, for the fifth time in 31 years, the Siena Research Institute conducted its survey of historians, political scientists and scholars, aimed at identifying the "best" First Lady of the United States. Each presidential spouse was ranked on a scale of one to five in ten different categories ranging from Background, to Courage, to Integrity, Being her Own Woman and Value to the President. Its headline finding was that Eleanor Roosevelt retained the top spot as America's best First Lady. Louisa Adams, subject of Louisa Thomas' biography, Louisa, The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, placed 18th, a long way behind her mother-in-law, Abigail Adams, who ranked second. Jackie Kennedy completes the top three.

Eleanor Roosevelt

...

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