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What I'm Reading (No. 72): POTUS #6 + Cork O'Connor
This week I wrapped up a phenomenal biography of John Quincy Adams (a man who's enjoyed a resurgence of scholarship in the last handful of years). I also finished the third book in William Kent Krueger's outstanding Cork O'Connor mystery series.
I'm also testing out a couple new features this week, and shortening up my actual reviews a little. Your feedback is always welcome.
Let's do it.
John Quincy Adams by James Traub
As many of you know, I'm making my way through biographies of all the presidents. I've been skipping around a little, but I got back to chronological order with POTUS #6: John Quincy Adams.
JQA had both the fortune and, some would say, misfortune of being part of the illustrious Adams clan. His father, of course, was the nation's second president, and from the start, JQA was raised to achieve great things. For the most part, he lived up to those lofty standards.
He served a number of roles before finally getting his turn in the highest office. Unfortunately, he wasn't a very good president and lost out to Andrew Jackson in 1828. Adams had the distinction of being only the second of those first seven presidents to serve but a single term — the other, of course, being his father.
But then Adams made a remarkable and unexpected career shift in becoming a long-serving Congressman and battling the South almost single-handedly on the issue of slavery in the decades leading up to the Civil War.
The events of his life are interesting enough, but it's in delving into JQA's personality that Traub's writing really shines. The reader sees the full complexity of Adams prickly and moralistic character, and gets to delve deeper into the man himself than probably any contemporary would've been able to. (It helps that Adams was a prolific journaler.)
John Quincy Adams is a thorough and absorbing account of a man unlike any other to hold the title of President of the United States. One of the rare biographies where, at the end, I actually felt I didn't need any more information.
What I'm Listening To
I listen to a lot of podcasts — when I'm making coffee in the morning, when I'm exercising, when I'm doing chores around the house and around town. A few bookish shows/episodes I've really enjoyed lately:
Seeing White. Some of the best content on race — specifically whiteness — that I've ever encountered in any format. 14 episodes and surprisingly bingeable. Big hat tip to Malinda Reese on this one.
"A Trilogy About the American Revolution Begins" from the NY Times Book Review podcast. I generally enjoy this show, but this episode was especially fun and covers two new books that are waiting for me on my shelf: The British Are Coming and The Impeachers.
"S. C. Gwynne on Stonewall Jackson" from the Professional Military Education podcast. We're going to have Gwynne on the AoM podcast in a few months, so I was doing some research. This episode about Stonewall Jackson is long, but truly enthralling. Leadership lessons for days. Gwynne's book about Jackson, Rebel Yell, jumped way up my list after listening.
Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger
I love a good series I can get behind that features a strong lead throughout. Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt, Tom Clancy and Jack Ryan, and my favorite duo of late, WKK and Cork O'Connor.
O'Connor is a sheriff/ex-sheriff up in Northern Minnesota who solves crimes. The local Native American community often plays a central role, as does the harsh environment and landscape. As a native Minnesotan, I just can't get enough of the series.
Purgatory Ridge is the third of seventeen O'Connor mysteries, and fully lived up to how much I loved the first two: Iron Lake and Boundary Waters.
When you think "mystery" you might think empty and formulaic, which is honestly often true. But that's not the case with WKK's books. The characters have incredible depth and the relational aspects — between husband and wife, between sheriff and community, between neighbors — are often explored as much as the main plotlines.
Frankly, I don't really even need to tell you what Purgatory Ridge is about, other than saying there's a bomb, a kidnapping, and an eventual plot twist and resolution. Of course there's plenty more, but you don't need to know the specific plot before just picking up the series and getting started.
You won't be disappointed. It's perfect nighttime reading for me (I do my intellectual heaving lifting in the early hours and relax with this stuff).
A Quick Roosevelt Reading List
Edmund Morris, legendary biographer, passed away over the weekend, not long after finishing the upcoming and much anticipated Edison. For most people though, Morris is most remembered for penning an epic trilogy of Theodore Roosevelt's life. In light of that, a quick Roosevelt reading list:
The Rise of TR, Theodore Rex, and Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. I read them all in college and I can fairly say it cemented a lifelong love for both history and biography. I can't wait to read them again soon.
The River of Doubt by Candace Millard. Not many writers can pen a historical narrative as gripping as Millard. This is the story of TR's post-presidency expedition to South America which nearly killed him.
The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. As expected, DKG knocks it out of the park. This is sort of a dual bio of TR and William Howard Taft, as well as their friendship and eventual battle for the presidency. Long, but so so good.
The Strenuous Life by Theodore Roosevelt. A series of essays that mostly started out as speeches which extol TR's view of life — particularly that living strenuously and virtuously is the ideal.
There are plenty more, including at least three on my shelf that I haven't gotten to yet. Roosevelt is an inexhaustible fount of fascination.
Okay, that's all for me this week. Let me know what you think of the new stuff; I'm mostly just sort of experimenting and playing around with other things I can do with this newsletter.
Let me know what you've been reading; I'd love to hear. As always, thank you for your time and inbox space.