The Public Interest

The real education of Henry Adams

Richard A. Samuelson

Spring 2002

MANY years ago Russell Kirk wrote, “to dislike Henry Adams is easy.” What was true then is still true today. Many of those familiar with Adams dismiss him as little more than an erudite crank. Readers tend to view his autobiographical The Education of Henry Adams as a brilliant work of literature, but mainly for aesthetic reasons, and his Mont Saint Michel and Chartres as an amusing intellectual journey through the medieval mind. As for the massive History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, it may be the greatest work of history ever written by an American, but it seems too long to be of much use to anyone in this day and age. Beyond literary matters, Adams is probably best known for being one of America’s premiere anti-Semites. Reviewing Adams’ life and works in the New Criterion in 1983, Norman Podhoretz concluded, “I see little of value that would be lost by allowing him to slip into the obscurity he so often boasted of wishing to achieve.” But to permit this to happen is to deny ourselves the benefit of Adams’ insight into American politics.

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