'John Adams' and 'Founding Brothers'

I finished watching the seven-part HBO series ‘John Adams’ starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.  It’s a good series, and a good refresher on the early days of America as an independent country.  Giamatti seems like a surprising choice, but I thought he pulled it off pretty well.  Adams comes across as highly principled, yet prickly, and probably too harsh with his own children.  His sense of duty combines with his own ego and desire to be engaged with great events to make him a driving force in the push to independence.

I think I most enjoyed part 3 in the late 1770s where Adams goes over to France, meeting Ben Franklin who’s already there.  Franklin plays up the stereotype of Americans as backwoods hicks, but also has taken a fancy to French society, and seems quite at home, knowing that he can’t push too hard with the French.  Adams is like a fish out of water, especially at a society dinner where he’s asked some questions that he can’t help but answer way too seriously – he’s basically unable to engage in frivolity.

I also quite liked the portrayals of Franklin, Washington and Jefferson.  Jefferson in particular is a hard-to-relate-to character, aloof and seemingly principled but at the same time very political.  The relationship between Adams and Jefferson goes from very close to animosity and part way back again after they were both out of politics.

Most of the series seemed to correspond pretty well with many of the stories that are told in the book ‘Founding Brothers’ by Joseph Ellis, which I read not long ago.

Both stories remind us that the founding of the U.S. was fought over just as we fight over current issues today – and many outcomes are decided by very close margins that seemingly could have gone either way!

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