The Jeffersonian Transformation: Passages from the "history"

Henry Adams (Author) Garry Wills (Introduction by)


A New York Review Books Original

The ideal introduction and companion to Adams's "massive and magisterial" history of the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, presenting an indelible picture of America's startling rise to world power.

Henry Adams's nine-volume History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison is the first great history of America as well as the first great American work of history, one that rivals Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in its eloquence and sweep. But where Gibbon told of imperial collapse, Adams recorded the rise of an unprecedented new power, America, which, he shows, beat nearly inconceivable odds to expand in a mere seventeen years --1800 to 1817--from a backward provincial outpost to an imperial power. What made this transformation all the more unexpected was that it occurred under the watch of two presidents who were in principle dead set against it, but whose policies promoted it energetically. A masterpiece not only of research and analysis but of style and art, Adams's history is a splendid coming-of-age story, with romantic and even comic overtones, recording a young nation's amazed awakening to its own unsuspected promise.

The Jeffersonian Transformation presents a new selection from Adams's History, the first to bring together in one volume the opening and closing sections of the work, with an introduction by the historian and political commentator Garry Wills. The two sections of Adams's History included here present a bold picture of America before and after the Jeffersonian transformation. Together they define the scope and argument of the History as a whole, while raising still-provocative questions about the relationship between American democracy and American empire.

Product Details

New York Review of Books
Publish Date
September 19, 2006
5.0 X 0.52 X 8.06 inches | 0.54 pounds
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About the Author

HENRY ADAMS (1838--1918) was an American historian, journalist and novelist. In 1907 he published his Pulitzer Prize--winning autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, considered by many to be the most important non-fiction work of the 20th century. He died in 1918 at his home in Washington, D.C.

GARRY WILLS, a distinguished historian and critic, is the author of numerous books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg, Saint Augustine, and the best-selling Why I am a Catholic. A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, Wills has won many awards, including two National Book Critics Circle Awards and the 1998 National Medal for the Humanities. He is Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern University and lives in Evanston, Illinois.


"In his History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, first published in 1889 and completed three years later by his History of the United States of America during the Administrations of James Monroe, Adams drew on this mix of disillusioned lucidity and cautious hopefulness to show just how America became America. Although often invoked, the "History," is less often read. That is a great pity. Adams's work is a masterpiece, the closest thing to an American epic we possess...readers daunted by its bulk may prefer to begin with The Jeffersonian Transformation: Passages from the History, edited and introduced by Garry Wills." --The New York Sun

"New York Review Books Classics has published an excellent abridgment of Henry Adams' nine-volume "History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison" as The Jeffersonian Transformation. Garry Wills contributes an introduction, but whoever labored to produce the abridgment is uncredited. No matter. The word "magisterial" is tossed around whenever anybody writes a ponderous tome with any claim to definitive status. But Adams' book truly deserves the term, both for his grasp of the overall, and his prose, which has a gorgeous rolling cadence." --Austin American-Statesman