Reviews for Mrs. Adams in Winter : A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon

Booklist Reviews 2010 January #1
Though much has been written about Abigail Adams, the feisty First Lady and Revolutionary War heroine who captured the collective imaginations of generations of Americans, little interest has been paid to her daughter-in-law, Louisa Catherine Adams. Married to John Quincy Adams and the only First Lady to be born and raised outside of the U.S., she spent her formative years in England and France, never setting foot upon American soil until she was twenty-six years old. Her full-length biography is a fascinating one, but historian O'Brien has extrapolated an incredible adventure to serve as a metaphor for her life and times. During the winter of 1815, Mrs. Adams and her young son set forth from St. Petersburg, Russia, traveling overland through battle-torn Europe for 40 days, to meet her husband in Paris. Years later, Louisa penned a memoir of that arduous journey, and O'Brien has adeptly filled in her gaps with historical and sociological texturing. This compelling combination of biography, travelogue, and adventure does an admirable job resurrecting one of the many forgotten females in the annals of American history. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 December #1
British historian O'Brien (American Intellectual History/Cambridge Univ.; Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860, 2003) pursues Louisa Adams's 40-day trek through a Europe in the process of transformation.The Mrs. Adams in question is not to be confused with Abigail Adams, the Colonial matriarch and wife of the second president. Rather, Louisa Catherine Adams was her London-born daughter-in-law, the wife to Abigail's son John Quincy Adams. In early 1815, as her husband had been recalled to Paris after serving as minister to Alexander I's court in St. Petersburg, Adams was requested by letter to join him. The trip involved a grueling journey by carriage with her young son and the French nurse over the rough, frigid terrain of Russia and Prussia and through Germany to Paris. The Adamses had not seen each other in nearly a year, and Louisa was anxious to leave St. Petersburg, where the couple had been stationed for a few years. She was weary of costly court appearances, ready to close the chapter on a painful recent period involving the death of her baby girl and wondering, as O'Brien suggests, how her marriage to the evidently chilly, undemonstrative Quincy Adams would hold up. After weeks of preparation, they set off by kibitka (Russian sled), averaging 64 miles a day for the 2,000-mile trip. They passed hundreds of post stations, each one requiring the payment of taxes, and the overall cost came to $1,984.99, about $28,000 in today's money. O'Brien's narrative is richly contextual, encompassing not only the great personalities of the age, whom Mrs. Adams met, but penetrating the secrets of a complicated marriage.A wide-sweeping historical survey and original intellectual journey. Agent: Andrew Wylie/The Wylie Agency Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 November #1

In early 1815, Louisa Adams left St Petersburg, Russia, with her young son to travel 2000 miles by horse and carriage to meet husband John Quincy Adams in Paris. As had been all too common in her marriage, she had been living alone for almost a year after her ambitious husband temporarily (it was thought) vacated his position as American minister to the tsar to participate in treaty negotiations ending the War of 1812. At about the same time, Napoleon escaped from Elba and also headed to Paris, which added drama to an adventure already daring for a lone woman (Bonaparte beat her to Paris by a day or two). Starting with Mrs. Adams's memoir of the journey, written later in life, historian O'Brien has indefatigably researched early 19th-century travel to re-create the 40-day journey through the bad inns and worse roads of Russia, Prussia, and France. Along the way, the reader gradually learns (almost as in a whodunit) the story of Mrs. Adams, the only First Lady born outside the United States. VERDICT This innovative and creatively told personal history of a forgotten figure bound by marriage to an ambitious American statesman bristles with insight into the era. Witty, informed, sophisticated, and moving; essential reading.--Stewart Desmond, New York

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Library Journal Reviews 2009 November #2
In 1815, Louisa Catherine Adams left St. Petersburg, Russia, with her son and headed to Paris, where husband John Quincy Adams had been transferred. Meanwhile, Napoleon was storming Paris from Elba. My nonfiction favorite, and our reviewer agrees: "Witty, informed, sophisticated, and moving; essential reading" (LJ 11/1/09). Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 December #2

Beginning her nearly solitary winter trek from St. Petersburg to Paris in 1815, Louisa Adams experienced 40 days of independence from the constrictions she suffered as wife to future American president John Quincy Adams. Recounting her journey in minute detail, O'Brien, Cambridge professor of American intellectual history, juxtaposes her encounters with a dazzling array of fashionable nobles with ruined towns and impoverished survivors struggling in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. O'Brien (Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860) effectively highlights Louisa's unease as a European-bred, naturalized American descended from a mother's illegitimate birth, who marries into the intimidating Puritan family of John and Abigail Adams. Using a range of sources, O'Brien reconstructs memories omitted in Louisa's memoir and delves into a 50-page diversion on her marriage, slowing the travelogue's pace. Readers of American and European history will exult in the informative contrast of postrevolutionary American values and the glittering European and Russian courts, which steadfastly ignored the horrific effects of continental warfare. 40 b&w illus., 1 map. (Mar.)

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