Cover image for Improvement of the world : a biography of Henry Adams : his last life, 1891-1918
Improvement of the world : a biography of Henry Adams : his last life, 1891-1918
Chalfant, Edward, 1921-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
North Haven, Conn. : Archon Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiii, 708 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
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Item Holds
E175.5.A2 C47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Author Notes

Edward Chalfant is Professor Emeritus of English at Hofstra University.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

This is the final volume in Chalfant's trilogy on the life of the great historian. Unlike his great-grandfather (John) and grandfather (John Quincy), Henry made his mark in academia rather than politics. Yet his relationship with his father, the diplomat Charles Adams, gave him a deep understanding of politics, diplomacy, and the uses and limits of power. Chalfant, professor emeritus of English at Hofstra University, views his subject with both reverence and realism. Adams' belief in the power of committed individuals to improve the world is compelling, even in today's cynical climate. Chalfant's recounting of Adams' writing of the classic of medieval history, Mount-Saint Michel and Chartes, is a revealing look at the workings of a first-class mind. Although this final volume can stand alone, general readers who have not read the previous two volumes may struggle here. However, for both specialists and general readers with a solid grounding in American history, this work will be an enriching experience. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

At long last, Chalfant, professor emeritus of English and former codirector of the American Studies program at Hofstra University, presents the third volume of what is sure to be the definitive study of Henry Adams's quintessentially American life (the first two volumes appeared in 1982 and 1994, respectively). Here we read the ins and outs of this man of letters and historian's travels and writing during the final, and arguably the most productive, third of his life. But the meat of the book is the intriguing discussion of Adams's ambiguous (it is unknown whether or not they actually had an affair) albeit intense relationship with Elizabeth Cameron, a senator's wife who initiated the relationship in 1892; it continued for more than two decades until Adams's death. Serious Adams devotees will find much to chew on in this biography, in particular, Chalfant's treatment of Adams's masterpiece, The Education of Henry Adams, which is perhaps the strongest element of this book. Chalfant makes clear that The Education is both the prototype and the pinnacle of a type of autobiography, the story of a life told through the story of learning. The author concludes with a thorough and rather digressive review of the meticulous search he initiated for the "master copy" of The Education, which Adams gave to his companion in old age, Aileen Tone, and which is, Chalfant concludes, forever lost. Occasionally, Chalfant may be too generous in his praise of Adams, crediting him for anticipating Einstein and atom-smashing, and the myriad details of Adams's travels (his treks to the Tetons, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Paris and so forth) grow a bit tedious. Still, these are minor complaints about a richly detailed and loving portrait. (Feb. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Chalfant (English, Hofstra Univ.) has completed his three-volume biography, the most complete study ever produced, of Henry Adams. The earlier volumes, Both Sides of the Ocean (LJ 10/1/82) and Better in Darkness (LJ 11/15/93), have brought the subject to his final three decades, when Adams was still remarkably active and prolific. During the years covered here (1891-1918), Adams wrote two extremely influential books, Mont St. Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams. Chalfant's detailed scholarship and extensive use of the Adams Papers provide superb context for those interested in a close view of Adams's life as well as for researchers in literary and historical studies. Adams was the model of the politically and socially engaged public intellectual who moved easily among and advised the powerful, though he never held office during the crucial decades before World War I. While David Contosta's slightly dated Henry Adams and the American Experiment (1980. o.p.) remains the best brief examination of Adams's life for general readers, scholarly collections and large public libraries will want to make certain that they have the entire set of this definitive multi-volume work. Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This third and concluding volume of Edward Chalfant's biography of Henry Adams (v.1, CH, Feb'83; v.2 CH, Mar'95) is the most complete and detailed life study not only of Adams, but of virtually any American literary or intellectual figure. Its basic theme is that the third and final phase of Adams's life, concentrated on the practical improvement of American society, has been almost totally obfuscated by the ineffectual fictional figure that Adams created in his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1918). For sheer detail and information, this is clearly the latest word on one of the most problematic of American intellectuals. The amount of new and significant material here easily surpasses that of Chalfant's first two volumes. Still, there are real problems. Chalfant's reading of Adams's admittedly enigmatic and cryptic prose is highly idiosyncratic and often spun to give results that amplify Adams's achievements and significance far beyond what an impartial reading of the evidence would suggest. Chalfant idolizes and idealizes Henry Adams. There are advantages and disadvantages to such an approach to biography, and both are evident here. But no one interested in Henry Adams can afford to ignore this massive study. General and academic collections. K. Blaser Wayne State College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgementsp. xi
Part 1
1. Baseball at Aboynep. 3
2. Molecules or Atoms, Living and Deadp. 24
3. Activities of Different Kindsp. 47
4. The Lookoutp. 68
5. Vision and Revolutionp. 87
6. A Phenomenon Quite Peculiarp. 110
7. My Business Is to Look Aheadp. 134
8. Under Coverp. 158
9. Violencep. 183
Part 2
10. Bothered by the Slaughterhousep. 209
11. Under the Shadowp. 231
12. Automobilingp. 245
13. Vehicles of Anarchismp. 260
14. Every Object More Than Attainedp. 281
15. None of My Businessp. 293
16. The Second Traveling Copyp. 308
17. Unsatisfactory Worksp. 331
18. To Worry Historiansp. 350
Part 3
19. Still in the Swimp. 373
20. "Chansons de Geste"p. 388
21. Room on the Titanicp. 409
22. Recoveriesp. 427
23. Our Parisp. 449
24. Warp. 463
25. Losses Misapprehendedp. 478
26. Copies Given, Copies Foundp. 498
27. Sins of the Heirsp. 522
Abbreviationsp. 545
Notesp. 549
Indexp. 699