HBO’s Worthy Show

That is Liberty… And liberty will reign in America.” These words, spoken by Paul Giamatti’s John Adams in the HBO miniseries of the same name, show what authenticity, with a sprinkling of historical melodrama, can achieve.

We live in an era that problem-glasses-wearing, blue hairs write articles bemoaning the treatment of “immigrant groups” in a fantasy world with ice zombies and dragons. Yet, HBO’s John Adams stands remarkably apart for both its adherence to source material (David McCullough’s wonderful biography of Adams), as well as, marinating in the world of colonial America at the birth of a new nation.

This series achieves something remarkable in 21st century cable entertainment: it takes you to an immersive world dripping with meaning and towering figures from our own national mythos and humanizes them without subverting who they truly were. We see the titular Adams as “obnoxious and disliked,” yet ever the bulldog of independence. The quiet dignity of Washington and his adherence to duty. The lofty idealism of Jefferson that gets carried away in the social upheaval of the French Revolution. We even see the scheming realpolitik of Franklin, as he maneuvers for French recognition and support.

As an ardent student of history, and skeptical observer of “period pieces,” that so often deal in hamfisted modern day moralizing or “romanticism” over their given subject, HBO’s John Adams achieved the surprising feat of being true to the time period and still providing realistic and stirring dialogue. Dialogue that can emotionally transport you to such pivotal moments as the vote for Independence.

The art of the story teller is integral to passing on our history and mythos to our children. That sense of walking in the footsteps of those giants from our past is brought home. John Adams achieves this with brilliance.

-By William Poole


  1. John Adams is one of HBO’s best productions in my view. Another is From the Earth to the Moon. A&E did a very good docudrama some years back based on Dava Sobel’s book, Longitude (and by the same title) for all you history/science nerds who haven’t seen or heard of it before. Longitude is one of my favorite movies of all time (it’s one of those rare cinematic productions that is actually better than the book it is based on), in large part because of the historical significance of its subject matter – the development of the chronometer for keeping accurate time, thus accurately determining longitude, at sea – and its indispensibility to the life’s work of one of America’s greatest benefactors, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and his discovery and early development of what we now refer to as the science of Oceanography. Then called “The Physical Geography of the Sea and its Meteorology.” I have written a series of essays about the extraordinary life and achievements of Mr. Maury (USN, CSN), which it occurs to me I should probably consider submitting for future publication at ID. I’m sure a few of the readers here might get some good from that series of essays. In point of fact, I have a book in the works on the subject of Maury’s life and achievements as well, which I am writing for my children and grandchildren. I’m about four to five chapters away from finishing the book, however. But if anyone is interested I’ll make it available once it is finished. It’s written at a 6th-8th grade level, and is a good character study for young boys and girls alike, but is mainly written for Southern boys. Or at least for boys who have southern roots and are southern at heart.

  2. Dear sirs: Thanks for the positive feedback. I’ll begin work immediately on editing the essays mentioned above to more align with posting for a broader readership. To explain in part, the articles/essays in question were first written and posted at my kids’ private blog, and were intended for that very small circle of friends and relatives. The editing needed is very minor overall, so look for the first edition under the original title, From Ordinary to Extraordinary – The Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas, in relatively short order. Depending, of course, on the ID editors’ backlog and that sort of thing.

    Thanks again for the feedback, and thanks also to Mr. Poole for his (inadvertent) reminder that others out there might well benefit from reading the story of, as I said above, one of America’s greatest benefactors and a truly great and good man.

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