The Education of Henry Adams (Paperback)
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The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiography that records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838-1918), in his later years, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. It is also a sharp critique of 19th century educational theory and practice. In 1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition printed at his own expense. Commercial publication had to await its author's 1918 death, whereupon it won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize. The Modern Library placed it first in a list of the top 100 English-language nonfiction books of the twentieth century. The Education is much more a record of Adams's introspection than of his deeds. It is an extended meditation on the social, technological, political, and intellectual changes that occurred over Adams's lifetime. Adams concluded that his traditional education failed to help him come to terms with these rapid changes; hence his need for self-education. The organizing thread of the book is how the "proper" schooling and other aspects of his youth was time wasted; thus his search for self-education through experiences, friendships, and reading. Many aspects of the contemporary world emerged during the half-century between the Civil War and World War I, a half-century coinciding with Adams's adult life. An important theme of The Education is its author's bewilderment and concern at the rapid advance in science and technology over the course of his lifetime, sometimes now called Second Industrial Revolution but incarnated in his term "dynamo." The Education mentions the recent discovery of x-rays and radioactivity, and shows a familiarity with radio waves in his citation of Marconi and Branly. Adams purchased an automobile as early as 1902, in order to make better use of a summer in France researching Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. He correctly predicted that the 20th century would see even more explosive changes. Adams repeatedly laments that his formal education, grounded in the classics, history, and literature, as was then the fashion, did not give him the scientific and mathematical knowledge needed to grasp the scientific breakthroughs of the 1890s and 1900s. Two aspects set The Education apart from the common run of autobiographies. First, it is narrated in the third person; second, it is frequently sarcastic and humorously self-critical.