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From a Front Box

Only the most devoted students of Henry Adams are likely to have bought and read the six-volume Complete Letters that Harvard University Press produced between 1982 and 1988. More's the pity, since it was an excellent work of scholarship disclosing an American epistolary artist of the highest order. But the editor and biographer, Ernest Samuels, has now given us a manageable one-volume selection of 240 letters spanning the 60-year period from 1858-1918 And what a collection it is—nearly every one a gem.

Adams's correspondents included his famous family, of course, but many other recipients likewise had a recognized place in the literary, political, scientific, and social life of his time—including Charles Eliot Norton, Charles Milnes Gaskell, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Hay, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles W. Eliot, William and Henry James, Elizabeth Cameron, and Theodore Roosevelt. But even if some of the recipients were not themselves luminaries of the great world, Adams's letters are so full of shrewd and entertaining comments on important personalities and developments in his time that we cannot do without a single one of them. And, needless to say, the collection offers an unfolding autobiography, of sorts, of one of the most brilliant and complicated men of his time.

Descending as he did from a line of American Presidents, Henry Adams expected that his father. Congressman Charles Francis...

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