A limited amount of trivia adds color to the banal historical overview. Benjamin Franklin was experienced in dealing with women: “To find out a girl’s faults,” he said, “praise her to her friends.” John Adams disliked Alexander Hamilton’s calling him “the worm at the root of the peach.” Washington favored political duty over amiability: “The happiness of society is the end of government.”
The book is essentially a collection of lackluster excerpts from letters, inaugural addresses, and speeches—not one but two of Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamations are included. Several pages of often-familar adages from Poor Richard’s Almanack—“A penny saved is a penny earned,” “Haste makes waste”—quickly go from mildly interesting to trite.
Rarely does substantial introductory information preface the quotations. Adler’s absorption with Thomas Jefferson is clear—nearly half of the book is devoted to him. Perhaps it would have been better as simply a tribute to the third president.
If you’re looking for uncommon wisdom and wit, you’re in for a disappointment.