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john adams

The first page of the 1789-1792 charging ledger

The New York Society Library was founded in 1754, giving it the distinction of being the oldest library in the city. It began as a subscription library which anyone could join, and remains so today, with nearly three hundred thousand volumes reflecting the interests of its various members over the past two and a half centuries.

Despite being looted by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, the library rebuilt its collection and by 1789-1790, when New York was the nation’s capital and Congress occupied the building, it served as the first Library of Congress. During this time it was utilized by many prominent figures easily recognizable to students of American history, including George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr. We know this due to information contained in the Library’s oldest surviving charging ledger, which recorded borrowing activity during the period between July 1789 and April 1792. Lost for many years, the extremely fragile ledger was recovered in 1934 in a trash pile in the basement of the Library’s former location at 109 University Place and has since been digitized in order to preserve the information contained therein for future generations.

You can explore the ledger here, just click on the name of the person whose checkouts you would like to view.

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Feb 26 2009

John Adams: A Review

by Jimmy L

I’m no history buff, but recently I thought it would be interesting to read something about one of our overlooked founding fathers, John Adams. Unfortunately, the book (John Adams by David McCullough) is 752 pages long—too long for a passing interest, especially with 5 other books on my bedside table. So, with J’nai’s post about how to talk about books you haven’t read in mind, I will now talk about how much I loved this book. How do I know?  Simple: the book has been made into an HBO miniseries.

I half-expected it to be boring, as historical recreations often are. But I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was! So far, I’ve finished the first disc and I can’t wait for discs two and three (I’m #22 and #17 in the respective queues (and yes, library staff have to wait for holds just like everybody else!)).

The series covers Adams’s life from his days as a lawyer in Boston after the Boston Massacre up to the years after his presidency, including his death. Paul Giamatti gives a great performance as John Adams, but what really makes it work is the whole cast. The founding fathers come to life with David Morse as George Washington, Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jefferson, and Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin. You can really taste the dynamic in congress as these men and their radically different personalities clash and come together towards a common goal.

I’ve not mentioned Abigail Adams (played by Laura Linney) yet. Though she was not an official politician, the series gives us a glimpse into how influential she was for John. I got the sense that she grounded him, and kept him honest. Her intellect and wisdom was a good complement for John’s passion and integrity.

You should really check out this series. I found it highly entertaining and educational as well. History doesn’t have to be boring!

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