Born: February 16, 1838, in Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: March 27, 1918, in Washington D.C., United States
Henry Brooks Adams established himself as a writer, a historian, and a philosopher of history. He was deemed a scholarly critic of events and ideas.
Adams came from a long line of political influences. His father was Charles Francis Adams, an American statesman and minister to Great Britain; his grandfather was John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States; and his great -grandfather was John Adams, the second President of the United States. Adams' grandfather influenced his grandson's career by instilling in him a strong moral conscience and a respect for education, especially in literary works.
After a primary education at Boston Latin School and Epes Dixwell School, Adams attended Harvard from 1854 to 1858. He then went to Europe to study civil law at the University of Berlin, but ended up traveling Europe, becoming a student of languages and cultures of the Old World. On his return from Europe, Adams did some legal studies in Quincy, Massachusetts before becoming a private secretary to his father.
In 1868, Adams became a freelance journalist, writing for papers such as the North American Review, the Nation, and the New York Post. He took an instructor's position at Harvard from 1870 to 1877, where he became editor of the North American Review.
He married Marion Hooper in 1872 and then moved to Washington. His marriage ended on December 6, 1885, when his wife committed suicide because of the illness and death of her father.
After his wife's death, Adams visited Japan with John La Farge, a writer and an artist. In Japan, in 1879, he wrote a biography entitled The Life of Albert Gallatin. In 1880, he published Democracy, a satirical novel about political life. After his return from Japan, Adams worked on a nine volume history about the administrations of Jefferson and Madison.
Later in life, while traveling the South Seas, Adams began work on Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, published in 1904. This work relates a time when society had achieved unity in the twelfth century. He also worked on The Education of Henry Adam, an autobiographical work that criticized an education system that poorly prepared people for their adult lives. Adams died shortly after the publication of The Education of Henry Adams. He posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize in 1919.
Although he considered himself a failure, the Degradation of the Democratic Dogma was published in 1919 and was widely considered a success and an influential work. This collection of three essays introduced historical theory based on the second law of thermodynamics, which states that mechanical energy is in a constant state of dispersion. He equated this law with human history, saying that history is devoid of purpose, and is merely a succession of energy.