While reading the book, The Education of Henry Adams, I found it to be amusing, and interesting at the same time. Henry Adams had a unique way of looking at history and events that happened in his life. There were two themes in the book that I thought was very interesting. The first was how he defined “education”, and the second was his Dynamic Theory of History.
The term education to Adams was not going to school and learning how to read and write. It was a continuous experience throughout one’s life. It involves people you come into contact with as well as events that take place in your life. He states that in order to gain those experiences you first have to lose your innocence. As he was growing up in Quincy, he lived a carefree life naively enjoying the freedoms of a child.
Then things started to change with his visit to Washington with his father. He experienced slavery for the first time, and it was then that he started to lose his innocence, and become confused about life. He wondered how men could treat other men that way. Another event that further disillusioned Adams was the corruptness of politicians.
The Free Soil Party agreed to support a pro-slavery Democrat for the office of Governor of Massachusetts in return for the democrats to support a Free Soil candidate for the United States Senate. Adams points out that this is his first lesson in “practical politics”. After Adams lost his innocence he talks about a struggle to confront the exploitation of the weak. This is a big topic for Adams because of his anti-slavery stance.
He also feels that this is one of the main struggles in life because there is always someone trying to take advantage of people. The issue of gold came up several times in his life and he saw that there was always someone trying to make money while taking advantage of the commoners. Every one of these experiences gave him a little more education.
To Adams formal education is worthless. He has many experiences with it, going to Harvard, and studying law in Europe. He feels that one’s own experiences are how one is educated. This whole book is about his life experiences and how each one educated him a little bit more while confusing him at the same time. Adams doesn’t feel that one can ever be truly “educated” because times are constantly changing and you have to experience new things to become educated.
The next theme that really stood out to me is Adams’s “Dynamic Theory of History”. This is his theory, which states that throughout history there has been a gravitational attraction to an entity. The entity is an “attractive force” that mankind is drawn to. Throughout history there have been various stages of attraction, in the early stages, the man was attracted to power, philosophy, and religion. In more recent history, Adams sees science as the entity that humans are drawn to.
Adams was fascinated with the middle ages and how religion seemed to be the entity that people were drawn to. Adams believes that they were drawn to Church in the middle ages because it gave them a sense of unity and purpose. The Church gave the people direction and moral purpose. I find it interesting that Adams himself never devoted himself to any religion, but was incredibly interested in the middle ages and the role religion played in the lives of the people.
Adams then goes on in his book to make the statement that science and technologies are replacing religion in the twentieth century. He says that the sciences and technologies of the day are moving so fast that he doesn’t feel that the people are going to be able to keep up with it. Adams feels that with the rate of scientific development that in the next century it will be too much for the human mind.
He based his estimation of scientific expansion on the increased rate of coal power between 1800 and 1900. Some of his predictions have come true, he thought that by the year 2000, intellect will have increased so much that Americans will be able to control unlimited power. Computers give us that unlimited power.
I see Adams as a bridge between his generations. He was born in a simple time where things were done the old fashion way and there weren’t any new technologies that came out that changed people’s lives. He lived to see more advances in technology than perhaps in any other century.
These new advances such as electricity and telegraphs astounded him. His unique style of educating himself gave him a perspective on these new inventions that other people may not have thought of. He saw the pattern of people being attracted to ideas throughout history and logically stated that in today’s world people are becoming more attracted to technology than ever before.
This book is based on how Henry Adams educated himself. He sees that school gives nothing but formal education that doesn’t apply to everyday life. Over time he comes to realize that he is being educated every day by experiences that take place in his life. To him, these experiences are more educational than anything he ever learned in school. In the end, I don’t think he considered himself fully “educated”. I think that he saw himself as a work in progress, trying to change with the times.
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