The Education of Henry Adams had been an important and influential text for a decade before Henry Adams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in autobiography in 1918. The import of the text begins with its author, the weight of its influence with its first audience; its continued appreciation has as much to do with the first two factors as the fact that it was brilliantly constructed by a man of letters at the height of his powers.
Descended from one of America’s most famous political families, Adams contributed a classic work of American historiography and one of the most famous autobiographies of American literature instead of making a great political contribution to the country. Adams does provide insight into the Adams family, a source of fascination not unlike the Kennedys, but he is curiously silent on two areas of his own life. Adams discusses his experience as private secretary to his father, minister to England during the American Civil War. However, he says almost nothing on his role as advisor and confidante to John Hay, secretary of state to President William McKinley and President Theodore Roosevelt, while the United States became a world power. The other deafening silence concerns the absence of the lessons he must have learned from his wife’s suicide.
Adams’ release of one hundred self-published folios of The Education of Henry Adams to some of the most powerful people on earth—from writers to heads of state—guaranteed interest. Those who were not among the first one hundred went to extraordinary lengths to glean any information about the contents. These one hundred copies had a preface authored by Adams. The second text was released to the general public after Adams died. This edition contained a preface penned by Adams but signed by Henry Cabot Lodge in 1918.