Brooks Adams Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Adams, Brooks 1848-1927

(Full name Henry Brooks Adams) American historian.

A noted historian of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Adams is primarily remembered for his exploration of the rise and fall of world civilizations based upon their relation to the major paths of economic exchange. Adams's body of work—characterized by his deep pessimism and anti-Semitism—represents his attempt to establish a cyclical view of history based in part upon the natural laws of thermodynamics, which he believed governed social and economic development and decline. Early in his career, Adams generated controversy for his attacks on New England's religious forefathers, whom he believed to be the antithesis of democratic leaders. In his later writings, Adams exhibited an increasing bitterness, reflecting his belief that the energy of the United States had been spent, and that the nation had succumbed to materialism and greed. During his life, Adams was also an outspoken advocate for converting the United States' economy from the gold standard to bimetallism—the use of both silver and gold as standards.

Biographical Information

The youngest of six children of Charles Francis Adams and Abigail Brooks Adams, Adams belonged to a dynasty of prominent American political thinkers. His great-grandfather John Adams and his grandfather John Quincy Adams were presidents of the United States. His father was the 1848 Free Soil candidate for U.S. vice president; he ran on the same ticket as Martin Van Buren. Charles Adams was also named minister to Great Britain during the U.S. Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln. Adams's older brother was Henry Adams, whose literary legacy includes his autobiography The Education of Henry Adams, the novel Democracy, and a nine-volume History of the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison. Two other brothers, Charles and John Quincy, also enjoyed modest fame. Adams attended English schools and graduated from Harvard in 1870. He completed one year of study at Harvard Law School, and passed the bar examinations without obtaining a law degree. His family's wealth enabled Brooks Adams to pursue his writing career unencumbered by financial concerns. Adams practiced law for a brief period before leaving for Europe with his father. During his adult life, Adams traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East and India. From 1904 to 1911 he lectured at the Boston University School of Law.