The Pequod Review:
Henry Adams (1838-1918) was the Boston-born grandson of John Quincy Adams and son of Charles Francis Adams, and he lived in interesting times for both himself and his country. The Education of Henry Adams is his wide-ranging and introspective autobiography. It is told in the third person, which creates an odd and distant effect, but the book is nonetheless an effective mix of political analysis, educational theory, and self-help advice:
The effect of power and publicity on all men is the aggravation of self, a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim's sympathies... As far as Adams could teach experience, he was bound to warn them that he had found it an invariable disaster. Power is poison. Its effect on Presidents had been always tragic, chiefly as an almost insane excitement at first, and a worse reaction afterwards.
Then came the journey up to London through Birmingham and the Black District, another lesson, which needed much more to be rightly felt. The plunge into darkness lurid with flames; the sense of unknown horror in this weird gloom which then existed nowhere else, and never had existed before, except in volcanic craters; the violent contrast between this dense, smoky, impenetrable darkness, and the soft green charm that one glided into, as one emerged — the revelation of an unknown society of the pit — made a boy uncomfortable, though he had no idea that Karl Marx was standing there waiting for him, and that sooner or later the process of education would have to deal with Karl Marx much more than with Professor Bowen of Harvard College or his Satanic free-trade majesty John Stuart Mill. The Black District was a practical education, but it was infinitely far in the distance. The boy ran away from it, as he ran away from everything he disliked.... All State education is a sort of dynamo machine for polarizing the popular mind; for turning and holding its lines of force in the direction supposed to be most effective for State purposes.
No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit... In plain words, Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.