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Book Report: New book, same old Henry

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Ever since I read "The Education of Henry Adams," I've thought of its author, the great-grandson of our second president and grandson of John Quincy Adams, as a sanctimonious little prig.

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Reading his "St. Michel and Chartres" didn't alter my opinions.

I guess I was only partially right. I've finished "Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life," by Natalie Dykstra (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26) and have come to know Henry and his wife "Clover" in a more complete light.

"Clover," a belle of the Brahmin ball if ever there was one, married Henry in 1872, when the historian was on the brink of becoming famous.

They seemingly lived a charmed life, hobnobbing with all the "right" people in both Boston and Washington, where Henry Adams took a job as undersecretary of state.

But all was not right at the beautiful home on H Street or their summer home with riding horses, et al. Marian "Clover" Hooper, daughter of a wealthy Boston physician, had suffered tragedies in her youth, deaths of relatives.

In her adulthood she was bright, witty and the friend to movers and shakers like William Tecumseh Sherman and Henry James.

She traveled the world with Henry, (the honeymoon in Europe lasted a year). Nevertheless she went childless and had episodes of severe depression.

Finally, she found refuge in a hobby that overtook her: photography.

Hope College professor Natalie Dykstra has studded her beautifully researched books with photos that Clover took in the last two years of life.

They are beautiful, but so sad one wants to weep when looking at them. Dykstra has painstakingly combed through Clover's letters to relatives for more hints of her depression.

In 1885, with her photos appearing on covers of national magazines, Clover drank potassium cyanide, which she used to develop her pictures, and died.

And what of Henry Adams?

The marriage was a chilly affair and as Clover aged Henry became attracted to young women in their Washington circle.

When Clover died he commissioned the famous statue for his wife's cemetery plot (known as "Grief") sculpted by Augustus Saint Gaudens, and never spoke of her if he could avoid it, even though he lived another 33 years.

Even more sadly he never mentioned her in his Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography. So I figure he was not only a sanctimonious prig, but a cold cucumber as well.

Speaking of Brahmins, Minnesota has its share of its own aristocrats and many make their appearance in a new coffee table book by Rick Shefchik, longtime Pioneer Press reporter and now a freelancer living in Stillwater.

Names like U.S. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg, "Pudge" Heffelfinger, Jimmy Johnston, Duncan MacMillan, Patty Berg, Lucius P. Ordway, Pierce Butler pop up in the pages of "From Fields to Fairways: Classic Golf Clubs of Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, $39.95) as Shefchik combs club histories, archives and photo albums to reclaim a very important segment of social history, as well as demonstrating that Minnesota, out here on the prairie, was a prime contributor to the development of golf as a popular sport.

Shefchik shows how famous golf links, past and present, came to be, explain the problems faced by its founder in boom times and bust.

Today we read about the financial hardships the golf industry is facing during our present financial crisis and how the lack of leisure time impacts on a game as time consuming as golf.

It apparently was ever thus. When golf began here in the late 19th century, golf courses had to be located on railroad and streetcar lines because few people had cars.

Later after the boom times of the 1920s, the Great Depression struck and new golf course construction all but disappeared, but boomed again after World War II.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book is called "Jewish Golf: Oak Ridge Country/Hillcrest Golf Club." Most private clubs in the 1920s were off-limit to Jews.

A Minneapolis rabbi, Maurice H. Lefkovits, wrote that "Minneapolis Jewry enjoys the painful distinction of being the lowest esteemed community in the land so far as the non-Jewish population of the city is concerned." Shefchik further explained that the Anglo-Saxon industries of agriculture, milling, mining, banking and forestry rarely hired Jews, who made their way in other industries like insurance, law and medicine.

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He can be reached at 715-426-9554.

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