Students: John Adams at 18

For generations, no member of Massachusetts' illustrious Adams family could consider a day complete unless it had been fully chronicled in his diary. "A letter book, a diary, a book of receipts and expenses—these three books, kept without intermission, should be the rule of duty of every man who can read and write," wrote John Quincy Adams in 1834.

According to legend, this stern precept had its origin in 1755, when an earthquake leveled seven chimneys in Braintree, Mass., and so impressed 20-year-old John Adams that he ran to describe it for posterity....

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