Books: The Champion Failure

HENRY ADAMS: THE MAJOR PHASE by Ernest Samuels. 687 pages. Harvard University. $10.

"Self-depreciation has always been my vice," Henry Adams once remarked. A man whose grandfather and greatgrandfather had been U.S. Presidents might be entitled to think himself the "champion failure of all," but Henry was the best writer the Adams family ever produced, and posterity has found him perhaps the most fascinating member of all. In this third volume of a massively detailed biography of Adams, covering the last three decades of his life following his wife Marian's death in 1885, Northwestern University's Ernest Samuels comes closer than anyone...