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The Five of Hearts

The Five of Hearts

An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends, 1880-1918

  • reading group guide
The Five of Hearts, who first gathered in Washington in the Gilded Age, included Henry Adams, historian and scion of America's first political dynasty; his wife, Clover, gifted photographer and tragic victim of depression; John Hay, ambassador and secretary of state; his wife, Clara, a Midwestern heiress; and Clarence King, pioneering geologist, entrepreneur, and man of mystery. They knew every president from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt and befriended Henry James, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and a host of other illustrious figures on both sides of the Atlantic.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 480 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743288231 | 
  • March 2006
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Reading Group Guide

The Five of Hearts
Patricia O'Toole

Questions and Topics For Discussion

1.How would you describe each of the personalities of the five figures - Henry Adams, Clover Adams, John Hay, Clara Hay, and Clarence King—who made up the Five of Hearts? What elements account for their unusual cohesiveness as a group?

2. Mark Twain remarked of John Hay: “The presence of such a man in politics is like a vase of . . . roses in a glue-factory—it can’t extinguish the stink, but it modifies it.”How does Twain’s remark stand up in the context of Hay’s political career under Presidents Lincoln, McKinley, and Roosevelt?

3.How might Clover Adams’s frustrations as an intellectual in an era that did not offer women equal opportunities have contributed to her untimely demise? What role (if any) do you think her husband, Henry Adams, played in her depression?

4. In her preface,Patricia O’Toole writes: “A biography of a circle of friends is doubly rewarding . . . since it allows us to touch their hands and to see how they held out their hands to each other.” What do the ways the members of the Five of Hearts reached out to one another in times of need suggest about their connection?

5. What roles do secrets play in the lives of the Five of Hearts? Consider the anonymous authorship of Democracy and The Bread-Winners, Clover’s mysterious nervous breakdo see more

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About the Author

Patricia O'Toole
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Patricia O'Toole

Patricia O'Toole is also the author of Money and Morals in America: A History and The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She teaches writing at Columbia University and lives in New York City.

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