I randomly picked up Page Smith’s two-volume biography (1962) at the library. I think this paragraph captures the essence of a 20-year-old in compelling, memorable, and lyrical prose.
“To a young man of twenty the world is an extraordinary place…. He stands naked before it, painfully aware of his nakedness, touchy, passionate, self-conscious, defiant, hungry for praise and approbation, pierced by the beauty of nature, amazed at the staggering immensity and variety of the universe. He has not time enough to devour the feast set before him—the books, the places, the sights, the people, the ideas. He seeks to solve the riddle of the ages in weeks or months, pressed by a feeling of terrible urgency. He must wrestle and subdue Beauty and Truth, crack open the dense kernel of life and pick its sweetest meats. He must dazzle and delight with his wit and brilliance. And at the same time he endures torments of loneliness, and is touchingly grateful to those who notice that he exists, who endure his moodiness, his brashness and self-assertion, his dogmatism and cocksureness. He is obsessed by the problem of meaning in life but expects to solve it shortly. He is alternately transported by the feeling that he is destined to blaze a startling path through life dazzling all onlookers, and cast down by the conviction that he must live a life of humble obscurity. His judgments are harsh as those of Rhadamanthus, but he can weep over a sunset or the unrecognized beauty of this own soul. He combines those unattractive qualities of dogmatism and sentimentality and we can, at least in theory and if we do not have to endure them too directly, excuse all these things because he is open to life. It is for him a thing of heartbreaking beauty and wonder, vivid beyond expressing, painful beyond enduring. Such and so are young men of twenty if they are true young men.”
— Page Smith, John Adams, vol. 1, p. 26.