Most Blessed of the Patriarchs – Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination, by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf
I’ve been fascinated for years by Jefferson, and have read most of what’s out there on this sometimes eccentric man. But this book takes a new tack. Rather than focus on his politics, his accomplishments in government as well as other areas of life, the authors let us in on the man’s psychology, the ways in which the vagaries of life drove him in one direction versus another.
Above all, Jefferson was a people person. Even late in life, he’d never turn away anyone showing up at Monticello to meet the great man. He lost his wife early in their marriage, and raised his daughters in proper fashion while attending to his responsibilities as a U.S. representative to France. He disliked politics; even so, he served admirably as Secretary of State, Vice President, and finally President, after a harrowing, revolutionary campaign. Slavery stood among his complexities; he maintained slaves at Monticello, but he worked continuously to end slavery, believing that institution would be a fatal blight on the new nation. Ever the idealist revolutionary, he dreamed of the U.S. as an ongoing citadel of freedom and equality in a world of the dominant and dominated.
The writing here is sometimes hard to follow; at others it’s as lean and taut as the best fiction, both testifying to the authors’ love for Jefferson. I found the book fascinating and Jefferson’s inner life as portrayed here inspiring. It’s a must read for those fascinated with the Jeffersonian era and the life of Thomas Jefferson.
My rating: 16 of 20 stars
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