John Dos Passos is never a boring writer, but this present oddly titled addition to the Mainstream of America series (Lewis Gannett, Ed.) is so diffuse and so awkwardly arranged that his readers may find themselves suffering from acute exasperation. Subtitled ""Three Jeffersonian Decades"" and based on Jefferson's letters and contemporary documents, the book begins in 1807 in Jefferson's second term as President, winds its way through the War of 1812 and the administrations of Madison and Monroe, and ends, more or less, in 1826 with Jefferson's death, with a final chapter dealing with the observations of two Frenchmen in America in 1831, de Tocqueville and de Beaumont. Skipping back and forth across years, territory and politics, the author emphasizes Jefferson's two chief problems as president and his two great ambitions. His ambitions were the gradual elimination of slavery, which he failed to accomplish, and the establishment of free education in Virginia, a dream realized when he founded the University of Virginia; Jefferson's problems were the treasonous schemes of ex-Vice President Aaron Burr and the prospect of war with England, which broke out in 1812 under Madison. The best parts of this lengthy book are its excellent brief biographies of its principal characters, and the chapters dealing with the efforts of Burr, arch-traitor and professional charmer, to establish an empire beyond the Mississippi. The book closes with a delightful description of Jefferson's old age and his correspondence with John Adams, the two old statesmen dying on the same day, July 4, 1826.