"MOST BLESSED OF THE PATRIARCHS" by Annette Gordon-Reed

"MOST BLESSED OF THE PATRIARCHS"

Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A portrait of Thomas Jefferson’s passionate belief in Enlightenment values and how it determined his personal character and that of the young nation.

Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Gordon-Reed (American Legal History/Harvard Law School; The Hemingses of Monticello, 2009, etc.) and Onuf (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Virginia; The Mind of Thomas Jefferson, 2007, etc.) are fascinated by the many shifting “selves” of Jefferson: father, husband, slave owner, diplomat, politician, and cosmopolitan. His broad sense of himself as “the most blessed of patriarchs” is both a beautiful notion and mostly correct as well as a patronizing illusion considering that he was the master of numerous slaves at his Monticello plantation and, literally, their father. In this meticulously documented work exploring Jefferson’s many roles in life, the authors take the great man at his word rather than how they think he ought to be: “We instead seek to understand what Thomas Jefferson thought he was doing in the world.” Subsequently, the work proves to be a subtle, intriguing study of his Enlightenment ideals, beginning with his great hope in his fellow white Virginians as the ideal republicans who (with his help) abolished primogeniture, possessed a “fruitful attachment to land,” and “knitted together…tender attachments,” such as strategic arranged marriages among the upper class. However, his vision was problematic since he and his observant granddaughter Ellen, who lived for a spell in the North, documented well the differences between the slothful Southern temperament and the Northern industrious one, while the ills of slavery, which Jefferson himself wrote about in Notes on the State of Virginia, would not go away—and indeed, his own ties to the Hemingses could not be hidden. The authors make some trenchant observations regarding the effects of living in France on Jefferson’s tempering of the republican ideals, in showing him both the dangers of extremism and the hope of “ameliorating” his slaves’ conditions by incorporating them into his patriarchal family.

An elegant, astute study that is both readable and thematically rich.

Pub Date: April 13th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-87140-442-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Liveright/Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2016




8 BOOKS TO GET YOUR BOOK CLUB TALKING:

FictionIMAGINE ME GONE by Adam Haslett
by Adam Haslett
FictionTHE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS by Dominic Smith
by Dominic Smith
NonfictionWHITE SANDS by Geoff Dyer
by Geoff Dyer
NonfictionEVICTED by Matthew Desmond
by Matthew Desmond

OUR CRITICS' TAKES ON MORE BESTSELLERS

See full list >
Cover art for INTO THE WATER
VERDICT:
SKIP IT
Cover art for JACKIE'S GIRL
VERDICT:
BORROW IT
Cover art for ROBERT B. PARKER'S LITTLE WHITE LIES
VERDICT:
SKIP IT
Cover art for ASTROPHYSICS FOR PEOPLE IN A HURRY
VERDICT:
BUY IT

MORE BY ANNETTE GORDON-REED

NonfictionANDREW JOHNSON by Annette Gordon-Reed
by Annette Gordon-Reed

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionTWILIGHT AT MONTICELLO by Alan Pell Crawford
by Alan Pell Crawford
NonfictionTHE PARIS YEARS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON by William Howard Adams
by William Howard Adams
ChildrenTHOMAS JEFFERSON by Jon Meacham
by Jon Meacham