Stepping carefully around the controversies, a former curator at Monticello reconstructs the septuagenarian Jefferson’s active daily round.
Jefferson’s fixed routine begins with a faithful recording of temperature and weather at first rising and ends with a final period of solitary reading by candlelight in his unusual alcove bed. In between, the author describes in often fussy detail the range of his interests and enterprises. There’s not only his “polygraph” and other beloved gadgets, but also meals, family members, visitors, and excursions to Monticello’s diverse gardens, workshops and outbuildings. Like the dialogue, which mixes inventions with historical utterances, the generous suite of visuals includes photos of furnishings and artifacts as well as stodgy full-page tableaux and vignettes painted by Elliott. The “slaves” or “enslaved” workers (the author uses the terms interchangeably) that Jefferson encounters through the day are all historical and named—but Sally Hemings and her Jeffersonian offspring are conspicuously absent (aside from a brief name check buried in the closing timeline). Jefferson adroitly sidesteps a pointed question from his grandson, who accompanies him on his rounds, by pleading his age: “The work of ending slavery is for the young.”
Well-informed and much-idealized if not entirely simplistic pictures of both the great man and his bustling estate. (sidebars, endnotes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 9-11)