The early life of a famous American is depicted by an experienced writer of history for young people. From his birth as the third child and first son of a well-to-do Virginia family to his decision to leave college to study law privately, Thomas Jefferson is portrayed as determined to go his own way and think for himself. Hilton does a good job of tracing adult characteristics to youthful origins. Most interesting are the details of Jefferson's surroundings: the kind of education children in Virginia could expect; the role of illness in determining decisions; the differing lives of people of divergent economic means; the place of religion. Hilton is especially good at making small details show large social tendencies--the difference between the eating utensils of the rich and poor, for example. The writing is competent, but informal; the interpolations of fictional dialogue grate, but Hilton uses her original sources well to create an above-average biography. A section of brief biographies of people mentioned and a chronology of Jefferson's life are included.