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THOMAS JEFFERSON by Thomas J. Fleming



Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Norton-Grosset & Dunlap

With so many Jefferson biographies available to the young reader, this addition to the literature stimulates limited enthusiasm. Wibberley's well-researched 393-page Man of Liberty (1968) remains unchallenged as the most stimulating and comprehensive account; for the less ambitious Fleming's biography compares favorably with the precise prose of Manuel Komroff's Thomas Jefferson (1961), except for a few unfortunate instances such as Fleming's unsatisfying account of Jefferson's romantic involvement with Maria Cosway, a married woman in Paris. Fleming may have intended to make Jefferson seem more human; he succeeds instead in making him appear ridiculous. ""Away went the ambassador to bound over the little fence and come crashing to earth, flat on his face. . . ."" Then too, Jefferson's love letters to Mrs. Cosway, a dialogue between Head and Heart, are not the stuff to endear him or the book to today's youngsters, who might also bog down earlier, in the several pages devoted to the Declaration of Independence and its Congressional revisions -- material better considered in an appendix. To reward the persistent, the latter half of the book shows significant improvement: Jefferson's years in Washington as Secretary of State and President are recalled with appropriate excitement. What prompts disappointment then is not the unevenness of the book but the realization that a much better one was nearly achieved.