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JEFFERSON: A NOVEL Hardcover – October 1, 1993


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; First Edition edition (October 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055309470X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553094701
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,522,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thomas Jefferson remains annoyingly distant from the reader in this disappointing novelization of his years in turbulent, pre-revolutionary France as ambassador of the fledgling U.S.A. Set mostly in Paris between 1785 and 1789, the novel centers on the observations of 28-year-old Virginian William Short, Jefferson's secretary and admiring protege. Intoxicated by Paris and awed by his patron, Short is somewhat out of his depth, dabbling in the art of biography while struggling with his own conflicting personal ambitions. Jefferson arrives in Paris as a figure of international renown to find the city smitten by compatriot Ben Franklin; when he departs to assume the office of Secretary of State under newly elected President Washington, Paris is awash in the bloodshed of revolution. Although Byrd includes interesting details of Jefferson's daily regimen and associations in Paris, the narrative shifts awkwardly from Short's voice to a third-person narrator who reveals the thoughts of Short and others, but never those of Jefferson. Some paradoxical aspects of Jefferson--notably his attitudes toward slavery, women and religion--are only cursorily explored.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Grounded in fact, Byrd's fictional treatment of Thomas Jefferson provides a vivid portrait of one of this nation's most intelligent and influential founding fathers. Narrated by William Short, Jefferson's personal secretary during the latter's tenure as minister to France, this biographical novel is populated by a dazzling array of historically significant characters, including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and the marquis de Lafayette. Aside from examining and interpreting his mentor's complex political persona, Short also offers substantial insight into Jefferson's seemingly diffident disposition and his multifaceted and often controversial personal life. Absolutely splendid historical fiction that resonates with international, provincial, and individual passion and drama. Margaret Flanagan

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "alh1729" on June 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed "Jefferson", probably because it escaped the dry boredom of a history textbook. The story was frank and honest, and perhaps that was it's downfall for me, because I really didn't like the character of Thomas Jefferson. Byrd did an excellent job, though there was quite a bit more about the French sex life than I would have cared to hear about. If you're not into history, don't touch this. You will be bored, but if you're interested in Jefferson, or his era, you will really enjoy this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Howard L. Dixon on January 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Through happenstance, I've read three of Max Byrd's novels in reverse order. The first (for me) being "Grant", then "Jackson", and finally this book, "Jefferson". At first, I felt that Byrd's books got better with each novel but toward the end of "Jefferson", I began to alter my view. It is a wonderful account of fictionalized history of Jefferson's time in Paris. They're some constants in each book. There's enough sex, including James Heming's visit to some of the brothels of Paris, to provide a lurid view for those that need such enticement and there's also the book within a book. In this book, William Short, who was Jefferson's secretary while he was this Nation's diplomat to France writes his memoirs of Jefferson. Byrd does a wonderful job with these memoirs, including a description of Patrick Henry's famous speech at St. John's church in Richmond. Furthermore, the book does an excellent job of contrasting very vocal Henry, who wrote little and seldom stayed for the "pick-and-shovel" work of committees and meetings, with Jefferson who seldom gave speeches but could put words onto paper that endure for all time...the Declaration of Independence among them. As a fan of General Lafayette I was pleased to see so much reference to this exceptional hero who is often overlooked. Byrd accurately portrays Lafayette as not overly brilliant but maintaining close ties to the American society of Paris and fueling the fires for the overthrow of the King. As with all of Byrd's work his detailed research lead to wonderful "tib-bits" of history that might otherwise reside only on dusty selves of scholar's holdings. This book is a wonderful account of Jefferson's time in Paris and deserving of a place in any library.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joe Zika TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Max Byrd writes this book of historical fiction through the eyes of William Short as Jefferson's secretary and protege while they were in France. A man young enough to enjoy all that France had to offer; a man close enough to observe Jefferson as his mind observes the French people and the wonders of France.
Reading this book literally puts you into the time and place, descriptions of the sight and smells, sounds and touch of the eighteenth-century of Paris, France. The easily read narative takes you right along with the major characters as they live out their day to day lives. You feel the life breath as they interact, and the psychological insight... John Adams as stout as a tree trunk, bird-breasted with boney knees, Jefferson with an angular nose and chiseled features with blue eyes that revealed nothing, but observation. Ben Franklin short, fat, bald and always a flirt with kidney stones... Ambassador of Babel.
These are just a few of the numerous observations sprikled with humor and wit that takes the reader along on this adverture as a observer of times past.
This was an enjoyable read... I truly loved reading this book of novalized historical fiction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jean Junker on January 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
A fine, readable account of Jefferson's tenure as ambassador to France after the American Rovolution. Shows Thomas Jefferson as a man of conviction, but complete with faults, conflicts and an amorous soul. The story is told through the character of William Short, Jefferson's secretary and is the most readable and historically accurate account of Jefferson and his time I have read. Complemented with references to Franklin, Adams, Layfette and others the book is intriguing and very readable and enjoyable. Not dry or scholarly this book gives anyone interested in "Jefferson, The Man" a novel to enjoy as well as an opportunity to learn more about Jefferson and his times. Well worth the price and time invested.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alfred B. Shapiro on April 2, 1998
Format: Paperback
Having read "Jackson, A novel" first, I was very disappointed with this effort. And it takes some effort to struggle through this book. Little insight is provided into the enigmatic Jefferson. The character is not well developed and the book lacks pace, being mired in insipid detail. The members of the supporting cast are presented as effete sycophants or sybarites. Even the illicit relationships lack spice. In all fairness, the book may have spark interest in some as a period piece, but it didn't do much for me. I loved "Jackson", was not impressed with "Jefferson", but I look forward to "Grant" with much anticipation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By dgc@cmaster.com JBCheaney on October 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
Jefferson is a portrait of the most enigmatic man in American history, framed in the gilt-edged, multi-faceted setting of Paris just before the French Revolution. The subject matter is as rich as Virginia loam, and on it the author raises a bountiful crop of period detail and striking observation. The subtitle of the book, however, shows up its weakness: A Novel. What's missing is the narrative drive. What should be a vehicle is instead a graceful and perfectly appointed 18th-century estate--though there is much about it to be admired, it doesn't go anyplace.
Jefferson's years as American ambassador to France are observed by and reflected from a host of historical characters, some better known than others: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, LaFayette; the painter Maria Cosway, the slave James Hemmings, Jefferson's daughter Polly, Jefferson himself. The principle burden is carried by William Short, a young Virginian who serves as the Ambassador's secretary. Short is something of a problem: a sharp but colorless observer, he is forced to carry too much of the narrative, but not allowed to develop. At the end of the book we know as much about him as we did at the beginning--that he is handsome, horny, blushes too easily and admired his employer with some degree of ambivalence. Of all the characters, the pretty, fluffy Maria Cosway is the most successful. In her brief affair with Jefferson she reveals a substance and vulnerability one does not expect. The portrayal of the title character will be revealing only to readers who know very little about him. Enigmatic to the last, he shares a lot of the attributes of this book: fascinating and brilliant, but never forthcoming, never resolved.
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