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Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography (Galaxy Books)

28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195019094
ISBN-10: 0195019091
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Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography (Galaxy Books) + American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson + John Adams
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Editorial Reviews


"Covers Jefferson's entire life with remarkable thoroughness."--New York Review of Books.

"A noble and fascinating study."--Chicago Tribune Book World.

"A masterly biography....An urbane and graceful style, marked by a sure sense of language, makes the book a pleasure to read."--Journal of Southern History

"The most comprehensive and balanced single-volumed study of Jefferson ever written."--Virginia Quarterly Review

About the Author

Merrill D. Peterson is at University of Virginia.


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Product Details

  • Series: Galaxy Books (Book 436)
  • Paperback: 1072 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195019091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195019094
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 2.3 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #940,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Howard Schulman on April 28, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For people who have recently become interested in the Founding Fathers and are interested in Thomas Jefferson, this is the book to read. I had just read Chernow's Hamilton and Ellis' Sphinx and several other recently written books on the Founding Fathers, and almost all of them had bad things to say about Jefferson. So much so that I really began to wonder how it came to be that Jefferson had gained such a great reputation. Why is his name revered???

Finally, I found a book that unabashedly took Jefferson's point of view on every single issue, which was refreshing. It balanced the lopsided information I had been receiving, though, knowing what I knew, I could also see where Peterson was possibly stretching things, such as portraying Jefferson as anti-slavery....Though at least I heard the rebuttal to Jefferson's pro-slavery leanings. Jefferson clearly couldn't have made the USA all by himself, as Hamilton could have, but Jefferson was clearly an important part of the picture.

One reservation I had going into the book is that the Jefferson papers were really just in the middle of being editted at Princeton University when the book was written in 1970. I was concerned that this edition may be lacking important information. It may have, but for an enthusiast like myself, the knowledge available in 1970, when the book was written, by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor at the University of Virginia, was good enough.

The book, in short, is still considered the gold-standard biography of Jefferson, in addition to the six volume Dumas Malone work, which is simply too long. The book is very easy to read.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Thomas A. Wheeler on February 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Over the last several years I've read about 40 presidential biographies, usually relying on Amazon reviewers to point me towards the best and most comprehensive works. I struggled in my choice of a Jefferson biography, but I'm glad I opted for Peterson's work. First, it is a massive 1,000 pages, and it`s not for the faint of heart. While Peterson writes well, he certainly doesn't have the breezy style of a David McCullough or a Robert Dallek. Even hardy readers will feel a bit spent with the complex content from time to time, and I'd doubt most high school readers' ability to wade through the material.

Despite these cautions, I give Peterson's book a very high rating. Peterson captured Jefferson's personality, accomplishments, and flaws. With as complex a guy as TJ, this is not easy. Peterson also describes the conflicts between Jefferson and the various Federalists as well as anyone I've read thus far. Jefferson saw this conflict as more treacherous for the US than the Revolutionary War (and his concerns are highly relevant is viewing today's politics).

The emphasis is on Jefferson and his public life, and to a somewhat lesser extent on Jefferson's private self. It was written many years prior to the DNA testing of Sally Hemmings' heirs, and while Peterson briefly discusses the accusations of a Jefferson - Hemmings relationship, he dismisses it in favor of another Jefferson relative. But Peterson does not overlook Jefferson's conflicts about slavery, manumission, liberty, etc. As with other aspects of Jefferson's life, Peterson presents a comprehensive view and he is willing to point out Jefferson's mistakes. Does Peterson's probable error regarding the Hemming's controversy diminish this biography? Well, maybe, but with a man like Jefferson, this is but one facet of a very thorough and well-reasoned look at a extremely complex man who played a major role in several of the US's most challenging eras.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Todd Carlsen on May 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
This classic is one of the best one-volume histories of Thomas Jefferson ever written. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood called this book "the most comprehensive and balanced single-volumed study of Jefferson ever written." I found the writing to very detailed and to the caliber of a reference work, but probably too lengthy and meticulous for the casual reader. It also is favorable to Jefferson. I believe it to be an authoritative book on Thomas Jefferson.

What distinguishes this book is that 1) Peterson the Jefferson scholar has an unrivaled understanding of Jefferson 2) Peterson explains Jefferson's thinking especially well 3) Peterson covers Jefferson's life in sprawling detail, though 3) Peterson's emphasis leans towards Jefferson's view in American history, hence the title.

The sections in this book about Jefferson's formative years in Virginia are especially interesting. Then he was a young man seeking enlightenment. He loved education, was a planter, and became a good lawyer. He was asked to draft the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson held several political and diplomatic positions. George Washington appointed Jefferson the first Secretary of State - the most important executive position other than president. At this time his views came into conflict with those of Federalist Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson ran against Adams for the presidency and won. As president he orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase, despite the fact he had argued that the federal government did not have this power and favored power for the states. He launched the fascinating Lewis and Clark Expedition. He used to power of the presidency to emphasize the people.
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