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Thomas Jefferson [Kindle Edition]

R. B. Bernstein
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Thomas Jefferson designed his own tombstone, describing himself simply as "Author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia." It is in this simple epitaph that R.B. Bernstein finds the key to this enigmatic Founder--not as a great political figure, but as leader of "a revolution of ideas that would make the world over again."
In Thomas Jefferson, Bernstein offers the definitive short biography of this revered American--the first concise life in six decades. Bernstein deftly synthesizes the massive scholarship on his subject into a swift, insightful, evenhanded account. Here are all of Jefferson's triumphs, contradictions, and failings, from his luxurious (and debt-burdened) life as a Virginia gentleman to his passionate belief in democracy, from his tortured defense of slavery to his relationship with Sally Hemings. Jefferson was indeed multifaceted--an architect, inventor, writer, diplomat, propagandist, planter, party leader--and Bernstein explores all these roles even as he illuminates Jefferson's central place in the American enlightenment, that "revolution of ideas" that did so much to create the nation we know today. Together with the less well-remembered points in Jefferson's thinking--the nature of the Union, his vision of who was entitled to citizenship, his dread of debt (both personal and national)--they form the heart of this lively biography.
In this marvel of compression and comprehension, we see Jefferson more clearly than in the massive studies of earlier generations. More important, we see, in Jefferson's visionary ideas, the birth of the nation's grand sense of purpose.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

And still they come, these biographies of Thomas Jefferson-so many, in fact, that it's sometimes hard to tell them apart. But not this one. Veteran historian Bernstein (Amending America, etc.) pulls off a remarkable feat: he writes of Jefferson and his "ambiguous legacies" with utter serenity, detachment and balance. He takes no sides and offers no particular arguments about the man. Instead, in prose of the utmost directness and clarity, Bernstein simply lays out the great founder's life in all its complexities, achievements and, at the end, ruin-by which he means not only Jefferson's late-life financial plight but also his sad conviction that a new generation had become unfaithful to "his" Revolution. The acid test these days for partisan or skeptical biographers of Jefferson is how to present his relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. In a characteristic example of his evenhandedness, Bernstein treats the controversy in a concise summary, then tells us what is now known of the relationship and what cannot yet be determined. One comes to trust the author as a guide, not a polemicist. In fact, it's precisely because Bernstein reveals nothing new and argues not at all that anyone wanting to brush up on Jefferson's life or gain exposure to the latest findings about it will find this book of huge value. It will be most valuable to those seeking an introduction to Jefferson's life and achievements. There's little doubt that the book will become the standard brief one-volume biography of someone who was "the leading spokesman for the revolution of ideas that changed... the face of America and the world."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up–An honest look at Jefferson's life, accomplishments, and inconsistencies. Bernstein does not gloss over his subject's flaws and the controversies that surrounded him. The contradictions between Jefferson's beliefs and his behavior, while exposing his human side, are not used to denigrate him or to diminish his accomplishments. Obvious controversies, such as his owning slaves in spite of his writings, his relationship with Sally Hemings, his conflicts with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, and his volatile friendship with John Adams, are supplemented with lesser-known facts. His determination to lead the life of a landed gentleman despite his inability to afford it; the continuous construction at Monticello that made it much less pleasant than the museum it is today; his pride in founding the University of Virginia and his disappointment in the conduct of the student body; and, simply, the rough edges of his personality are all effectively delineated. The development of Jefferson's religious beliefs is particularly well described, but a misquoting of the Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom results in an incomprehensible sentence. Overall, the book reads well, although some of the background events would benefit from more detail. Black-and-white photos and period prints complement the text. Attractive and appealing, this book is similar in reading level to Joyce Appleby's Thomas Jefferson (Times, 2003) and in content to Norman Risjord's Thomas Jefferson (Madison, 1994).–Jeffrey A. French, Euclid Public Library, OH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 876 KB
  • Print Length: 267 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0195181301
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; Reprint edition (September 4, 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003N2P45I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,029 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
157 of 167 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Loved this Book. Very Concise and Insightful September 24, 2004
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed this superb book. I highly recommend it as an excellent introduction to Thomas Jefferson. The concise book is only 198 pages of text, yet the author paints a vivid, fascinating portrait of the contradictory and accomplished Jefferson - especially his ideas and how asserted them. This book was a joy to read.

On the cover of the book is a comment from Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood calling this book "The best short Biography of Jefferson ever written." Gordon Wood is the leading historian of the Revolutionary War era and the history of early America. I agree with Wood and would add that it's simply a great book.

Thomas Jefferson had a profound role in the meaning of the America Revolution, especially his enlightened ideas. He wrote the Declaration of Independence - essentially the American creed - "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Jefferson advocated freedom, learning, and individual rights for all, not to be infringed upon by the state. He was egalitarian in ideology and fearful of strong controlling powers over people in history, including religious powers. He later used the presidency to transform the revolution into his Jeffersonian ideals, and his legacy through time (taking different forms depending on who is using him as an icon) has helped to define the meaning of America.

The first chapter "A Young Gentlemen of Virginia (1743-1774)" gives the reader a fine understanding of the aristocratic, planter society Jefferson grew up in. The book succinctly details Jefferson's love of learning, his ideas, and how his ideas would play out his life and then into American history.
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is worthwhile. November 16, 2005
By joham
Format:Hardcover
As a part of my review I can't help but be amused at one who would claim this book "never should have been published" and "bad writing, I think, always reveals the shallowness of perception." Talk about the shallowness of perception... it sounds as though the reviewer is a frustrated and unpublished writer. To the point, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so too is the value of this book to the reader. If you are a Jeffersonian scholar, well versed in his life and times, this book will have little to offer you. If, on the other hand, your knowledge of Thomas Jefferson stems from American History class and fanciful movies, then it has something to offer. I don't know the author, but I doubt that he intended it to be the definitive biography of Thomas Jefferson. Rather, it is a concise, well written and easily read synopsis of Jefferson's life and worth the time it takes to read it. For those who want more in depth analysis there are other excellent books to fill that need.
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120 of 143 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simple, basic Jefferson primer September 17, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an extremely basic and simple 192 page summary of the life and accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson. In that context, it is perfectly acceptable. For the life of me, however, I don't see how this could be rated a five (or even four) star effort.

If you give this 5 stars, what do you give Truman, or John Adams or War and Peace? When you go to your average Holiday Inn, do you give it five stars? If so, what is a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton? Do you award the gold medal to a diver who does a perfectly executed swan dive? Degree of difficulty must come into play.

Having said that, if you're looking for a beginner biography for your junior high student, this would be an excellent selection. If you're interested in the American Presidents series and want to skim the surface of many of our Presidents without going in depth on any of them, this would be the way to go. If you're looking for depth, analysis and context, however, I'd certainly look for more than a 192 page summation.

Why then did I purchase this work? I knew what it was when I bought it. I had just finished Ron Chernow's "Hamilton" and had previously read David McCollough's "John Adams". Both of these subjects were rivals and at times bitter enemies of Jefferson. Having been brought up to view Jefferson as a Founding Father of great intellect and importance, it was a little disconcerting to view him through the writing of McCollough and Chernow as a dishonest, venal, calculating opportunist. Chernow, especially, falls into hero worship mode when comparing and contrasting his subject, Hamilton, with Jefferson.
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53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jefferson 101 February 24, 2005
Format:Hardcover
This is a great introduction to Thomas Jefferson. It's not possible to give a detailed description of the life and accomplishments of Jefferson in a mere 200 pages of text, but Bernstein has presented a fine basic summary of Jefferson' life. I don't necessarily agree with all of Bernstein's conclusions, and he seems to allow a bit of liberalism to skew his viewpoints, but nonetheless, there is a definite market for a book of this sort.

This is not an indepth, detailed analysis of Jefferson. For that, see such works as Dumas Malone's 6-volume set which took over 30 years to compose. What this book is, is a quick easy introduction and overview of Jefferson. If you are wanting to learn about Jefferson but not wanting to wade through 600 pages of Willard Sterne Randall's account, or even a the brief version by Joseph Ellis, which is just over 300 pages of text, then this is a perfect fit for you. At less than 200 pages, this is a quick, easy read.

I only have a couple of knocks on the book. For one, Bernstein seems genuinely disturbed that Jefferson did in fact own slaves and spends, I think, too much time debating the issue of Jefferson fathering the children of Sally Hemmings. Let us not forget that Jefferson was, in fact, a southern planter and owning slaves was accepted and commonplace. That is not an endorsement, but simply a statement of fact, and one that I believe Jefferson should not be condemned for considering the time in which he lived.

The other problem I have with this book occurs on pages 144 - 145. Here the author is addressing Jefferson's efforts to Christianize Native Americans.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting book, I found some things I did ...
Very interesting book, I found some things I did not know about Jefferson. It was well researched and well written.
Published 28 days ago by Sandra S. Ives
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative Book!
Thomas Jefferson was one of our families' favorite Presidents, ingenious inventor who also wrote and signed our Constitution. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robert Ontolchik
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
product was as expected and was received in a timely fashion
Published 1 month ago by randy scheuermann
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
good
Published 1 month ago by charles
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book on Jefferson's Life and Times
Great book on Jefferson. Put his life and times in an engaging narrative.
Published 1 month ago by Gene N. Peterson
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought I knew about Jefferson
I have known about and respected Thomas Jefferson as a founding father most of my life. I think the author did his research well to tell the whole story. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Hal Bourne
3.0 out of 5 stars Thomas Jefferson by R. B. Bernstein
The book was interesting, but I did not enjoy reading it. I found some chapters boring.
I didn't even like President Jefferson. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Muriel Schwartz
1.0 out of 5 stars "Good Condition" Full Of HIghlighting?
I don't think the book I got is readable. Every color highlighter in thw world is featured within the covers of this volume front to back, as well as pencil and ink comments in the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Central Standard
4.0 out of 5 stars Missing a Few Links
Jefferson was so much more than politics...high school students would appreciate the facts that Jefferson helped design our national capital and made classical architecture popular... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Virginia C. Selanik
5.0 out of 5 stars conscise Jefferson
Very well written. Gives a thorough biography of Jefferson, inclusive perspective of the whole man both positive and negative in a neutral readable way . Read more
Published 6 months ago by rosemary dilworth
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More About the Author

R. B. Bernstein was born in Flushing, New York, on 24 May 1956, the oldest son of Fred Bernstein and Marilyn [Berman] Bernstein. He was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from Stuyvesant High School in 1973. He attended Amherst College, where he was graduated in 1977 with a B.A. magna cum laude in American Studies. While at Amherst, he was a research assistant to Henry Steele Commager. Bernstein was graduated from the Harvard Law School with a J.D. in November 1980.

After three years practicing law, he returned to the study of history, doing graduate work at New York University. From 1983 to the present he has been a member of the New York University Legal History Colloquium, and he has been active in the writing of legal and constitutional history and in activities to promote the historical profession.

From 1984 to 1987 he was research curator for the Constitution Bicentennial Project of The New York Public Library, working with Kym S. Rice under the supervision of Richard B. Morris, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Emeritus at Columbia University. Among the products of this project was Bernstein's first book, _Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution_ (Harvard University Press, 1987). From 1987 to 1990 Bernstein was historian on the staff of the New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and from 1989 to 1990 he was research director of the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution.

In the spring of 1988 Bernstein was a visiting part-time lecturer in history at the Newark, New Jersey campus of Rutgers University. In 1991, he became an adjunct assistant professor of law at New York Law School, where he has taught courses on American legal history and law and literature ever since. In 2007 he was named Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law. In 1997-1998 he also was the Daniel M. Lyons Visiting Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

Bernstein's later books include _Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It?_ (Times Books/Random House, 1993; Univ. Press of Kansas, 1995), a history of the U.S. Constitution's amending process and the successful and unsuccessful attempts to amend the Constitution from 1789 through the early 1990s; _Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America_, coedited with Barbara Wilcie Kern and Bernard Schwartz; and _Thomas Jefferson_ (Oxford University Press, 2003). Gordon S. Wood's review of Bernstein's Thomas Jefferson in The New York Times Book Review called the book "the best short biography of Jefferson ever written."

Bernstein has just published _The Founding Fathers Reconsidered_ (Oxford University Press, 2009). His books-in-progress include a concise life of John Adams modeled on his 2003 biography of Thomas Jefferson; a study of the First Congress as an experiment in government; and an examination of the place of scientific ideas and technological developments in American constitutional history.

From 1997 to 2004 Bernstein was co-editor of book reviews for H-LAW, the listserv co-sponsored by H-NET (Humanities and Social Sciences Network On-Line) and the American Society for Legal HIstory. He is also a member of H-LAW's editorial board. For three years he served on the editorial board of Law and Social Inquiry, the journal of the American Bar Foundation. In 2004 he was elected to the board of directors of the American Society for Legal History for a three-year term.

In 1993, Bernstein changed his byline from Richard B. Bernstein to R. B. Bernstein to avoid confusion with the several other Richard Bernsteins active in journalism and law.

In November 2002, in addition to his scholarly activities, Bernstein became director of online operations at Heights Books, Inc., a used-bookstore in Brooklyn.

List of Books

Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution (with Kym S. Rice) (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).

Defending the Constitution (editor) (Mount Vernon, N.Y.: A. Colish, 1987).

Into the Third Century: The Congress (New York: Walker, 1989).

Into the Third Century: The Presidency (New York: Walker, 1989).

Into the Third Century: The Supreme Court (New York: Walker, 1989).

Well Begun: Chronicles of the Early National Period ((co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).

Contexts of the Bill of Rights (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).

Where the Experiment Began: New York City and the Two Hundredth Anniversary of George Washington's Inauguration: Final Report of the New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution (New York: New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).

New York and the Union (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).

New York and the Bicentennial (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, New York: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).

Roots of the Republic: American Founding Documents Interpreted (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter and Donald S. Lutz) (Madison, WI: Madison House for the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).

Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It? (New York: Times Books/Random House, 1993; paperback, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995).

Of the People, By the People, For the People: The Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court in American History (New York: Wings Books, 1993) (reprint in one volume with updates and expansions of Into the Third Century series first issued in 1989).

Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America (co-editor, with Barbara Wilcie Kern and Bernard Schwartz) (New York and San Marino, CA: New York University School of Law and Henry E. Huntington Library, 1997).

The Constitution of the United States of America, with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2002).

The Wisdom of John and Abigail Adams (editor/introduction) (New York: Metro Books, 2002; reprint, New York: Fall River Press, 2008).

Thomas Jefferson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Thomas Jefferson: The Revolution of Ideas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) (Oxford Portraits series)

The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

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