41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
I found this recent study to nicely complement the standard book on this topic, Dumas Malone's concluding volume to his magisterial "Jefferson and his Time" series, "The Sage of Monticello" (1981). The book benefits from intervening research on TJ, including perhaps some additional documentary sources. The author has held a residential fellowship at one of the leading resources for Jeffersonian research, the International Center for Jefferson Studies situated near Monticello. However, the tone of the two books is somewhat different. Malone's title foretells the Sage returning home in retirement, to his books, family and farms, while he shapes the creation of the University of Virginia and continues to disseminate political wisdom. By contrast, Crawford's title , "Twilight at Monticello," suggests a less happy period for the retired President. The cover has a picture of Monticello in decay, somewhat after TJ's death. And many of the chapters are devoted to unfortunate and unpleasant events that afflicted TJ during his retirement. While the author's research is impressive, as reflected in 40 pages of helpful notes, he manages to cover the topic in 300 or so pages, as compared with Malone's exhaustive 537-page treatment. The author also brings to bear a more critical tone in assessing Jefferson during this period than Malone, who was (in addition to being a fine historian) distinctively a founding member of the Jefferson Establishment, centered at UVA, which undertook as much veneration of TJ as critical analysis of the third President. Jefferson is truly a complex and maddingly inconsistent figure; that is why solid studies such as this are so interesting to read. The author is to be commended for packing a lot of information into a relatively compact treatment--and Malone always awaits those who want to study the topic in greater detail.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Author Alan Pell Crawford paints a rather grim portrait of the post-presidential years of the life of Thomas Jefferson. This is not an expose or a hatchet job on the founding father, though. One learns that - like all humans - Jefferson had his flaws and his own personal and family struggles.
Family strife abounded in the Jefferson household. In addition, Jefferson was not an astute money manager of his personal finances. His indebtedness weighed and preyed upon him heavier and heavier as his longevity extended. Monticello was a rather high-maintenance and uncomfortable place to live.
Interestingly, Crawford does seem to weigh in on the side of those historians who think that Jefferson had a black mistress in the form of Sally Hemmings.
Again, though, this is not a scandalous book or an attempt to show that Jefferson had feet of clay. For those who seek a glimpse of Jefferson the man, it will perhaps be comforting to know that he was human just like all of us and struggled with many of life's common challenges and temptations.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2008
I can't tell you how somehow comforted I am that there are others out there who "got it"! Alan Pell Crawford has written a remarkable book. It's been a while since I found a book so intriguing that I could not put it down!
Jefferson was a complicated man -- and here in the 21st century, it's almost impossible to REALLY understand the thought processes, the logic, the "why?" of someone who lived under very different circumstances. We are products of our time. And so was Jefferson.
The beauty of Crawford's work is that he bridges that chasm -- as best as anyone can -- to explain HOW, for example, an ex-president (and creator of the Declaration of Independence!) could end up in such financial dire straits. How the times and political climate played a role. How family squabbles and obligations add to financial strain (some things never change!).
And yes, how it was very possible that Jefferson could have fathered the children of a slave. (I commend Crawford for not dipping into the "sensational" or treating the topic as some kind of an "exposé." He dealt with facts and probabilities - his explanation as to how the architecture of Monticello could've been conducive to "nocturnal visits" was beautifully researched, and yes, believable.)
So many historical biographies are frankly dull. Laden with facts, but missing that spark of life that makes a book breathable. Twilight at Monticello is a wonderful read - and very, very thought-provoking.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2008
Thomas Jefferson certainly lived a full life as one of our founding fathers, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and founder of the University of Virginia. He was very meticulous in the care his slaves gave to both Monticello the building and the grounds on which it stood. Jefferson's feelings regarding slavery are a mixed bag. He "trembled for our country" when he realized that God was just, and although he may not have physically mistreated his slaves himself he had others do the whipping. He loved his books, many of which were burned in Washington, D.C. when the British attacked the city in 1812. The fact that education was very important to him is demonstrated when grandson Jeff Randolph had his portrait painted by Rembrandt Peale. Jefferson had the portrait hung in the second tier below those of Adams, Franklin, and Lafayette. "Had you been educated," Jefferson told his grandson, "you would have been entitled to a place in the first--you'll always occupy the second." This was a period in time when women often died early after child-bearing, and men then moved on to marry someone else. Jefferson had many descendants, and alcohol and family squabbles often played a prominent part. Poor health often plagued him in his declining years such as bouts with boils on his buttocks, diarrhea, and constipation. Monticello fell into decline with Jefferson's death, and the mansion and grounds (except the cemetery grounds), slaves, and other household mementos were sold to a Charlottesville resident. Several of his remaining books were placed in the University of Virginia. As most everyone knows both Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after our country's declaring its independence from England. He lived a full life, but he also had a number of problems that families continue to go through today. Young people in particular should familiarize themselves with American history, and this book gives an excellent insight into one of our country's giants.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2008
........Thomas Jefferson never lost hope. And that alone would make him remarkable, because his last 17 years were filled with trouble. Dr. Crawford has given us an excellent study of the final years of a very great man. While not a biography in any conventional sense, the first 50 pages give us a fairly complete overview of Mr. Jefferson's first 66 years. Upon leaving the White House, Jefferson went home to a rundown farm, a family filled with strife, massive debts, and had to face it with no pension [Presidential pensions didn't arrive till Harry Truman needed one]. Without his daughter, Patsy, and grandson, Jeff, even he would have crumbled.
Thomas Jefferson always dreamed of establishing a haven for his family. Unfortunately, there was no money to do it, but that didn't stop him from trying. He loved his grandchildren, and lavished them with gifts...and the debts got worse. He tried to farm...but tobacco had depleted the soil...and the debts got worse. He co-signed a note for a friend...and the debts became impossible. His grandchildren had problems among themselves...and his heart was broken. His son-in-law was a piece of garbage [notwithstanding three terms as Governor of Virginia]. Still, Jefferson tried to stand by him. He hated slavery, but kept his own slaves. Thru it all, Jefferson never lost faith, never ceased his interest in public affairs. And, he founded the University of Virginia. Old, sick, broke, and beset; he made it work.
Dr. Crawford has an interesting take on the "Tom and Sally" controversy. While appearing to side with those who would vote "guilty", he freely states that there is no proof, and there are other alternatives. But, he then makes a point I haven't seen before, and for which I admit I have no ready answer: if Jefferson wasn't having sex with his slave[s], he was perfectly willing for others to do so...family...friends...casual acquaintences...day-laborers. Not a protecting master.
Thomas Jefferson was a man of many parts, massive ability, and endless contradictions [which never bothered him], to whom we owe much. He was not without faults, and most of his problems were of his own making. Still, he never lost faith in himself, his family, or America. Some of the stories and pictures will make you cry. But, you will in no wise question that a true giant walked among us.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2008
At one point in this beautifully crafted book, Crawford details Jefferson's effort to rewrite the story of Jesus, portraying him more as a man than a deity. In many ways Twilight at Monticello performs the same service for Thomas Jefferson. We come to know Jefferson as a human; concerned with the welfare of his family, troubled by turbulent financial circumstances, bruised by controversy and yet driven by convictions that remain intact throughout the turmoil.
I differ with the assertion that the book shows only the negative side of Jefferson. On the contrary, I think the author demonstrates a great deal of admiration for the man and his political achievements. The fact that Crawford casts Jefferson in flesh, rather than bronze, makes his story more accessible and his life more inspirational.
The author has taken the approach of the nonfiction novel popularized by Capote and Mailer into the realm of historical writing. We can only hope he will influence others to do the same.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2008
Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson is a first-class biography of a man it is possible to admire but harder to like. Crawford's achievement is the admirable clarity with which he guides the reader through the political, personal, and spiritual labyrinth of Thomas Jefferson. I finished the book without finding a dull page! Too often, historians get so caught up in the factual hodge-podge of their subject that they unknowingly drown the reader who is simply looking for new information or at lease a new perspective on an old topic or person. As a seasoned history teacher, I plan to use this book in my classes, including my philosophy class. I am sharing this work with all the teachers in the history department and have already put in a request to give this book a permanent home in the school library. A job well done!
Springville High School
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2009
I found the book to be increadibly educational as well as entertaining,
Jefferson's struggle after his presidency ,with everyday life.
His overspending which led him and his family toward great hardship,
his troubled son-in-law, and his personal health problem which advanced into his long life. These and many detailed events are detailed in what I think is a book to read for all Jefferson scholars and buffs.
The author makes it seems like one is in 19 century Virginia as a visitor
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2008
I am a history buff and have read so much about Jefferson, I almost winced when my husband brought home Twilight at Monticello--what else can there possibly be said? Well, a great deal. We have a bad habit in America of taking someone who has done us a great service and putting them so high up on a pedestal they appear to be gods. (Anyone remember the Victorian print of Washington ascending to Heaven?) This leaves the "god" no where to go but down. Twilight has achieved the 'impossible' which is to render Jefferson as a brilliant but troubled man who helped to form a type of government which was completely at odds with government as then known and risked his life doing it.
Jefferson and the others had no guidelines, no map, only a concept of what liberty should be. And, they did it. It wasn't perfect; we all know that. Nevertheless, they took the steps to achieve something that, even though flawed, gave us the liberty as time went by to amend their original ideas when they were incorrect. It works; it takes time but it works. After the Revolution, he inevitably became a god.
Later he was pulled down from God status, and correctly so, by historians stating that he was a slave holder, a father who had trouble with the "empty nest", had relatives you could dress up but you couldn't take out, and, we can all be joyful that Hamilton did the banking part since Jefferson seemed to have absolutely no concept of accounting.
Twilight is where Crawford has done Jefferson, and us, a service. He shows an old man who is out of the spotlight, mourning his chldren, madly in love with his grandchildren, making amends with old friends he has argued with, seeing comrades for the last time, worrying about slavery but unable to let go of his own slaves, desperate to pay his debts but still spending and borrowing (Mastercard anyone?), and suffering from poor health while moving on toward the end of his life. Crawford has done away with the god problem and has given us a real person, warts and all, and in so doing shows us a founding father who still shines brightly.
That is the beauty of Twilight.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
The complexity of Thomas Jefferson, his deep talents along with his blindspots, are presented in a fair fashion in this well-written sketch of Mr. Jefferson's life after The White House.
But beyond this, Mr. Crawford provides a window to one prominent Southern family's generational decline due to poor marriage choices; played-out farm land subject to unforgiving weather; wasteful personal spending based on wishful (or delusional) assumptions; and, above all, the corrosive effects of slavery.
The wreckage here could be the subject of a gothic novel.
In terms of style, I appreciate the author's ability to write the occassional short chapter for his book when only such length was needed to tell the tale.