Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty Hardcover – April 25, 2017
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"[A] splendid biography."―Wall Street Journal
"The fullest and most complete single-volume life of Jefferson since Merrill Peterson's thousand-page biography of 1970."―Gordon Wood, Weekly Standard
"A sympathetic (though not hagiographic) view of Jefferson that emphasizes the differences between his world and ours....[Jefferson] was, in Mr. Boles's words, the 'architect of American liberty,' a phrase the author uses without the sneers or hedges that have become de rigueur among recent chroniclers of the founding era....[a] splendid biography."―Wall Street Journal
"[A] good, solid, generally fair-minded biography... [Boles's] biography concentrates on the exterior events of Jefferson's private and public lives and weaves them together in a straightforward, clearly written narrative. It is the fullest and most complete single-volume life of Jefferson since Merrill Peterson's thousand-page biography of 1970."―
"For all readers interested in understanding the enigmatic and controversial Jefferson as well as his shortcomings and triumphs within the context of his time."―Library Journal
"In a narrative as majestic as its subject, Boles takes a fresh, nuanced look at one of the America's most enigmatic founding fathers... Boles, an accomplished scholar well versed in the source material, deftly paints a picture of the world as Jefferson knew it, taking care not to mix up understanding with excusing, especially with the Virginian's relationship with Sally Hemings. This is a gem of a biography."―Publishers Weekly
"John Boles's deeply researched and judiciously balanced Jefferson is an exemplary biography. Animated by a warm and wise admiration for a great American, Boles never loses sight of Jefferson's limitations and failures-or of his extraordinary achievements."―Peter Onuf, University of Virginia, and coauthor, with Annette Gordon-Reed, of 'Most Blessed of the Patriarchs': Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination
"Intensely satisfying... Boles does a particularly skillful job at weaving Jefferson's correspondence and other writings into the busy tempo of his year-to-year life, creating a fascinating dialogue on the page between the reserved and often diffident public man and direct and provocative private writer."―Christian Science Monitor
"[An] elegant, highly incisive new biography... The detail is impressive, equally so the fluidity of the presentation. The reader is enveloped in Jefferson's world."―Booklist
About the Author
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The author writes with boldness as he navigates error in recent Jeffersonian research. For example, in contrast to some Jeffersonian historians, Boles claims Jefferson actually had a close relationship with his mother and backs it up with adequate evidence. He takes on author Ron Chernow’s accusation of cowardice by Jefferson while he was governor of Virginia and even charges Chernow with intellectual dishonesty. He takes on Jefferson critic Joseph Ellis’ wild notion that Jefferson would have sided with the South in the Civil War. Boles teaches us that the Architect of American Liberty would have been horrified by that notion and by that war. Boles exposes author Henry Wiencek’s conclusion that Jefferson softened on slavery in his later years as pure fantasy.
There is one small detail that I especially appreciated in this book. Boles correctly slams the idea (indeed, propagated by the Hamilton Broadway Musical) that Jefferson's use of the word "men" in the Declaration of Independence meant only males. This is the height of intellectual dishonesty and is in fact revisionist history. For one to interpret the Declaration in that way is to show one's severe lack of literary exposure. Boles rightly points out that Jefferson's use of the word "men" is to refer to mankind which includes both men and women. By pointing this out, Boles exposes the blatant modern bias against Jefferson. It also exposes Boles for being an honest, bold, and informed writer and researcher.
Boles deals with the slavery paradox with precision and honesty. He shows us how and why we are disappointed with Jefferson in this area and teaches us how Jefferson could live with such a paradox. Boles helps us to think about how to judge the man by the man’s times, standards, and surroundings. The treatment of this subject in this book is extremely thoughtful, unbiased, and balanced; critical where criticism is due. Boles draws on extensive scholarship and offers satisfying conclusions about how to think about Jefferson in the context of slavery.
Of course, what would a book about Jefferson be without a detailed account of the brilliance of his mind, stock of his broad interests, and details about his beloved Monticello. All of that is here in detail. The stories of Jefferson’s time in Paris are highly interesting in this book. Boles also offers juicy family tales of knife fights, fireplace poker fights, and other wild stories. We follow Jefferson from his birth place at Shadwell then to Tuckahoe and on to the College of William and Mary. We follow him to Philadelphia where he becomes friends with the American greats such as Washington, Adams, Franklin, et al. We follow him to Paris and then to New York in the 1790's when the fierce political battles charge up. We see Jefferson rise to great fame as the author of the Declaration of Independence and as the President. We follow him back to Monticello where he lives for 17 more years enjoying a fruitful and eventful retirement.
There are a number of books about Jefferson, but this is the first one possibly since Merrill Peterson’s “A New Nation” that has attempted a comprehensive accounting of the life of Jefferson. This book details the many reasons why millions of people flock to Monticello, why a mountain has his face carved into the side of it, why he's on our money, why he began a university, and why a prominent memorial of him exists in our nation's capital. The author claims to “humanize and contextualize Jefferson without either deifying or demonizing him.” He has succeeded. This book is the modern day standard for a full life biography of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson.
Trolls attack Jefferson over slaves. Boles documents inheritance from father-in-law via wife Martha, whose half sister was mother of Sally Hemings, who was reluctantly brought to Paris as teenage companion for Jefferson's younger daughter. Boles also documents Jefferson's efforts for her siblings, in educating them, and training them for earning middle class income. Most important, Boles documents Jefferson's consistent legal feelings along with his economic dependence. Virginia's founding fathers were land rich and cash poor.
Boles documents the long and important cooperation of Madison and Jefferson. That they were friends and Monticello neighbors is well known. That Madison was often needed as skilled implementer of their shared political ideas will now be known, thanks to Boles.
Years from 1776 to1788 seem Providential to many commentators. Boles shows it took years more Providence to protect a fledgling democratic experiment, years in which Jefferson continued to have major roles, his bio worth careful reading. Understanding of founding history will grow, along with bot defense.
Top international reviews
However, as with many historical books, I feel it would have benefited from some good illustrations, possibly a family tree, but, most importantly, some maps.