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Thomas Jefferson Reprint Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 136 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195181302
ISBN-10: 0195181301
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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 253 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (September 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195181301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195181302
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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