- 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 (137 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Thomas Jefferson Reprint Edition
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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.
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Top customer reviews
Bernstein presents probably the fairest assessment of a person from the time period as I've seen. He doesn't ascribe deity or hero worship or perfection to the man. He also doesn't disparage Jefferson for being a product of his time and class and society. Bernstein presents Jefferson as a flawed individual who is not always consistent and doesn't always come out on top - also known as "a man".
Bernstein takes a look at large periods of Jefferson's life and isn't writing to complete a minutia detailed account of every aspect of his life. However, the areas he does point to build up the man into who he would become, who he was, and how he ended life. Bernstein does reveal quite a bit that you don't learn about in history books or in school because Jefferson tends to be known for only one to two very large things - but he was so much more than those labels only. Bernstein also makes sure the reader understands some of the settings and places and even people surrounding Jefferson. Again, this is covered with a good amount of balance. Jefferson isn't the "man who could do no wrong". I did learn quite a bit about Jefferson, which should be one of the main goals when reading a biography. Bernstein does not shy away, either, of covering points of Jefferson's life like his contradictory position on slavery or his possibly fathering children from one of his slaves. Again, Bernstein, doesn't excuse it but he also doesn't call for readers of the current time to look back and denigrate those who don't hold the same values. Sadly, that's where mainstream conversations and populist books tend to go nowadays.
Bernstein does a wonderful job at presenting Jefferson and his history. I highly recommend this book for those wanting to read about Jefferson or the era of the founding of America. I would have liked Bernstein to have gone a bit more into the political discussions Jefferson had with some areas of my own interest. Sometimes he tends to write as Jefferson on one side of the issue, someone else on the other, and here's the outcome. There are times that I wish the author would provide the reasons why Jefferson held to certain positions or had certain interests. However, I believe that may be the hindrance of history rather than the author. Final Grade - A
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants an introduction to TJ, though I only gave it four stars for the same reason I chose it: it's conciseness. The book's very brevity made it in some cases too concise. I feel like to even begin to have a working knowledge of TJ, I would need to read another book. What I have learned from this book is just enough to keep me from making major errors regarding his achievements and aims as a philosopher, scientist, partisan, and President.
What impressed me most about the book was the depth of analysis given the book’s length – 216 pages of text including the Introduction. Biographies of Jefferson exist with far more details about his life but Bernstein manages to pack both insight and excellent writing into each paragraph. After reading the book, I felt like I know much more about Jefferson than a more journalistic biography would give. It is one thing to give details, another to offer the reader a clear portrait of the person. So, even though there are many biographies of Jefferson on the market and most are longer books, I highly recommend Bernstein’s biography for an in-depth, fair and well-written biography of the third President.