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Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

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An ambitious, perceptive portrayal of a complex man, this best-selling biography broke new ground in its exploration of Jefferson's inner life. Here for the first time we meet Jefferson as a man of feeling and passion. With a novelist's skill and meticulous scholarship, Fawn M. Brodie shows Jefferson as he wrestled with issues of revolution, religion, power, race, and l An ambitious, perceptive portrayal of a complex man, this best-selling biography broke new ground in its exploration of Jefferson's inner life. Here for the first time we meet Jefferson as a man of feeling and passion. With a novelist's skill and meticulous scholarship, Fawn M. Brodie shows Jefferson as he wrestled with issues of revolution, religion, power, race, and love-ambivalences that exerted a subtle but powerful influence on his political writing and his decision making. The portrait that results adds a whole new depth to those of the past.


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An ambitious, perceptive portrayal of a complex man, this best-selling biography broke new ground in its exploration of Jefferson's inner life. Here for the first time we meet Jefferson as a man of feeling and passion. With a novelist's skill and meticulous scholarship, Fawn M. Brodie shows Jefferson as he wrestled with issues of revolution, religion, power, race, and l An ambitious, perceptive portrayal of a complex man, this best-selling biography broke new ground in its exploration of Jefferson's inner life. Here for the first time we meet Jefferson as a man of feeling and passion. With a novelist's skill and meticulous scholarship, Fawn M. Brodie shows Jefferson as he wrestled with issues of revolution, religion, power, race, and love-ambivalences that exerted a subtle but powerful influence on his political writing and his decision making. The portrait that results adds a whole new depth to those of the past.

30 review for Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ron Wroblewski

    There was so much I didn't know about Thomas Jefferson prior to reading this book. Just a few examples: Reading became a necessity for Jefferson (as it is for me), like music and gardening. The number of children he had with his black mistress Sally Hemings- who were so white in appearance that they blended in white society and even married white spouses. Arron Burr -who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, was Jefferson's vice-president in His first term. That Hamilton told people he would not There was so much I didn't know about Thomas Jefferson prior to reading this book. Just a few examples: Reading became a necessity for Jefferson (as it is for me), like music and gardening. The number of children he had with his black mistress Sally Hemings- who were so white in appearance that they blended in white society and even married white spouses. Arron Burr -who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, was Jefferson's vice-president in His first term. That Hamilton told people he would not fire in the first round of the dual (like he had a death wish). Jefferson had a personal library of 6000 books, which he sold to the US gov't to refurbish the Library of Congress after the British destroyed it in the War of 1812. That the War of 1812 wasn't necessary because the British had repealed the Laws that the US objected to but the word didn't get across the Atlantic till after the US had declared war n Britain. Definitely a great book to read. I want to add that the political process back then was just a chaotic as it is today. People were beaten up for their beliefs/statements. Washington didn't want a second term but did so to prevent the turmoil that existed between Adams, Jefferson and Hamilton. Things were not easy back then.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Continuing my trek through presidential biographies, I chose this one for Jefferson for two reasons. First, not much is actually known about Jefferson's life, for reasons I'll get into in a moment, and Brodie's book is an attempt to apply psychology to what we do have to deduce the parts we don't know. Second, DNA testing recently verified that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of a number of slave children, and Brodie's book was the first to assert that this was true, long before the te Continuing my trek through presidential biographies, I chose this one for Jefferson for two reasons. First, not much is actually known about Jefferson's life, for reasons I'll get into in a moment, and Brodie's book is an attempt to apply psychology to what we do have to deduce the parts we don't know. Second, DNA testing recently verified that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of a number of slave children, and Brodie's book was the first to assert that this was true, long before the testing is done, and I appreciated her reasoning. Thomas Jefferson, though a prolific writer and a detailed recorder of facts, was a deeply private person. He destroyed all his wife's letters (and his letters to her, and all the copies) when she died, so we know very little about her. He also destroyed all records and correspondence during critical periods in his personal life, and was very careful in all his records and correspondence to hide references to anything socially unacceptable, leaving us with a myriad of facts about when various flowers bloomed and how much he spent on books, but nothing about who he really was. Brodie quotes many of his letters, interviews with several of his slaves, and copies of letters sent by others to Jefferson to draw her conclusions. Jefferson was a man of many contradictions -- he strongly advocated and fought for emancipation and the end of the slave trade, but refused to free his own slaves, or even release them from their duties, as Washington did, and evidently was even willing to keep his own children by his slave Sally (who was only 1/4 black, incidentally, making his children by her legally white at 1/8 black) in slavery, though he gave them light duties until they ran away in adulthood. He also professed a deep friendship and admiration for John Adams, at the same time that he paid (over the course of several years) the infamous scandal journalist Callendar to defame him publicly. He seems to have been able to hold many contradictory views simultaneously, and was shocked and dismissive when these contradictions where pointed out to him. The result of Brodie's analysis is a fascinating look at what might have formed Jefferson's views, and how they might have developed over time. While I understand the academic skepticism of this book (it is half history and half psychological analysis, which is certainly not history), I disagree with it, and think this book might reveal more about Jefferson than the lengthy biographies based only on his sparse official records. While I think Brodie sometimes reaches a bit for her conclusions, most of her reasoning is sound, and I appreciated the insights the book gave me into both Jefferson's times and his life.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    If you like you're biography with some history then pass this one up, but if you're in the mood for some long winded overreaching supposition, have I got a book for you. Brodie does an admirable job of taking a spotlight to small details so that they cast long shadows. Jefferson left so little in the way of letters and personal thoughts put to pen that any biographer tasked with bringing him to life is stuck postulating. In fact, study of Jefferson leaves many people spending many hours scouring If you like you're biography with some history then pass this one up, but if you're in the mood for some long winded overreaching supposition, have I got a book for you. Brodie does an admirable job of taking a spotlight to small details so that they cast long shadows. Jefferson left so little in the way of letters and personal thoughts put to pen that any biographer tasked with bringing him to life is stuck postulating. In fact, study of Jefferson leaves many people spending many hours scouring his account book in hopes that some interesting fact will pop out. It's like looking at Hilary Clinton's grocery receipts and using them to determine how she feels about Indonesia. Brodie's efforts fare little better than most when it comes to cold hard facts about TJ. What she does instead is psychoanalyze a man who's been taking a dirt nap for a couple hundred years. Armed with the aforementioned expense ledger, the remnants of a smear campaign, and an assortment of second hand observations, Brodie humanizes Jefferson as a passionate compulsive romantic. Flawed yet brilliant. She does a pretty decent job of pulling this off, so at times you can forget that the same data she uses to illustrate his supposed strained relationship with his mother, could also be used to say that he believed mom was a samurai zombie killing priestess. In other words it's a little strained. I still like the book however, because Brodie does try to give us a more completely human picture of TJ than we've had, and also because she does a pretty darn good job of keeping it interesting. Let's be honest here, presidential biographies are not known for their chase scenes. Brodie does a fair job here, I just wish she kept one foot more firmly planted on Earth.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Erik Dryden

    This book is absolutely atrocious as a biography, full of unsupported claims and leaps of logic, not to mention all the pop psychoanalysis. That said, Brodie is a pretty good storyteller, so I give her an extra star for that.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Having just read an "intimate" biography of Franklin and feeling a need to brush up on American revolutionary history, I pulled this thing off the shelves some months after picking it up at a used bookstore in Evanston. Although a professor of history, Brodie's academic background was in English--maybe fortuitously as her prose is good. She got into history through the back door provided by Erik Erikson, the psychoanalytically trained inventor of psychohistory and psychobiography known for his 'Y Having just read an "intimate" biography of Franklin and feeling a need to brush up on American revolutionary history, I pulled this thing off the shelves some months after picking it up at a used bookstore in Evanston. Although a professor of history, Brodie's academic background was in English--maybe fortuitously as her prose is good. She got into history through the back door provided by Erik Erikson, the psychoanalytically trained inventor of psychohistory and psychobiography known for his 'Young Man Luther' and 'Gandhi's Truth'. Brodie pins the personal details of Jefferson's life to the chronology of the revolution and early republic well enough to require no great expertise on the part of the reader. If you paid attention in your U.S. History courses, you'll have no trouble. The great sensation of this book was her documentary argument for the existence of a sexual relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, after the death of his wife--a contention since substantiated by DNA evidence and portrayed in the movie, 'Jefferson in Paris'. This she does matter-of-factly, attempting to give an account with reference to what was not an unusual practice in that period. The fact of his virtually unacknowledged parentage of mulatto children clearly troubles Brodie as she generally admires the man. An expert in the matter might complain of an apologetic excess in her treatment.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    This reading was inspired by our visit to Monticello three weeks ago. The criticism of Brodie’s bio of Jefferson by some is that it is overly psychoanalitic, and that she at times jumps to conclusions from too little evidence. I can see that at times. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating look at the life and times of TJ based on reams of correspondence. I enjoyed the story of this multi-talented, often conflicted man, his relationships with other founding fathers and mothers, and his ambivalent and This reading was inspired by our visit to Monticello three weeks ago. The criticism of Brodie’s bio of Jefferson by some is that it is overly psychoanalitic, and that she at times jumps to conclusions from too little evidence. I can see that at times. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating look at the life and times of TJ based on reams of correspondence. I enjoyed the story of this multi-talented, often conflicted man, his relationships with other founding fathers and mothers, and his ambivalent and sometimes incongruous views and actions with regard to slavery. (If my math is right he died 187 years ago TODAY!)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sam Ludwig

    Thomas Jefferson was a great man too bad this book does such a bad job telling you that. I understand there is little surviving of his letters but too many inferences are made without validity. A great portrait of the man, just smudged by the rough handling of Betty Friedan and Sigmund Freud.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    I pulled a not-too-thick and not-too-thin biography of Thomas Jefferson off the shelf at the library and was amused that it was written by Fawn Brodie (who also wrote a rather infamous, although respected, biography of Joseph Smith). I decided to read it, despite first reading reviews that warned it fixated a bit too much on his romances. It was a fun book, although it did spend a lot of time on his romances and tried as hard as it possibly could to talk about issues Jefferson had with his mothe I pulled a not-too-thick and not-too-thin biography of Thomas Jefferson off the shelf at the library and was amused that it was written by Fawn Brodie (who also wrote a rather infamous, although respected, biography of Joseph Smith). I decided to read it, despite first reading reviews that warned it fixated a bit too much on his romances. It was a fun book, although it did spend a lot of time on his romances and tried as hard as it possibly could to talk about issues Jefferson had with his mother, supported almost exclusively by a complete lack of reference to her. Brodie tries really hard to delve into Jefferson's personal and emotional life, of which he tried equally hard to leave no record. So she is left to fill in lots of gaps. To her credit, she is trasparent as to when she is supposing, inferring, and sometimes making things up, like the time she says his wife Martha left only one letter and we know very little about her, but then proceeds to analyze the handwriting to conclude she was a very rigid woman. Whatever. It does leave the reader with a general lack of confidence in her conclusions. Much of the book talks about what Brodie sets forth as Jefferson's decades-long relationship with Sally Hemings. Apparently she was one of the first serious proponents of this relationship, and was lambasted for it, although it seems the evidence does tend to fall on her side of the fence. Jefferson was at Monticello at the time that all six of Sally's children were concieved, and other men who had traditionally been pinnned as the fathers were not. She talks a lot about how this relationship forced Jefferson to back off the slavery question. Jefferson was obviously an amazing, talented person, but I have to say I left this book liking him less. Because Brodie talks so much about slavery and his views and positions in relation to it, it was sad to see him get less vocal and opposed throughout his life. It scared me a little, to be honest. It is a terrible thing to justify ourselves in a wrong. We are forced to continue to justify ourselves, and push ourselves further and further from truth. Whether or not the Sally Hemings relationship was as important as Brodie makes it out to be, Jefferson clearly loved the comfort of his plantation lifestyle (which incidentally bankrupted him) too much to do what it seemed early in his life he knew he must in relation to slavery.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Whether you appreciate Fawn Brodie's Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (published in 1974) depends upon your tolerance for Brodie's mode of outdated Freudian psychobiography. As the title indicates, she focuses more on Jefferson's friendships, marriages and romances than his statesmanship and intellectual pursuits, essentially treating the latter as an extension of the former. Fine in theory, but in practice it leads to many strange assertions requiring a leap of interpretive faith. For inst Whether you appreciate Fawn Brodie's Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (published in 1974) depends upon your tolerance for Brodie's mode of outdated Freudian psychobiography. As the title indicates, she focuses more on Jefferson's friendships, marriages and romances than his statesmanship and intellectual pursuits, essentially treating the latter as an extension of the former. Fine in theory, but in practice it leads to many strange assertions requiring a leap of interpretive faith. For instance, Jefferson's dalliance with Sally Hemmings (still disputed at the time of publication) represents "the psychosexual dilemma of the whole nation"; Abigail Adams' exasperation with Jefferson stems not from her husband's rivalry with Jefferson, but resentment on behalf of all white women towards Jefferson's miscegenation (!?!); the Declaration of Independence's inflammatory language as an oedipal rebellion against his long-dead father. Such dubious conclusions mar a volume that, at its best, is consistently well-written, usually engaging and frequently insightful, especially when Brodie probes Jefferson's torturous peregrinations on slavery. That said, there are far more authoritative, less speculative Jefferson biographies to read before this one.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Susan Liston

    Oh my goodness, I've had this book since the Bicentennial, and am just now getting around to it? Well, I had read some parts previously. I know this was controversial at the time, since Fawn was apparently the first biographer to acknowledge what we now know for sure was a fact--that Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a slave. (Sally was three quarters white, and the half sister of Jefferson's late wife, I have always wondered if there was any resemblence. One of those things we wil Oh my goodness, I've had this book since the Bicentennial, and am just now getting around to it? Well, I had read some parts previously. I know this was controversial at the time, since Fawn was apparently the first biographer to acknowledge what we now know for sure was a fact--that Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a slave. (Sally was three quarters white, and the half sister of Jefferson's late wife, I have always wondered if there was any resemblence. One of those things we will just never know.) I did roll my eyes occasionally when Fawn comes to her own psychological conclusions concerning other areas of Jefferson's life that are also we-will-just-never-knows. But overall this is a very readable bio with the focus on his personal life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Steven Montgomery

    Another highly biased book from Fawn Brodie.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anup Sinha

    Overall, I really liked it. Brodie did good research and she certainly humanified (?) Thomas Jefferson. I can see why her style and her often hypothetical narrative is disturbing to some hardcore historians, but I found it readable and informative. There are certain things I would have liked to have read more about, namely the Lewis and Clark Expedition which Jefferson ordered and to me was one of his greatest contributions. It’s a fascinating story and Brodie only mentioned it in passing when it Overall, I really liked it. Brodie did good research and she certainly humanified (?) Thomas Jefferson. I can see why her style and her often hypothetical narrative is disturbing to some hardcore historians, but I found it readable and informative. There are certain things I would have liked to have read more about, namely the Lewis and Clark Expedition which Jefferson ordered and to me was one of his greatest contributions. It’s a fascinating story and Brodie only mentioned it in passing when it was quite a tremendous event of the time. She does go into his squabbles with John Adams, Aaron Burr, and Alex Hamilton in good depth and those were enlightening. And of course there is much about Sally Hemings, his daughters, and his wife. The last 10% of the book covered his “retirement” years, which I always find interesting. Especially his correspondence with John Adams and their remarkably coinciding death day of the 4th of July in 1826; yes, the 50th anniversary of their signing of the Declaration of Independence! The supplemental bios and descriptions of contemporary historical figures were also solid. I simply finished this book learning a lot more about Jefferson and his time which made this a worthy experience.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael Guarnieri

    Not so excellently written or as dramatically compelling as Brodie's seminal Joseph Smith bio "No Man Knows My History," a masterpiece of historical research and writing, "Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History" has its ups-and-downs. The prose is readable throughout, but at times the narrative is only as interesting as Jefferson's intermittently busy and tranquil life allows it to be. Some of Brodie's conclusions regarding Jefferson's psychology making itself apparent through his writings seem l Not so excellently written or as dramatically compelling as Brodie's seminal Joseph Smith bio "No Man Knows My History," a masterpiece of historical research and writing, "Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History" has its ups-and-downs. The prose is readable throughout, but at times the narrative is only as interesting as Jefferson's intermittently busy and tranquil life allows it to be. Some of Brodie's conclusions regarding Jefferson's psychology making itself apparent through his writings seem like a stretch, but the fact that empirical DNA evidence has since come out vindicating the author's most contentious assertions means that at the very least, Brodie deserves a round of applause for uncovering what she did. The psyche of this secretive and contradictory man really do come to life in Brodie's pen, though whether or not everything that's coming to life is 100% fair is somewhat questionable. A highlight passage: "But Jefferson's dilemma was peculiarly American. So savage were the penalties of this kind of love in the New World that he could neither admit it nor defend it without fear of social ostracism, and he had to keep up and elaborate pretense that it did not exist. He could not openly, and perhaps even privately admit his paternity of Sally's children. He could not give them the kind of education he cherished, and he had to reconcile himself in the end to the knowledge that the only way he could save them was to banish them from his presence. This, then would seem to have been the ultimate tragedy of Monticello, the unwritten and unadmitted tragedy in Jefferson's life."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    I had this book on my shelf for over 30 years and always meant to read it. I finally have and am glad I did. Initially, I had a difficult time getting into the book because it was without a doubt, the weakest part of the book. Brodie seemed to fancy herself a psychiatrist- more than willing to analyze Jefferson. Brodie was a historian and seemed a bit too anxious to pass judgment in areas about which she obviously was not qualified. Further, her pronouncements about Jeffersons relationship with I had this book on my shelf for over 30 years and always meant to read it. I finally have and am glad I did. Initially, I had a difficult time getting into the book because it was without a doubt, the weakest part of the book. Brodie seemed to fancy herself a psychiatrist- more than willing to analyze Jefferson. Brodie was a historian and seemed a bit too anxious to pass judgment in areas about which she obviously was not qualified. Further, her pronouncements about Jeffersons relationship with his mother are based on assumptions that she readily admits she does not have a proper basis for. That said, as I continued reading, I found the book fascinating reading and good history. Brodie is able to get under the veneer of an American icon and present a very human portrait of one of America's greatest presidents. Jefferson is presented as a multidimensional person whose personal tragedies and limitations formed his life choices and reactions to events in the public arena. There was a great deal of information in the book about Jeffersons personal life and about the lives of many of the players in the public arena of the time. It is a fascinating character study which added greatly to my understanding of the man and his times and I would highly recommend it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    I wanted to read this book after reading McCullough's John Adams biography. I found it a disappointing successor. I haven't read much biography but Brodie had a troubling use of psychoanalysis mixed in with historical record. Much of the beginning of the book had little record of his relationship with his parents so she relied on conjecture and cited human psychology research. Feels more like author supposition than analysis of historical fact. I wanted to read this book after reading McCullough's John Adams biography. I found it a disappointing successor. I haven't read much biography but Brodie had a troubling use of psychoanalysis mixed in with historical record. Much of the beginning of the book had little record of his relationship with his parents so she relied on conjecture and cited human psychology research. Feels more like author supposition than analysis of historical fact.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bill reilly

    Thomas Jefferson’s ancestor’s came to America from Wales and England and his father died when Tom was fourteen. Peter was a very large man who apparently had the strength of Paul Bunyan. Tom was one of eight children, six sisters and one brother. He learned to ride a horse and hunt with a gun by the age of ten. Peter surveyed Virginia and created a map in the 1700’s. Tom’s relationship and attitudes towards women was typical of the time period. He wrote that Marie Antoinette was responsible for Thomas Jefferson’s ancestor’s came to America from Wales and England and his father died when Tom was fourteen. Peter was a very large man who apparently had the strength of Paul Bunyan. Tom was one of eight children, six sisters and one brother. He learned to ride a horse and hunt with a gun by the age of ten. Peter surveyed Virginia and created a map in the 1700’s. Tom’s relationship and attitudes towards women was typical of the time period. He wrote that Marie Antoinette was responsible for the French Revolution and that women should not be involved in politics and should never disagree in public with their husbands. His antipathy towards religion started early. At fifteen, he lived with an Anglican minister of the fire and brimstone type. The Reverend James Mawry believed that the purpose of life was to prepare for death and eternity. T.J. replied; “the earth belongs to the living.” I share in the founding father’s disdain for organized religion. The young Thomas Jefferson learned Greek and Latin from Mawry, and was taught the violin by others. At nineteen, he unsuccessfully courted sixteen year-old Rebecca Burnwell. While practicing law, Jefferson built Monticello and became a fervent gardener, planting flowers, trees, and bushes with such a passion that he kept a detailed gardening journal. Those who labored the earth were the chosen people of God. Brodie devotes a couple of pages to John and Betsey Walker. John was a neighbor and best friend of Jefferson’s, and while away on a road trip, T.J. attempted to seduce Betsey. Tommy apologized for his bad manners in order to avoid a duel. At twenty-seven Thomas married Martha Wayles-Skelton, a widow. Her father, John Wayles, had children with a slave mistress, Betty Hemings. One of them was named Sally, T.J.’s future mistress; a very close family, indeed. The great paradox was Jefferson’s condemnation of slavery while living off of the labor of his over one hundred slaves. Shortly after the Boston Tea Party, loyalty to the crown divided families. Jefferson joined forces with Ben Franklin, John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock and others during the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was only thirty two at the time. Tom Paine’s Common Sense was the first and most powerful treatise against the British. At the state level, Jefferson proposed a public school and library system in Virginia. One of his greatest accomplishments was Bill #821, which proclaimed a separation of church and state. The Anglicans of the 18th century were similar to our modern day Evangelicals who believe that America is a “Christian” nation. They should read the writings of Jefferson and Paine. Jefferson’s one regret was his failure as the governor of Virginia. He had no military experience and the British pillaged Monticello, forcing Jefferson to flee. Martha died in 1782, and she extracted a promise from her husband never to remarry. As a diplomat in Paris 1786, T.J. met the unhappily married artist, Maria Cosway. The surviving letters show a close relationship. Brodie speculates an intimate bond, but we will never know. Sally Hemings is next and the questions have persisted for over 200 years. She may have been pregnant in 1789, at the age of sixteen, and when she returned to Monticello with Tommy. DNA tests in 1998 have proven that the butler didn’t do it. The founding father’s genes have been passed on to the Hemings descendents of Monticello. Deniers point out the thirty year age difference as a defense. News flash here; powerful men frequently link up with much younger women, hence the term, “trophy wife.” The latest is named Melania. Jefferson was secretary of state and had a bitter rivalry with treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. In 1793, an investigation failed to prove any financial irregularities of which Hamilton was accused. Jefferson’s self imposed exile from politics lasted for three years. His days as a gentlemen farmer ended when he became vice president in 1797. He became president in 1781 and ended the Sedition Act which chilled free speech. The Louisiana Purchase was also his baby. In August of 1802, the Richmond Examiner published a story naming Sally Hemings as T.J.’s “concubine.” Jefferson never responded to the allegations. While serving as president he wrote what later became known as the “Jefferson Bible.” In it, the miraculous nature of Jesus is removed, and J.C. is seen as a philosopher with solid moral teachings. A chapter on Aaron Burr is both complicated and entertaining. His plan to kill Jefferson and take over the country reads like fiction. History repeated itself in the 1930’s when General Smedley Butler was approached by wealthy businessmen to remove FDR in a coup. Jefferson despised Napoleon, calling him a tyrant. The president took heated criticism for not going to war with Great Britain. He knew of the human cost from the British forces overtaking Monticello. In retirement, Jefferson designed and was responsible for the opening of the University of Virginia in 1824. He died in 1826 and his mistress, Sally Hemings was listed as worth $50 in 1827. During the census of 1830, she was described as white. She died in relative obscurity in 1835 at the age of sixty-two. This book is an amazing chronicle of the complex history of both Thomas Jefferson and America. The sins of our father’s; and great great… grandfathers continue to haunt our nation.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma

    Okay

  18. 5 out of 5

    Greg Fournier

    This was the first (and, as of right now, the only) Jefferson biography I read. Had I known about this book what I know after finishing it, I would not have picked Fawn Brodie’s representation of Jefferson as my first foray into the great Founder’s life. Perhaps I have been spoiled by excellent biographers like Chernow and Isaacson, but Brodie was just not that good of a biographer. As a writer, she is excellent; in fact, one of the reasons I rated this book three stars instead of anything less i This was the first (and, as of right now, the only) Jefferson biography I read. Had I known about this book what I know after finishing it, I would not have picked Fawn Brodie’s representation of Jefferson as my first foray into the great Founder’s life. Perhaps I have been spoiled by excellent biographers like Chernow and Isaacson, but Brodie was just not that good of a biographer. As a writer, she is excellent; in fact, one of the reasons I rated this book three stars instead of anything less is because her writing style, while seemingly outdated in 2020, was formal and flowing in a way that was largely similar to Jefferson’s own. However, as a biographer, Brodie certainly focuses too much on Jefferson as an inner person, and not enough on him as an historical figure. For instance, Jefferson spent five years in Paris as an American ambassador, and yet his professional life there is hardly discussed at all, other than to say that his evenings were free enough for him to gallivant around Paris. Do I care about Jefferson’s interpersonal relationships? Of course. But he is a much more interesting historical character than Brodie made him out to be, and had huge impacts on our system of government. The best part of this biography, and the main reason why I rated this three stars instead of two, is his Presidency. For all her previous apparent apathy toward Jefferson’s political life, Brodie does an excellent job of discussing the major portions of his presidency and spends a good chunk of the book delving into the political squabbles that he got himself caught up in. This is the major redeeming quality of the book, and somewhat makes up for the fact that, throughout the rest of the book, Brodie seems to have half a foot in history and one and a half in psychology. Don’t read this book if you want to learn about Jefferson the political theorist, or Jefferson the sage. Read it if you want to learn in great detail the affairs Jefferson had with forbidden women (including one of his slaves) and if you want an amateur psychologist’s take on the man’s motivations. Don’t make the same mistake I did and read Brodie’s work on Jefferson before you read someone else’s.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kasey Lawson

    “The extent to which Jefferson kept Sally Hemings and her children relatively anonymous in his Farm Book would seem to be symbolic of his entire relationship with her. It was a kind of automatic denial, in the written record, that this enslaved woman and her children were important to him. Such denial was routine in the South, the accepted way of life. The denial was accepted too, though in a different fashion, by the enslaved person who was genuinely loved. Here the enslaved was peculiarly depr “The extent to which Jefferson kept Sally Hemings and her children relatively anonymous in his Farm Book would seem to be symbolic of his entire relationship with her. It was a kind of automatic denial, in the written record, that this enslaved woman and her children were important to him. Such denial was routine in the South, the accepted way of life. The denial was accepted too, though in a different fashion, by the enslaved person who was genuinely loved. Here the enslaved was peculiarly deprived of the right to, and even the desire for, emancipation, because freedom meant loss of the love relationship. If Jefferson had freed Sally Hemings it would have been to lose her, and it meant also that she would lose him. For although an enslaver could carry on a liaison with an enslaved person in relative secrecy without public censure, it was very much more difficult and socially dangerous with a freed Black. And the very act of manumission had to be a matter of public record.” “The values of Thomas Jefferson’s career are basic to the entire system of American culture. The way you think about Thomas Jefferson largely determines how you will think about a number of things. But the way one thinks about Thomas Jefferson is conditioned as much by what others have written about him as by the inner needs of the reader in search of a hero. It makes some difference to the hero-seeker whether, on the one hand, he is convinced by the so-called historical record that Jefferson was indeed a brooding celibate Irish clergyman, or whether, on the other hand, the reader considers him a casual debaucher of many enslaved women, as many today believe. There remains, however, a third alternative: that he was a man richly endowed with warmth and passion but trapped in a society which savagely punished miscegenation, a man, moreover, whose psychic fate it was to fall in love with the forbidden woman. The fault, it can be held, lay not in Jefferson but in the society which condemned him to secrecy.”

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul Wilner

    I liked it, learned a lot about Jefferson and his conflicts with, among others, the currently lionized Hamilton, not to mention Aaron Burr. I gather it was the first in-depth look at the Sally Hemings relationship - probably a little gauzy, even so, since she was his property, as well as his mistress. (Although in some sense the charge could be made of other Colonial wives, who had no rights to the vote, or property. Still). I get the criticisms I see in the comments, that it's heavy on the pop I liked it, learned a lot about Jefferson and his conflicts with, among others, the currently lionized Hamilton, not to mention Aaron Burr. I gather it was the first in-depth look at the Sally Hemings relationship - probably a little gauzy, even so, since she was his property, as well as his mistress. (Although in some sense the charge could be made of other Colonial wives, who had no rights to the vote, or property. Still). I get the criticisms I see in the comments, that it's heavy on the pop psychology, obviously under the influence of Erik Erikson, who was trending at the time. Too much speculation about what various figures "must have'' felt, a besetting biographical sin to this day. But some of it seems valid, an effort to get at the conflicts Jefferson faced, with family and on the contentious issue of slavery. I'm sure there's been subsequent scholarship that's more up to date, but I think this still stands as a valid contribution to the literature of this amazing man. What was it JFK said when he had a dinner party for Nobel Prize winners at the White House? - "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Terry

    Based on his voluminous letters, this is a very personal biography of Jefferson, with a fair amount of speculation about what he was thinking and feeling as reflected by what he was writing. I was expecting a more traditional biography focused on actions and events, although the subtitle of the books clearly suggest otherwise. This does provide much insight into his complicated and ambivalent views on slavery--stopping the expansion of slavery in newly formed states, sympathetic to emancipation Based on his voluminous letters, this is a very personal biography of Jefferson, with a fair amount of speculation about what he was thinking and feeling as reflected by what he was writing. I was expecting a more traditional biography focused on actions and events, although the subtitle of the books clearly suggest otherwise. This does provide much insight into his complicated and ambivalent views on slavery--stopping the expansion of slavery in newly formed states, sympathetic to emancipation and confident it would come one day, but unable to let his own slaves go until after his death. And of course his complicated relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave and the mother of several of his unacknowledged children. A man ahead of his time in so many ways and yet of it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carl M. Saxton

    In my project to read biographies of all the Presidents, in order, I chose Brodie’s bio of Jefferson. The author did an excellent job of covering all of the important aspects of Jefferson’s life. Also, credit where it’s due, Brodie was one of the first to suggest the Jefferson-Hemings affair might be true. However, I felt that Brodie tried to delve deep into Jefferson’s psyche and went too far at times. In addition, her style was dense and sometimes difficult to slog through. A good bio that cou In my project to read biographies of all the Presidents, in order, I chose Brodie’s bio of Jefferson. The author did an excellent job of covering all of the important aspects of Jefferson’s life. Also, credit where it’s due, Brodie was one of the first to suggest the Jefferson-Hemings affair might be true. However, I felt that Brodie tried to delve deep into Jefferson’s psyche and went too far at times. In addition, her style was dense and sometimes difficult to slog through. A good bio that could have been better without all the “analysis.”

  23. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    A great narrative of Jefferson's life, but full of leaps of fancy into T.J.s psyche. There is the well known and laughable notion that Jefferson referred to the color of soil as "mulatto" because he was obsessing over Sally Hemings, but even sillier is the idea that Jefferson reused the word "corruptions" numerous times in describing his opinions on the Bible because he was subconsciously contemplating his own corruptions. If you can ignore that stuff (even though it is frequent) you can still l A great narrative of Jefferson's life, but full of leaps of fancy into T.J.s psyche. There is the well known and laughable notion that Jefferson referred to the color of soil as "mulatto" because he was obsessing over Sally Hemings, but even sillier is the idea that Jefferson reused the word "corruptions" numerous times in describing his opinions on the Bible because he was subconsciously contemplating his own corruptions. If you can ignore that stuff (even though it is frequent) you can still learn much about the life of T.J.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

    DNF. This was given by a friend who thought I would enjoy it. Which should have been a red flag since it focuses on Jefferson's issues with his mother and then his sexual relations. I should have known, but I thought the friend wouldn't go that route. Oh well. I gave it a chance. It didn't grab me. And it's been sitting on my desk at work for far too long. I've read 10+ books or so since I picked this one up in October. I'm sure it's interesting if this is the content you're looking for, but it DNF. This was given by a friend who thought I would enjoy it. Which should have been a red flag since it focuses on Jefferson's issues with his mother and then his sexual relations. I should have known, but I thought the friend wouldn't go that route. Oh well. I gave it a chance. It didn't grab me. And it's been sitting on my desk at work for far too long. I've read 10+ books or so since I picked this one up in October. I'm sure it's interesting if this is the content you're looking for, but it isn't for me. Thanks. x Hill

  25. 4 out of 5

    Trey Lathe

    I was extremely disappointed in this biography. Ms. Brodie, though having done some in-depth research (thus receiving a star from me), seems to have thrown most of it out in favor of psyco-analysis based on conjecture. I learned little new in this book, except perhaps more than I cared to about Ms. Brodie herself. There are too many other and better biographies of Thomas Jefferson (whatever your view of him) to waste your time reading this one.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I like actual facts and supporting information in my history - this is a terrible history.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Byron Woodson Sr.

    This is the most impactful biography of the 20th century.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mike Maddock

    Eye-opening. Easy to follow. Some history books skip all over the place. This one did not. Author also did not make a lot of assumptions. Stayed true to letters and available documents.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marsha

    Just an excellent read!!!

  30. 5 out of 5

    S.A. Hartman

    A great insight into his thinking and behavior

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