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American sphinx : the character of Thomas Jefferson
Joseph J. Ellis
Adult Nonfiction E332.2.E45 1997

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Penetrating Jefferson's placid, elegant facade, this extraordinary biography brings the sage of Monticello down to earth without either condemning or idolizing him. Jefferson saw the American Revolution as the opening shot in a global struggle destined to sweep over the world, and his political outlook, in Ellis's judgment, was more radical than liberal. A Francophile, an obsessive letter-writer, a tongue-tied public speaker, a sentimental soul who placed women on a pedestal and sobbed for weeks after his wife's death, Jefferson saw himself as a yeoman farmer but was actually a heavily indebted, slaveholding Virginia planter. His retreat from his early anti-slavery advocacy to a position of silence and procrastination reflected his conviction that whites and blacks were inherently different and could not live together in harmony, maintains Mount Holyoke historian Ellis, biographer of John Adams (Passionate Sage). Jefferson clung to idyllic visions, embracing, for example, the "Saxon myth," the utterly groundless theory that the earliest migrants from England came to America at their own expense, making a total break with the mother country. His romantic idealism, exemplified by his view of the American West as endlessly renewable, was consonant with future generations' political innocence, their youthful hopes and illusions, making our third president, in Ellis's shrewd psychological portrait, a progenitor of the American Dream. History Book Club selection. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Historian Ellis (Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams, LJ 4/15/93) does not attempt to give a full-scale biography of the Sage of Monticello. Rather, he offers a balanced meditation on Jefferson's character and ideals. Reaffirming and taking further what some previous authors have stated, Ellis maintains that Jefferson's ambiguous, secretive character was able to support mutually contradictory positions on a variety of issues. Moreover, Jefferson often retreated into romantic illusions rather than face reality. Ellis's work is based on many years of research into this period of American history, and it is perfectly pitched to appeal to both general readers and specialists. Attorney Gordon-Reed (law, New York Law Sch.) presents a lawyer's analysis of the evidence for and against the proposition that Jefferson was the father of several children born to his household slave Sally Hemings. Gordon-Reed is not concerned with Jefferson and Hemings as much as she is with how Jefferson's defenders have dealt with the evidence about the case. Her book takes aim at such noteworthy biographers as Dumas Malone, who has been quick to accept evidence against a liaison and quick to reject evidence for one. In sum, the Jefferson who emerges from these two books is a great though deeply flawed man. Both books are highly recommended as essential reading for all libraries.‘Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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