I had wanted to read this book since it was first published, and I'm so glad I was able to get it as an audiobook. I learned SO MUCH about U.S. history and 18th-century Western societies. Gordon-Reed does so well at contextualizing the people about whom she writes, their actions, and their expectations, that I felt I had a very reliable conduit to the time in which the Hemings family lived and worked and was enslaved at Monticello. I'm impressed that she creates such a lively narrative without, as far as I can tell, embellishing or creating dialogue.
Listening to the whole work is a commitment. I stretched my listening over several months, but never lost the thread of the story. This is probably because of the many repetitions of the same concepts throughout the book, but, as Lenin said, "povtorenie -- mat' ucheniia" -- repetition is the mother of learning. I certainly found these repetitions more helpful than annoying.
The author has done tremendous research and opened my eyes to the real slave world of plantation owners and Thomas Jefferson. The concepts of slavery and the use of slave women to procreate more slaves and half brothers and sisters to the owners families is mind bending. Sally Hemings is led to a choice of freedom in Europe or enslavement in Monticello. Jefferson is fortunate that she chose to remain with him.
Jefferson, a man of letters and distinguished American, cannot see that slavery makes the Declaration of Independence, a hypocritical document.
Although the author goes off in many tangents from the principle story and bogs it down, it remains a tremendous piece of literature on the enslaved.
THis was recommended as one of the top books for 2008 and I knew it was long but I have been driving a lot so I tried it. Really excellent story about Jefferson but moreso about the extended Hemings clan. I have read the book a while ago about Sally Hemings but this really fleshed out the entire clan and their history. I really enjoyed reading about their time in Paris and the possibility that Sally could be freed there. In the end, just too long and now if I see an audio book I might be interested in I compare its length to this one and if it is about as long I have to say no. Maybe in an abridged version it would be better.
I had high hopes for this book, but they were quickly doused in a torrent of verbiage. There is good information contained in this book, but it could be conveyed in perhaps a quarter of the space. The remaining 3/4 is at best speculative and at worst pointless.
I didn't manage to read it to the end -- despite my best intentions of doing so. After a long, detailed section devoted to the many well-known differences between love for a child (in this case, daughter) and love for a partner (in this case, Sally Hemmings), I found that listening to nothing was a better use of my time.
Subject matter is facinating... but there is way too much mundane information and speculation. The book's editor did a very poor job.
An abridged version might do the trick in helping the listner stay focused.
I use it every night to fall asleep!
Two problems: very poorly narrated - read very quickly with no inflection; second problem - more a rant against slavery's injustice than informative
This could have been a great historical account about the slaves owned and exploited by one of our founding fathers. One has to put themselves into the mindset of the time, when slavery was acceptable and viable to the building of this nation. Thomas Jefferson was a great statesman and, while it is understandable why he needed slaves to work Montecello, a leader of our new country has no excuse for taking a child into his bed. He raped Sally Hemings repeatedly throughout her life, starting when she was still a child, making her pregnant many times, yet never freed her. We learn very little of how Sally Hemings felt about her situation or about the issue of her union with Jefferson. The Hemings are just glossed over in this book, which is very well researched with respect to Jefferson, other statesmen, and the history of the new United States. It goes into great detail about everything and everyone except the subject of the work. This story could have been told in two parts rather than four. In fact, I failed to download Part 3 and didn't even miss it! Listening to this book at times was like childbirth - you knew you were working towards something great but why does it hurt so much of the time? Maybe an "abridged" version, with an emphasis on the oppressed rape victim Sally Hemings, would be a better read.
I'm a big fan of historical record and analysis, however, Gordon-Reed seems to get lost in the details and ends up making repeated conjectures about what happened and why to the extent to where it borders on fiction. I prefer lengthy books to listen to during my long commutes, however, I found myself wandering in attention due to the minutiae. Ther are only so many ways to make a particular point and the author runs over her theses until they're totally flattened. Also let's encourage our narrator to inhale less audibly between phrases. She's a "gasper" and needs some training or audio editing.
I tried really hard to listen to this book but it was just too...well.. boring. I like details in the books I read and listen to but this was over the top. Maybe it would have been better if I had read it instead.