National Book Award, Nonfiction, 1997For a man who insisted that life on the public stage was not what he had in mind, Thomas Jefferson certainly spent a great deal of time in the spotlight, even in his retirement. In his twilight years, Jefferson was already taking on the luster of a national icon, which was polished off by his auspicious death on July 4, 1826.
In American Sphinx, Ellis sifts the facts from the legend to find the heart of the man who, at the grass roots, is no longer liberal or conservative, agrarian or industrialist, pro- or anti-slavery, privileged or populist. A man who sang incessantly under his breath; who spent ten hours a day during his presidency at his writing desk; and who sometimes found his political sensibilities colliding with his domestic agenda; who exhibited great depth and great shallowness, combined massive learning with extraordinary naïveté, and should neither be beatified nor forgotten.
©1996 Joseph J. Ellis; (P)1998 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Ellis does not have an agenda to promote; he has a story to tell, and he tells it well. In a book that reads like fiction, he combines exciting plot turns with information." (School Library Journal)
"The richly documented life of Jefferson holds endless fascination....This set should be a lasting favorite in popular biography collections, especially in the South. Warmly recommended." (Library Journal)
"Penetrating Jefferson's placid, elegant facade, this extraordinary biography brings the sage of Monticello down to earth without either condemning or idolizing him." (Publishers Weekly)
I was very concerned about trying this book reading the complaints about the audio quality. I contacted audible and they assured me a new, complete file had been uploaded and I can attest to that.
Thanks audible! This was a great book and the audio quality on it was tremendous!
Literally hundreds of "skips" throughout the entire recording, usually occurring every 1 or two minutes. I should have paid attention to prior reviews. Based on the fact that this recording is still available after those reviews, there is obviously no quality control from either audible.com or Blackstone. Save your credit until this is replaced with an updated version.
I was initially looking for a historical biography of Jefferson, but other than the 100+ hr multi-volume set and a few very short (less than 10 hr) audiobooks, this seemed to be the best that Audible had. It is not a historical biography, but an analysis of Jefferson's ideology along the historical timeline of his life. In other words, you DO get some historical information and context, but not a lot more than you may have already known if you've read John Adams by David McCullough and Washington; A Life by Ron Chernow.
That said, I felt the insights provided were fascinating, especially since there is such a contrast between the writings of Jefferson, Adams and Washington. Adams was so direct, Washington said as much with what he did NOT say as with what he DID, while Jefferson's sincerity at times seems to clash with a tendency to downplay disagreements he may have with the intended reader. Obviously this is seen when slavery is mentioned in his correspondence with fellow Virginians and with others opposed to the institution, but this was also evident in his political disagreements with Adams. Even while Adams, after the resurrection of their correspondence later in life, tried to entice him into debate on subjects of prior disagreement, Jefferson often avoided those subjects even though there is no evidence to suggest he had changed his mind on those issues; this, to me, leaves open speculation as to how such a debate would have played out. That is for our imagination only, unfortunately.
Other listeners have noted audio problems which I also experienced. I'm not familiar with recording equipment but to me it sounded like an overly sensitive microphone which mutes harsh syllables. For example words like "port," "continent," or "book" sound instead like "ort," "ontinent," or "ook." Annoying and distracting, yes, but they did not prevent me from understanding or enjoying the book. The only thing I can compare it to is if an individual with impaired speech were to narrate an audiobook. Despite this issue, I feel that the price paid for this audiobook was money well spent.
A revealing and honest look at one of our "Founding Fathers". Ellis reveals Jefferson as a complex and some what tragic figure. As with Ellis's "His Excellency" about George Washington, we learn so much more about the human side of these gifted but human men.The ruthless politics of today seems tame compared to the politics of this(Washington,Jefferson, Adams, Burr, Hamilton) historic time.
The book is great. The speaker, Susan O'Malley, speaks well, but Blackstone, the producer of this book, did a horrible job in editing this. There are little hiccups throughout the entire production. I've already complained to Audible about this, and when Audible asked, specifically what the problem was I told them to read through all the reviews to understand. Maybe Audible should demand a new file from Blackstone or something, but the quality is poor and the reason it didn't get a higher rating was because of those hiccups.
That aside, yes, the book is a very interesting read. Still trying to figure out how hypocritical Mr. Jefferson is on the slavery issue. If I could go back in time, he'd be one of the people I'd most like to meet, even more so now after listening to this book.
Now, please, for the benefit of future listeners, fix the !@$#!@!@ hiccups!
The content and reading are good, but the editing is very distracting. Every few minutes, you lose a few words as sections are spliced together. Don't buy this audiobook.
The text of the book is fascinating as I have come to expect from Joeseph J. Ellis and Susan O'Malley does a wonderful job narrating. However, either the audiobook editing (or perhaps the audible compression) is horrendous. Every couple minutes a second or so is missing from the soundtrack making you guess the words that were supposed to be there. It takes a lot of patience to listen to, even though I'd really like to listen to the book.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
“God was not in the details for Jefferson; he was in the sky and stars.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx
Ellis' biography of Thomas Jefferson's character is a more difficult task than one might imagine at first. Jefferson while brilliant with words is also a founding father of smoke. He was comfortable with ambiguity, but saw things in black and white. He had a great ability to mask his feelings and deceive himself. He was a visionary and prophet in the mountains whose biggest creation was not concrete. Washington created the Great Man of America. Hamilton created America's government. Madison created our Constitution. Adams helped to create the revolution. Jefferson created an idea and an ideal. His vision of personal freedom and liberty floated in a realm of make-believe, but also in a place of dreams. It was an ideal that was clear enough to seduce generations of Americans, but opaque enough to allow that ideal to be held by opposing forces.
Ellis doesn't try to tackle the whole of Jefferson. His biography jumps around and almost completely jumps over his Vice Presidency, his second term as President, etc. Ellis isn't trying to re-travel the well-traveled histories. He wants to figure out the complexities of the man. He wants to put the smoke into a bottle. He does a pretty good job. However, he missed the boat by a couple years on Sally Hemings and gave Jefferson a bit too much credit on that. But he doesn't pull many punches. He captures the paranoia of Jefferson, his ideologies, his contradictions, his issue with slavery, his ability to bend when needed and get around his own hypocrisy. It is a good biography, just not a great one.
The contents of this book are quite thrilling, the reading by Mrs. O'Malley leaves a lot to be desired. Ellis does an excellent job in some fascinating tidbits of Jefferson’s life. The preface is also excellent reading in that Ellis goes into the reason for his book and at what angle his is coming from. I have read other books from Ellis and I consider him a Top historian, but the reading is so dry and boring if it wasn’t for the gems hidden inside I would actually not listen at all.
Ellis goes into the deeper side of Jefferson and try’s through educated guesses (which are very entertaining as well as interesting) and comes to some very good conclusions. I would suggest this book to anyone, but be forewarned of the dry reading.
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