Thomas Jefferson designed his own tombstone, describing himself simply as "Author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia". It is in this simple epitaph that R. B. Bernstein finds the key to this enigmatic Founder - not as a great political figure, but as leader of "a revolution of ideas that would make the world over again".
In Thomas Jefferson, Bernstein offers the definitive short biography of this revered American - the first concise life in six decades. Bernstein deftly synthesizes the massive scholarship on his subject into a swift, insightful, evenhanded account. Here are all of Jefferson's triumphs, contradictions, and failings, from his luxurious (and debt-burdened) life as a Virginia gentleman to his passionate belief in democracy, from his tortured defense of slavery to his relationship with Sally Hemings. Jefferson was indeed multifaceted - an architect, inventor, writer, diplomat, propagandist, planter, party leader - and Bernstein explores all these roles even as he illuminates Jefferson's central place in the American enlightenment, that "revolution of ideas" that did so much to create the nation we know today. Together with the less well-remembered points in Jefferson's thinking - the nature of the Union, his vision of who was entitled to citizenship, his dread of debt (both personal and national) - they form the heart of this lively biography.
In this marvel of compression and comprehension, we see Jefferson more clearly than in the massive studies of earlier generations. More important, we see, in Jefferson's visionary ideas, the birth of the nation's grand sense of purpose.
©2003 R. B. Bernstein (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
There is an amazing amount of material for such a small book. I think Prof Berstein did an admirable job dealing in the complexities which are Thomas Jefferson, the man, the politician, the writer, the legacy. I also found Prof. Bernstein did well to set the historical context without interfering, or slowing down, the overall narrative. I'd see this as an excellent choice for someone wanting to know a little more about Thomas Jefferson. I say that not to diminish the book, but to highlight the small size and quick read that this book is.
“I discovered books and read forever,” - John Adams
Writing consciously without losing the overall meaning is harder than it looks. Far from being a complete biography, this book manages to pluck out some of the most important pieces and tell a fair, interesting story.
Bernstein packs a lot of information into this book. It may be review if you've read a lot about Jefferson, but it is a well handled and well presented review. It treats TJ's many contradictions, sharp corners and gray areas in a fair and historical manner and uses them as context for his less controversial accomplishments. Jefferson has meant many things to different generations of scholars, this book peaks your interest and presents the varying schools of Jeffersonian thought, but leaves you with an overall positive view of him.
Rather you are an existing fan of Jefferson or not, this book makes you want to read more, to dive into different aspects and continue exploring the life of this complex and fascinating man.
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