Pulitzer Prize, History, 2009
National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2008This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family's dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826.
It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings's siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson's wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family's compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.
©2008 Annette Gordon-Reed; (P)2008 Tantor
"Fascinating, wise and of the utmost importance.... Gordon-Reed's genius for reading nearly silent records makes this an extraordinary work." (Publishers Weekly Starred Review)
"This is a masterpiece brimming with decades of dedicated research and dexterous writing." (Library Journal Starred Review)
Unless you're a historian, or descended from the line of Hemings or Jefferson, or both, you might find this book to be a tedious go. I did not even get through part one of four before giving up, so buried was I in incredible minutia in headache-procucing detail. I did find some information that was of interest, but nowhere near enough to make this an entertaining "read." Unlike another historical book that comes to mind, Sarah Vowell's "The Wordy Shipmate," about colonial America and written with wit and compassion, read by the author herself with those same qualities, "The Hemingses of Monticello" is both written and read in a dry and uninspired style (IMHO). I don't mean that this is a _bad_ book by any means, but if you're looking to be entertained while you learn, try something else.
I was so excited about this book I didn't pay full attention to the reviews. Man... the content is interesting but the narration is little better than automated text to voice by a computer. Robotic, halting and over enunciated as if completely unfamiliar with the content, the reader is unable to formulate the narration in a meaningful way for the listener. I listen to a LOT of historical books and usually love them. I'll plow my way thru this but it will not be pleasant.
Anette Gordon-Reed's book is a long and well researched work. Parts of it are very informative. However, she puts a lot of thoughts into her characters heads which may be fine when talking about Jefferson or Martha Jefferson Randolph who left many many many letters to be poured over and analyzed.
The Hemmingses have no such record and while I didn't always disagree with her assumption about what they were thinking and feeling I did often think it was pretty presumptuous. I don't profess to know the thoughts of people in complex living situations who are living today... much less ones living 200 hears ago.
This is the only book of about 25 that I have listened to from Audible that I was not able to finish. I enjoyed the subject and support Gordon-Read's agenda. But why does she have to preach little sermons after every little fact? What redundancy? What a berating she gives to the past players of history? Seeing as someone as great as Jefferson had fallen into sick attitudes about another race, I doubt that this author, if living in the same time and under the same circumstances, would have done any differently. Anyway, while listening, I felt like a teenager who is relentlessly being scolded by a parent for something they have not done. It was really unbearable. The narrator has a whiney voice that lines up with the berating author. I wanted the facts, not her overdone opinions. As a result I could not finish the book and am sorry for that.
I have no idea why this got so much acclaim. Poorly written and lilttle new information. Repetitive, too. And repetitive.
Gordon-Reed richly deserves the academic and popular acclaim she has achieved. As an audiobook, it drags sometimes. Gordon-Reed's careful analyses do not always make for a sense of forward-driving plot, yet they ultimately reward with insights that a less thorough scholar would have overlooked.
This is the only book that I have ever given up listening to. The narrator's monotonous voice coupled with the endlessly repetitious and supremely obvious observations from the author had me screaming in my car for them to get on with it.
The whole book could be summarized in just a few short sentences (SPOILER ALERT): slave owners had power; slaves did not. Slaves didn't like being slaves; slaves were treated differently than free people. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and Sally Hemings was one of them.
The author has taken what should have been a 2-page monograph and spun it into a 3-section book by constantly regurgitating the same information.
I have to say that I am very disappointed. I saw this author give an hour long interview on TV and I was so psyched to read this book. What a letdown! A previous reviewer noted that this book read like a dissertation and they are absolutely correct. I am finding it difficult to keep the many names and lineages straight because I am so bogged down by all the minutia & constant interruptions - speculations, opinions, etc... This style does not lend itself to a cohesive read. The subject matter is fascinating, the method used to convey the information leaves much to be desired. It would be best to purchase this book in hard copy so that you are able to reread convoluted passages as necessary to fully grasp their meaning. I am also approx. 5 hours in and am lost. I am torn between starting over and trying again from the beginning or just simply throwing in the proverbial towel. The narrator's voice and delivery are fine, she does a good job with what she has to work with, but listening to this book has the same effect on me that a white noise machie does. I am kicking myself for not listening to the other poor reviews.
The amount of research and integrity not to embellish are admirable.
HOWEVER, even though I love scholarly work, I found that this author had to tell us how she arrived at every single decision and interpretation that she made, things that are best kept to endnotes!
I am really shocked that the book was not better edited and that it still won a National Book Award.
This book is badly in need of a new edition. It is hard to bear the banality of the writing on such a fascinating and important subject!
Finally, the reader sounded like a nice lady reading to her third-grade class. A little soul would be welcome!
It belabored topics and would not give the reader the credit of being able to draw obvious conclusions AND THEN these would be repeated many times. In fact I missed somehow Part 2 in the audio download and did not think I missed a beat due to the repetition.
And some of her analogies and interpretations were really contradictory and confusing.
She also belabored many situations with my not getting the point as to why. And other ones, like the downtrodden condition of slaves, we all know very well. Specific incidents well-told were of value.
And she would say, "We could suppose..." that this or that happened. Of course! Anyone would! Supposition is way too prevalent, much of what would have been going into the mind of the reader of such a book.
This book could have been MUCH shorter and much more crisp in delivery.
I am really disappointed and dumbfounded as to how something so poorly written could have received both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer - a political decision?
There are some nuggets of history that kept making it worth listening to.
But the narrator's cadence was really annoying and played into the unnecessary length and repetition of the book.
But actually I found that the book and narration was causing me to fall asleep while driving, and it was only when the narrator hit one of the emphatic words in her cadence that jolted me a bit. I finally had to stop listening while driving. I would arrive to work wiped out.
Absolutely not - I love historical books with social richness, like the Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown.
Hmmmm...don't know who I would recommend. For short readings, I see her being very good.
There are too many to list.
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