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)
The author has a challenging job because there are no written records by the Hemmingses at the time. The oral stories handed down to succeeding generations are backed up by considerable research from others who left journals and letters, as well as newspaper articles and other period records. I found it a bit irritating to be told repeatedly what someone (who left no records) would have felt in the given circumstances, but I found the solid information helpful in understanding the whole situation.
I listened to the entire book (parts of it several times because I kept falling asleep). The "story" of "history" made the details bearable.How peculiar it is to learn that Jefferson planned careers for his slaves, from barber to carpenter to French chef. The government machinations, even at the founding of our country, reverberate in our own times.
The narration is deplorable, with many complex terms mispronounced. I also found it a bit whiney. As another reviewer suggested, putting it on a faster speed makes it more bearable overall.
When I finished the book, I wandered through a website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. It was interesting to find out that the Foundation has accepted the Hemmingses as descendants of Jeffereson because DNA tests strongly support it. They also have quite a collection of narratives, some from white descendents of the Hemmingses.
This book is too important to miss. It adds many pieces to the puzzle of US history, creating a total picture which would be difficult to find in other sources. Mow the lawn, do dishes, put it on double speed, do whatever it takes, but get through it. You'll be glad you did.
Trying to understand how slavery became a Southern legal institution is essential to understanding American history.The author attempts this arduous task by revealing the relationship of two families through four generations, one black, another white. The Hemings and the Jeffersons were entangled long before Sally Hemings came into Thomas Jefferson's life. Sally was the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson's deceased wife--a mind-boggling thought the author tries to articulate. This audible book is as fascinating as the book and is narrated well. One criticism: the author keeps explaining again and again how we need to realize attitudes were different during the formation of the Jamestown colony. That is pretty obvious, although I don't remember thinking that as I read the book. However, all sides of the slavery issue are presented, including philosophical questions of the fact that the United States permitted slavery while proclaiming itself a democracy. The best part is the "love" story between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Why didn't Sally remain in Paris instead of going back with Jefferson as his slave? Did she regret her choice? Why did Jefferson make a "treaty" with Sally to "free" her adult children? Did Jefferson love Sally or is it impossible to love someone you legally own? The answers are not fully resolved because scholars simply don't know, but the questions are intriguing and thought-provoking.
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
OCD over books, listening to 1 a day; ANY genre, fact & fiction. Influenced by Audible reviewers so I keep mine unbiased - FRONT to BLACK!
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.
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