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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, History, 2009

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2008

This 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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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Performance

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  • Overall

A slog through a fascinating subject

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!

6 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Worth every moment!

An incredible story researched with meticulous detail, told in a remarkably engaging and accessible way, without judgement. A masterful gift to our understanding of our history and, thus, to our present and future. Thank you, thank you! Also, perfectly narrated!

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Repetitive but worthy

Many facts noted in this book are repeated several times at various points in the book. Provides many facts and footnotes into life at Monticello as a Hemings, as well as about Thomas Jefferson. Somewhat repetitive, narration is without much expression.

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The Hemingses or the Jeffersons?

It pains me to not give this book a 5-star review, but then I found the book painful to listen to. I think were I to have read the print version, there may have been family trees and other charts to help navigate this extremely complicated family. I don't blame that lack on Gordon-Reed!

She obviously put a tremendous amount of research into this work. But had she no editor? Was she under orders to make it a door-stopper heavy book? The repetition, constant repetition, was agonizing. Nearly every chapter repeated what was said before. And before that, too. Perhaps the print version is indexed (I should hope it is! There is too much scholarship there to not make it accessible.) So were the repetitions to pad the index? I like history and I like biographies, so I really didn't mind the amount of time spent on Jefferson, himself, but so much of that did not reflect on the Hemingses. Was the book intended as an apology (justification in writing for a cause or doctrine) for Jefferson's convoluted and wrong-headed thinking about slavery and freedom?

If the book is intended for a university classroom, and since few students ever really read their texts, then perhaps the repetition is justified. Sadly, this reader will never choose to purchase another of Gordon-Reed's efforts.

BTW audible.com: Non-fiction works are not "stories." It is the "writing" that I wish to assign 2-stars.

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Skip the Introduction, the Rest is Good

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This book is a fascinating examination of the real-life details of slavery in early American history. The details are well researched and go far deeper than the stereotypes we are all familiar with. Once the book gets to the history, it's very interesting and entertaining.<br/><br/>The only problem is that at the beginning there is a 45 minute long introduction in which the author drones on about herself without saying anything interesting about the subject of the book. The introduction is long, boring and pointless.<br/><br/>Just hit the "skip" button for the introduction, you aren't missing anything. The rest of the book after the introduction is much better.

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Painful to listen to

What would have made The Hemingses of Monticello better?

The reader was fine but the story was full of names and seemed to jump back and forth in time lines. There was absolutely no story telling just a listing of information. I returned the book after 4 chapters.

Would you ever listen to anything by Annette Gordon-Reed again?

No.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

I felt very sorry for the narrator.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Hemingses of Monticello?

I would have cut all the times the author interpreted the information and filled in her opinion. Why not write a historical fiction piece where such insights would have been expected?

Any additional comments?

I am very appreciative of Audible's return policy.

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Too much speculation...Too few facts.

This is a fascinating topic and teaches us so much about the founding fathers and the contradictions and hypocrisy of those times. However, the lengthy efforts of the author to be a politically correct and her rampant and tedious speculation about who might have felt this or who might have experienced that, killed the buzz for me. The facts are sparse so just give us the facts! Your readers are smart! We can cope with a sparsely documented life, but this was like walking in a fog of words to glimpse a few trees. The book could have been half the length and far more interesting.

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CORROBORATING EVIDENCE

“The Hemingses of Monticello” is a disappointment because it mixes facts with opinion when corroborating evidence is unavailable. It appears biased by a laudable but misguided agenda.

Though one easily agrees that slavery demeans humanity and distorts the truth of human equality, the Jefferson/Hemings social and emotional relationship is marred by the author’s psychological explanation of Sally Hemings’ thoughts and feelings. The author, Annette Gordon-Reed, is an educated historian, not a trained psychiatrist or psychologist. Gordon-Reed speculates when facts are not evident about Thomas Jefferson’s common-law-wife, Sally Hemings. Neither Jefferson nor Hemings left any written record of their conjugal relationship. The only facts of relationship are the genetic evidence of their progeny.

As a reviewer, one empathizes with Gordon-Reed’s biography of the Hemings because sticking to corroborated facts often defeats interest in an author’s writing. Personally, the biography of Washington by Ron Chernow, and Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, were disappointing because they fail to reveal much about the thoughts and feelings of their subjects. Chernow’s and Schiff’s difficulty is related to their desire for corroborating facts. In contrast, Gordon-Reed reads between the lines a little more than is justified by the facts.

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Beautiful book and compelling narration

This book is significant for its thoughtful exploration of the inner and outer lives of the Hemings family at Monticello. The double meanings of legal and extra legal actions relative to slavery are thoroughly explored but without sentimentality. Karen White is a magnificent narrator.

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This book is a slog.

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Depends. It's an interesting book, but could have been tighter. Lots of repetitive information scattered throughout and the author's speculative leaps got old. Glad I listened to it, but it was a struggle to get through.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

I was glad it was over. The end was an example of the good parts of the book, though - narrative style with minimal speculation.