"Most Blessed of the Patriarchs"

Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination
Narrated by: Karen Chilton
Length: 14 hrs and 33 mins
4 out of 5 stars (65 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A groundbreaking work of history that explicates Thomas Jefferson's vision of himself, the American Revolution, Christianity, slavery, and race.

Thomas Jefferson is still presented today as a hopelessly enigmatic figure despite being written about more than any other Founding Father. Lauded as the most articulate voice of American freedom even as he held people in bondage, Jefferson is variably described by current-day observers as a hypocrite, an atheist, and a simple-minded proponent of limited government.

Now, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed teams up with the country's leading Jefferson scholar, Peter S. Onuf, to present an absorbing and revealing character study that finally clarifies the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson.

Tracing Jefferson's development and maturation from his youth to his old age, the authors explore what they call the "empire" of Jefferson's imagination - his expansive state of mind born of the intellectual influences and life experiences that led him into public life as a modern avatar of the enlightenment, who often likened himself to an ancient figure - "the most blessed of the patriarchs".

©2016 Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf (P)2016 Recorded Books

Critic Reviews

"Karen Chilton's fluid alto is a good fit for this biography of Thomas Jefferson.... Chilton's pacing and inflection are never off. She narrates with a calm demeanor, competently affecting various accents for quotes and ably giving subtle expression to the narrative. It all adds up to an enjoyable listening experience." ( AudioFile)

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Most Hammered of the Patriarchs

As a Southerner who has always been a huge TJ fan, I can quite readily accept the fact that he was seriously conflicted between his stated ideals of citizen equality (which he failed to fully extend to women and even moreso come to grips with toward the enslaved) and his personal life that clearly included taking advantage of his slave Sally Hemmings as his mistress. While this inconsistency certainly merits exploration, by the midpoint of the book I was really getting tired of the unrelenting way the author continually beat the listener over the head on this point. I felt this continual focus resulted in giving short shrift to the many other activities and accomplishments of this classic Renaissance man.

6 people found this helpful

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A good listen.

"Most Blessed of the Patriarchs" was an interesting read into Jefferson. Here, Gordon-Reed and Onuf attempt to show how Jefferson’s personal philosophies, and the intrinsic clashes that occurred between these philosophies, not only made Jefferson who he was, but also the world around him.

The book is split into three parts, "Patriarch", "Traveller", and "Enthusiast", each giving us an insight into Jefferson's differing philosophies, and how they clashed. Considering that, History more or less gives us one or two views through which to see a person's character via Historiography, I found this book offered a third way to look through the historical lens. One that shows how history, environment, and personal philosophy made Jefferson. Patriarch deals mainly with what Jefferson thought being an Independent American Man was which would later lead to his push for an agrarian society. Traveller deals with Jefferson’s life away from his home, Monticello. Here, we see Jefferson’s thought begin to change in regards to reform in America. It is here that we see that Jefferson began to value “the pure, uncorrupted institutions of the republican new world” (135). Here, the vision of a republic of yeoman farmers was truly cemented in Jefferson’s mind.

Finally, in Enthusiast, we see a side of Jefferson that is uniquely human. We see a side of Jefferson that enjoys music and one who likes to entertain at Monticello, and one who spent time in solitude for prayer and faith. Here Jefferson is adamant in his philosophy that a patriot would never force his religion upon others, including his own family.

Gordon-Reed and Onuf use a variety of sources, such as Jefferson’s personal letters, as well as Gordon-Reed’s own books. While I find her argument to be enlightening and more or less convincing, one of her weakest points was trying to pull a philosophy that clashed from Jefferson. Any philosophy can clash with any other personal philosophy in varying ways, thus resulting in something similar to Jefferson’s own clashes. However, I will say that the authors do offer a new look at Jefferson, one that doesn’t classify him as a founding father or a slave owner. In a way, Gordon-Reed and Onuf cast Jefferson as uniquely human, giving him back his agency as an independent thinker, an independent American, and a Patriot.

1 person found this helpful

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Curious, but interesting, TJ Scholarship...

... but problematic narration from Karen Chilton, whose liquid alto I very much liked in Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, who mispronounces, or pronounces eccentrically, relatively familiar words like inaugurate, rapprochement, vagaries, mores, despot, colloquy, and literally dozens more, including French terms and names that, if not quite butchered, are fairly well roughed up. I have the impression that very few narrators actually prep their texts and look up unfamiliar terms. it seems they all read "cold."

The book itself is a curious addition to Jefferson scholarship. Jefferson left behind a voluminous record of letters, journals, plantation registers and documents, notebooks and the like, knowing that posterity would crawl all over them for insights into the great man himself. Consequently, as Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf credibly hypothesize, Jefferson curated his record to plump up two aspects of his imagined self: patriot and patriarch, one of the Great Men of 1776 as well as The Squire of Monticello, benevolent master and considerate paterfamilias. The authors lay this out in a preface, the key - and well-known - Jefferson text of which appears on page xiii (and gives the book its title). Quitters can stop on page xxv, at the conclusion of the preface, and presume the authors have fulfilled their obligation to fill in the prefatory outline. What follows are three large parts - Patriarch, Traveller, and Enthusiast - that provide those details, many of which resurface redundantly in various contexts,, through which the authors make a strong case for having divined the Empire of Jefferson's imagination.

One compelling reason for reading to the very end is the case made by Gordon-Reed and Onuf for a strong thread of consistency, rather than hypocrisy, that reconciles Jeffersons long-held views on the inhumanity and dispensability of slavery with his lifelong participation in the slave system. The result is a more charitable and forgiving a portrait, or interpretation, of Jefferson than I took away from, for example, Gordon-Reed's brilliant The Hemingses of Monticello.

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Disappointing

This book is a huge disappointment. The authors do not attempt to understand Jefferson. They intend to indict him. They review most historical letters and negative comments as true and evidence against him. They also throw around clinical psychological descriptions of Jefferson as additional evidence against him. A licensed psychologist would cringe at utilizing such descriptions with so little objective data.

More than 200 years later they seem to have a clear knowledge of what Jefferson was thinking. All of this makes the book suspect as the authors clearly have an agenda to prosecute Jefferson and not to help readers understand this complex and interesting historical American.


Steve

9 people found this helpful

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Interesting book.

Learned things I did not know. Would recommend to history enthusiasts. Try it out now.

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Repetitive, overly rhetorical style, unpleasant performance

This book lacks academic rigor, IMHO. Instead of stating a thesis and supporting with well researched evidence, the author relies too heavily on repetition and rhetorical style . Also, there is an assumption that the reader is well versed in US History of the era, which creates a paradox: a reader sufficiently knowledgeable to use this book on its own wouldn't find it particularly informative, fresh or insightful, and someone with a only passing knowledge would need additional references to augment the scope of this book. It's also highly repetitive and performed in a preacher's style, as if the author believed a thesis can be substantiated by repetition of an opinion delivered with great feeling in a sing song . There wasn't much new for me in this book, and I didn't have the sense that the info it provided supported its title.

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A Poor Attempt to Belittle Jefferson

The book selectively uses facts out of context and contradicts itself in a futile attempt to belittle Jefferson. An obvious attempt to reduce Jefferson and the work that laid the foundation of modern government.

5 people found this helpful