Reviews

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

The author of Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (1993) entitles his latest work aptly, for the true nature of our third president resided behind a disguising, nearly unreadable countenance. Ellis endeavors to peer beneath the enigmatic facade and succeeds in taking a meaningful reading. He exerts great care in not taking Jefferson out of context, which is easy to do when attempting to define the man's continued relevance to American political life. Analyzing various important junctures of Jefferson's life (his tenures as minister to France, secretary of state, and, of course, president, among others) and major aspects of his personal consciousness (from his conduct of romance to his attitude toward slavery), Ellis points out that wide gaps always stood between Jefferson's ideals and the realities that existed around him. Although not the best place for a novice to learn about Jefferson, this serious, rigorous analysis concludes with a particularly thoughtful essay on Jefferson's importance and meaning to contemporary society. --Brad Hooper


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

The author of Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (1993) entitles his latest work aptly, for the true nature of our third president resided behind a disguising, nearly unreadable countenance. Ellis endeavors to peer beneath the enigmatic facade and succeeds in taking a meaningful reading. He exerts great care in not taking Jefferson out of context, which is easy to do when attempting to define the man's continued relevance to American political life. Analyzing various important junctures of Jefferson's life (his tenures as minister to France, secretary of state, and, of course, president, among others) and major aspects of his personal consciousness (from his conduct of romance to his attitude toward slavery), Ellis points out that wide gaps always stood between Jefferson's ideals and the realities that existed around him. Although not the best place for a novice to learn about Jefferson, this serious, rigorous analysis concludes with a particularly thoughtful essay on Jefferson's importance and meaning to contemporary society. --Brad Hooper


Publishers Weekly
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Penetrating Jefferson's placid, elegant facade, this extraordinary biography brings the sage of Monticello down to earth without either condemning or idolizing him. Jefferson saw the American Revolution as the opening shot in a global struggle destined to sweep over the world, and his political outlook, in Ellis's judgment, was more radical than liberal. A Francophile, an obsessive letter-writer, a tongue-tied public speaker, a sentimental soul who placed women on a pedestal and sobbed for weeks after his wife's death, Jefferson saw himself as a yeoman farmer but was actually a heavily indebted, slaveholding Virginia planter. His retreat from his early anti-slavery advocacy to a position of silence and procrastination reflected his conviction that whites and blacks were inherently different and could not live together in harmony, maintains Mount Holyoke historian Ellis, biographer of John Adams (Passionate Sage). Jefferson clung to idyllic visions, embracing, for example, the "Saxon myth," the utterly groundless theory that the earliest migrants from England came to America at their own expense, making a total break with the mother country. His romantic idealism, exemplified by his view of the American West as endlessly renewable, was consonant with future generations' political innocence, their youthful hopes and illusions, making our third president, in Ellis's shrewd psychological portrait, a progenitor of the American Dream. History Book Club selection. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

YA‘In studying historical leaders, students rarely get a look at the individuals behind the myths that have grown up around them. Here, Ellis does an excellent job of showing that Jefferson was a human who made many decisions and some mistakes. On the one hand, he was a great historical figure who is due respect; on the other, he was a debt-ridden man with family problems. Ellis does not have an agenda to promote; he has a story to tell, and he tells it well. In a book that reads like fiction, he combines exciting plot turns with information. At the end, readers may not know for certain that Jefferson's life had a happy ending; but they will see him as flesh and blood instead of as a stiff statue or fixed painting in the Capitol rotunda. This absorbing study concludes with an appendix dealing with the Sally Hemmings scandal as well as extensive notes and an excellent index.‘Rebecca L. Woodcock, formerly of Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.