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American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

by

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

National Bestseller 

For a man who insisted that life on the public stage was not what he had in mind, Thomas Jefferson certainly spent a great deal of time in the spotlight--and not only during his active political career. After 1809, his longed-for retirement was compromised by a steady stream of guests and tourists who made of his estate at Monticello a virtual hotel, as well as by more than one thousand letters per year, most from strangers, which he insisted on answering personally. In his twilight years Jefferson was already taking on the luster of a national icon, which was polished off by his auspicious death (on July 4, 1896); and in the subsequent seventeen decades of his celebrity--now verging, thanks to virulent revisionists and television documentaries, on notoriety--has been inflated beyond recognition of the original person.

For the historian Joseph J. Ellis, the experience of writing about Jefferson was "as if a pathologist, just about to begin an autopsy, has discovered that the body on the operating table was still breathing." In American Sphinx, Ellis sifts the facts shrewdly from the legends and the rumors, treading a path between vilification and hero worship in order to formulate a plausible portrait of the man who still today "hover[s] over the political scene like one of those dirigibles cruising above a crowded football stadium, flashing words of inspiration to both teams." For, at the grass roots, Jefferson is no longer liberal or conservative, agrarian or industrialist, pro- or anti-slavery, privileged or populist. He is all things to all people. His own obliviousness to incompatible convictions within himself (which left him deaf to most forms of irony) has leaked out into the world at large--a world determined to idolize him despite his foibles.

From Ellis we learn that Jefferson sang incessantly under his breath; that he delivered only two public speeches in eight years as president, while spending ten hours a day at his writing desk; that sometimes his political sensibilities collided with his domestic agenda, as when he ordered an expensive piano from London during a boycott (and pledged to "keep it in storage"). We see him relishing such projects as the nailery at Monticello that allowed him to interact with his slaves more palatably, as pseudo-employer to pseudo-employees. We grow convinced that he preferred to meet his lovers in the rarefied region of his mind rather than in the actual bedchamber. We watch him exhibiting both great depth and great shallowness, combining massive learning with extraordinary naïveté, piercing insights with self-deception on the grandest scale. We understand why we should neither beatify him nor consign him to the rubbish heap of history, though we are by no means required to stop loving him. He is Thomas Jefferson, after all--our very own sphinx.

Review:

"Fascinating...an erudite and illuminating study." The New York Times

Review:

"This elegant book on Jefferson sets a standard — history at its best." Chicago Tribune Editor's Choice

Review:

"Joseph J. Ellis's American Sphinx is a brief and elegant return to Monticello. Mr. Ellis...is a remarkably clear writer, mercifully free of both the groveling and the spirit of attack that have dominated the subject in the past....American Sphinx is fresh and uncluttered but rich in historical context." The New York Times Book Review, Brent Staples

Review:

"This elegant book on Jefferson sets a standard — history at its best." Chicago Tribune Editor's Choice

Review:

"Lively and provocative...first-rate." David McCullough

Synopsis:

Following his subject from the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to his retirement in Monticello, Joseph Ellis unravels the contradictions of the Jeffersonian character. A marvel of scholarship, a delight to read, and an essential gloss on the Jeffersonian legacy, "American Sphinx" is "history at its best" ("Chicago Tribune"). Winner of the National Book Award.

Description:

Includes bibliographical references (p. 369-421) and index.

About the Author

Joseph J. Ellis is the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College.  Educated at the College of William and Mary and Yale University, he served as a captain in the army and taught at West Point before coming to Mount Holyoke in 1972.  He was dean of the faculty there for ten years.

He is the author of four previous books:  The New England Mind in Transition, School for Soldiers: West Point and the Profession of Arms (with Robert Moore), After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture, and Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams.  American Sphinx is the winner of the National Book Award.

Ellis lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts, with his wife, Ellen, and three sons.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780679764410
Author:
Ellis, Joseph J
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Author:
Ellis, Joseph J.
Location:
New York :
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Historical - U.S.
Subject:
United States - General
Subject:
Jefferson, thomas, 1743-1826
Subject:
Jefferson, thomas, pres. u. s., 1743-1826
Subject:
Jefferson, Thomas
Subject:
Presidents & Heads of State
Subject:
Psychology
Subject:
Jefferson, Thomas - Psychology
Subject:
Biography-Presidents and Heads of State
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st Vintage ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage
Publication Date:
19980431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
464
Dimensions:
8 x 5.13 x 1 in 0.75 lb

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Historical
Biography » Presidents and Heads of State
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » US History » Presidents » Jefferson, Thomas
History and Social Science » US History » Revolution and Constitution Era
History and Social Science » US History » US Presidency
History and Social Science » World History » General

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 464 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780679764410 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Fascinating...an erudite and illuminating study."
"Review" by , "This elegant book on Jefferson sets a standard — history at its best."
"Review" by , "Joseph J. Ellis's American Sphinx is a brief and elegant return to Monticello. Mr. Ellis...is a remarkably clear writer, mercifully free of both the groveling and the spirit of attack that have dominated the subject in the past....American Sphinx is fresh and uncluttered but rich in historical context."
"Review" by , "This elegant book on Jefferson sets a standard — history at its best."
"Review" by , "Lively and provocative...first-rate."
"Synopsis" by , Following his subject from the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to his retirement in Monticello, Joseph Ellis unravels the contradictions of the Jeffersonian character. A marvel of scholarship, a delight to read, and an essential gloss on the Jeffersonian legacy, "American Sphinx" is "history at its best" ("Chicago Tribune"). Winner of the National Book Award.
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