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American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas…

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (1996)

by Joseph J. Ellis

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Recognized to this day as one of the great men of the American revolution. This book tackles the elusive character of Thomas Jefferson. He was against slavery, but owned slaves. He was against a strong government, but was a strong president.

While a very public figure he was also a very private figure. The author here discusses the character and life experiences of Jefferson and the controversies surrounding him. And interesting and thoroughly researched book. ( )
  Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
Good review of Thomas Jefferson's character. Not a chronological look at Jefferson's life. Rather the author looks at various times in Jefferson's life and the incidents that occurred during them, to elucidate his political and world view.

This book contains a fair amount of what some deride as historic-psychobabble - the tendency to try and psychoanalyze historic figures to find the origins of their greatness or perfidy (depending on your point of view). In this case, while it does at times feel like the author is attempting to use it to justify examples of Jefferson's blatant hypocrsy (slavery, debt, constitutional interpretation), in this case his arguments are backed up by logical interpretation of the evidence he uses. Not saying I agree with all of it, but it is a worthy attempt.

Definitely worth reading for anyone with an interest in Thomas Jefferson. ( )
  mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
Dont remember if I liked it or not.
  badgerbacker | Jul 17, 2014 |
Ellis's 368 page bio of TJ focuses on five major periods in his lifetime with summaries of the intervening gaps. Throughout the book though, Ellis keeps coming back to Jefferson's basic principles and beliefs that drove his major decisions and leadership style throughout his life. This story covers an incredible period in the life line of our country as our founders struggled to understand the meaning of events long after they had occurred. The book is very comprehensive without being overly long. My only criticism is that I found it less readable than other history books I have enjoyed, specifically Doris Kearns Goodwin's. As far as the Sally Hemings question goes, DNA testing wasn't as sophisticated when this book was published in the early 90's, and Ellis concludes that the the charge against Jefferson's paternity is remote. However, I understand that subsequently, when additional testing was performed, Ellis changed his viewpoint as did most, but not all historians. ( )
  maneekuhi | May 27, 2014 |
I didn't care for the structure, the glossing over of his second presidential term. Informative but sparse. ( )
  bontley | Aug 24, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679764410, Paperback)

Well timed to coincide with Ken Burns's documentary (on which the author served as a consultant), this new biography doesn't aim to displace the many massive tomes about America's third president that already weigh down bookshelves. Instead, as suggested by the subtitle--"The Character of Thomas Jefferson"--Ellis searches for the "living, breathing person" underneath the icon and tries to elucidate his actual beliefs. Jefferson's most ardent admirers may find this perspective too critical, but Ellis's portrait of a complex, sometimes devious man who both sought and abhorred power has the ring of truth.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:03 -0400)

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Offers a reassessment of the life, image, and career of Thomas Jefferson, examining his complex personality, controversies about the man and his beliefs, and his accomplishments.

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