When Natalie and I were studying American history we read two excellent biographies about Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson by another Natalie: Natalie Bober. By the time we were reading Bober’s books, we had visited Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Virginia (see earlier post “Being Inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello), and Boston, where Abigail Adams spent much time. Well-written biographies can bring a person, place and time back to full life.
In my case, I confess to even developing a bit of a crush on Thomas Jefferson. A good friend laughed, “Only you would have a crush on someone who lived 200 years ago.” My brother teased me and sent me a Jefferson coin for my birthday, with a note, “I hope William doesn’t mind.” It was true I had been talking about Jefferson quite a bit. He was interesting. And he had many attractive qualities: inventiveness (he designed the swivel chair and one of the first odometers for a horse carriage), a love of books (his library replaced destroyed volumes when the British burned the Library of Congress during the War of 1812), an appreciation for nature, a passionate commitment to education (founding the University of Virginia), and a firm belief in the freedom of religion. He wasn’t perfect and he had flaws (which Bober writes about), but there were many things to admire and like about Jefferson. Lest you are concerned about what my husband William thinks about my crush on Thomas Jefferson, he doesn’t mind at all. I even think he finds it rather charming, as a lover of books, learning, walks, and teaching. Come to think of it, he reminds me a bit of Thomas Jefferson (he will like that).
I highly recommend Bober’s books, which although written for younger readers, are absorbing and detailed enough for adult readers.
A biography of Thomas Jefferson
“Bober has taken on an extremely vital, but difficult, task: writing a history that speaks to young people, black and white alike, in a way that is respectful to both cultures…. She hits all the relevant points that young readers should know about the third president, while adding new perspectives that are always nuanced. The detail is rich and her presentation is elegant.”
-Annette Gordon-Reed, author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings: An American Controversy
Think “of this biography as a portrait, but not the smooth, impassive painting reproduced on the jacket, but an intricate mosaic made of colorful bits of fact, emotion, period detail, and letters, letters, letters…. Meticulous research and documentation give the book authority, good writing gives it clarity, and sympathetic understanding give it humanity.” –Starred, Booklist