Revolving Bookstand

Author Signed Copies of “The Invention of Nature”

042716-Invention-of-Nature-Main

Andrea Wulf, the acclaimed author of Founding Gardeners, reveals the forgotten life of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary German naturalist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world-and in the process created modern environmentalism. Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes and mountains.

In 1804, at the end of a five year expedition in Central and South America, von Humboldt visited Washington, D.C., specifically to meet President Thomas Jefferson. President Jefferson was thrilled ot welcome Humboldt, and was eager to hear all about the lands south of the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase. These meetings were the start of a 21-year friendship and correspondence on topics including science, politics and nature.

andreawulfANDREA WULF was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in London, where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of Chasing Venus, Founding Gardeners and The Brother Gardeners. She has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

 

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The Revolving Bookstand: Jefferson, Architecture & Monticello

“Architecture is my delight, and putting up and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements.”
–Thomas Jefferson (as told by Margaret Bayard Smith)

monticellov3

 

Jefferson spent much of his life “putting up and pulling down,” most notably during the forty-year construction period of Monticello. Influenced by his readings of ancient and modern architectural writings, Jefferson gleaned the best from both his reading and from his observations in Europe, creating in his architectural designs a style that was distinctively American.  In this month’s Revolving Bookstand, Monticello’s Architectural Historian, Gardiner Hallock, recommends three “must reads” for anyone interested in Jefferson’s architectural influences and his home Monticello.

measureddrawingsMonticello in Measured Drawings annotated by William L. Beiswanger

Delve deeper into the design of Monticello with this illuminating collection of short essays and accompanying measured drawings of Monticello produced by the Historic American Buildings Survey.  Annotated by Monticello’s former Director of Restoration William Beiswanger, the essays draw on decades of research to illustrate many of Jefferson’s architectural inspirations and include revealing quotes about the house made by Jefferson’s contemporaries.  The result is a truly wonderful architectural history of this World Heritage site and it is a must have for anyone who loves Monticello.

 

The Four Books of Architecture by Andrea Palladio

fourbooksaColonel Isaac Coles wrote that when it came to architecture Thomas Jefferson considered 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books of Architecture to be “the bible.” Coles also noted that Jefferson recommended he “should get it and stick close to it.”  While Jefferson’s architectural influences were wide ranging, the core proportions and principal ornamentation found at Monticello often come directly from Palladio’s interpretation of classical Roman sources.  A source of inspiration for almost 450 years, The Four Books of Architecture remains relevant to the today’s architects and designers.

 

palladioPalladio and Palladianism by Robert Travernor

Interested in why Jefferson was so passionate about Palladio?  Robert Tavernor’s book introduces Andrea Palladio, explains the Italian roots of Palladianism, and traces its spread into the British Isles in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Concluding with a chapter on Thomas Jefferson’s unique interpretation of Palladio’s work as well as Palladianism in the early United States, this book is a great read for those interested in the origins of Jefferson’s architectural style.

 

gardiner4Gardiner Hallock is the Architectural Historian at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Currently he is managing the digital and physical restoration of Monticello’s Mulberry Row as well as helping to research, plan, and implement restoration projects in the house. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mr. Hallock was a founding principal at the historic preservation consulting firm Arcadia Preservation, LLC.  He also served as the Director of Architectural Research at the Montpelier Foundation and the Restoration Manager at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.  

 

The Revolving Bookstand: Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an

Eleven years before composing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson bought a Qur’an. How did this purchase influence Jefferson and what role did Islam play with other American Founding Fathers? Wm. Scott Harrop reviews Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders by Denise Spellberg in this month’s Revolving Bookstand feature.

Thomas Jefferson's Quran

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

In 2007, when Congressman Keith Ellison borrowed a Qur’an once owned by Thomas Jefferson for his ceremonial oath of office, he renewed a debate as old as the American republic.  For some critics, a Muslim holding elected office constitutes a fundamental threat to American identity, an anathema to its founding values.

In Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders, Denise A. Spellberg, Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas, counters that key America founders contemplated Islam in civic life.  In Spellberg’s judgment, an “American Muslim citizen with full civil rights” is “quintessentially evocative of our national ideals.”

Jefferson’s ownership of a Qur’an provides Spellberg with an intriguing hook for her inquiry.  Proof that Jefferson owned a copy of the Qur’an is preserved in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.  There, the “Virginia Gazette Daybook” records that on October 5, 1765, Thomas Jefferson, then a law student at William & Mary, purchased George Sale’s venerable translation of the Qur’an.  While no direct notes from Jefferson’s reading of the Qur’an survive, Spellberg draws inferences about Jefferson’s understanding (and misimpressions) of Islam from scattered writings and his own policy views and choices made amid his encounters with Muslims.

Thomas Jeffersons Quran Islam and the Founders by Denise Spellberg

Even as Spellberg details Jefferson’s criticisms of Islam as a religion, she demonstrates that Jefferson, like James Madison and George Washington, advocated religious freedom and civic rights for Muslims, as they did for Catholics and Jews.   Going beyond Locke, Jefferson’s critical innovation was not just to “tolerate” religious dissent, but to assert the full inclusion of citizens and public servants from all faiths – or none at all. Yet just how and why Jefferson and his concurring founders arrived at this stance deserves further exploration.

Amid the decade long political fight for passage of his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Jefferson famously wrote that, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.” Spellberg notes that despite Jefferson’s profession to be a Christian, his political foes, including John Quincy Adams, abused Jefferson’s own words to slur him as an “infidel,” a Muslim. He has certainly not been the last American president to face this charge.

During his presidency, Jefferson clashed with North African Muslim powers as Barbary corsairs attacked American merchant ships and demanded ransoms. Although Spellberg dubs Jefferson the first President of the United States to “wage war against an Islamic power,” he was also the first to make peace with them.  She assesses that Jefferson “never perceived a predominantly religious dimension to the conflict” and may have even used faith as a bridge to resolve the disputes.

Spellberg’s remarkable inquiry demonstrates that even as early America inherited Europe’s deep fears of Muslims, it also established original principles for their equal inclusion in public life.  Both timely and enlightening, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders deserves wide consideration.

harroplowresWm. Scott Harrop is a Lecturer in the University of Virginia’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian and Languages and Cultures.  Since early 2011, he’s been teaching courses on “Recent Revolutions in the Islamic World” — through a Jeffersonian prism.  He’s also a past Jefferson Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies.

Revolving Bookstand: New Children’s Books on Jefferson & Monticello

Thomas Jefferson, a strong advocate of reading, frequently made book recommendations to his children and grandchildren. He sent newspaper clippings along with his letters to them and his suggestions focused on poetry, history, foreign language, and moral and behavioral improvement.

HeadshotJCLToday, in honor of Jefferson’s legacy in literacy and education, Monticello hosts upwards of 50,000 students and teachers for onsite field trips and programs annually. Jacqueline Langholtz, Manager of School & Group Programs at Monticello, is ecstatic to share two excellent new children’s books that beautifully and accurately illustrate Jefferson and his “little mountain” in this month’s Revolving Bookstand.

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

thomas-jefferson-life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-everything-4I’m an ardent Maira Kalman fan, so my expectations were high when I heard the author-illustrator and renowned artist was writing a biography of the man whose life drives my work. Not to worry – this book beautifully, poignantly, and fearlessly weaves questions, themes, and stories together in ways that illuminate aspects of Thomas Jefferson, daily life at Monticello, and, as Kalman would say, “well, everything” for readers of any age.  A children’s book first and foremost, content is meticulously well-researched and celebrates curiosity. Through her vignettes and asides, Kalman inspires the reader to make a personal connection to our shared public history.  The pages, of course, are bright and beautiful, and her words absolutely soar.

 

Thomas Jefferson: A Day at Monticello by Elizabeth V. Chew

thomas-jefferson-a-day-at-monticello-4Kudos to my much-admired colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Chew, for creating a book that remains fun for young scholars while also remarkably rich in content.  Chew draws on her decade of experience as former curator at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to create pages that hold beautifully detailed drawings and renderings, site photos of Monticello, and many primary sources and documents that encourage deeper learning and exploration.  Perfect for ages 8 to 12, the story takes the reader on a journey through a day with Thomas Jefferson and his grandson.  Readers learn about Jefferson’s keen interest in gadgets and love of ordered knowledge, Jefferson’s family, and about the people who live and work on Mulberry Row, Monticello’s “Main Street.”  A timeline of events, bibliography, and suggested online resources support further learning.  A Day at Monticello belongs just as much in your school library as it does on your coffee table.

Maira Kalman and Elizabeth Chew will both be at Monticello for Presidents Day Weekend! For information on these special events and book signings at Monticello, visit www.monticello.org. Additional information and reviews of these books can also be found at www.monticello.org.

 

The Revolving Bookstand: Historically Inspired Cookbooks

Early American history is rich with a delicious mixture of traditional dishes and newly discovered foods. Historic figures like Thomas Jefferson, whose table was set, as Daniel Webster famously remarked, “in half Virginia, half French style, in good taste and abundance” are great sources of inspiration for modern cooks and hosts.

Monticello librarian and self-confessed foodie, Endrina Tay, shares her love for history and the culinary arts with the following cookbook recommendations and recipe suggestions for the Revolving Bookstand series.

 

Dining at Monticello

diningatmonticelloThis is a beautiful book that combines Jefferson family recipes that any home cook will enjoy with solid, historical research on Thomas Jefferson, his love for good food and fine wine, and on all aspects of foodways at Monticello. Filled with rich and fascinating details of ingredients and culinary practices from the period, coupled with stunning photography, this is definitely a book to feast your eyes on!

To complement your traditional ham or roast beef dinner for the holidays, I suggest trying these delightful vegetable sides – Asparagus with Herb Vinaigrette (page 136) or French Beans in Butter Sauce (page 138).

 

A Sweet Taste of History

a-sweet-taste-of-historyThe newest cookbook from famed Chef Walter Staib focuses on sweet treats and confectionary from eighteenth-century America. Accompanied by beautiful and mouth-watering illustrations for many of the historically placed dessert recipes featured, this elegant cookbook will inspire and impress any consummate cook or baker with a sweet tooth!

Looking for an easy make-ahead dessert to serve at your holiday party? My suggestion – the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Tartlets (page 188)!

 

Dining with the Washingtons

washingtonsThis is a lavish work that celebrates food and dining at Mount Vernon, and the social life and customs of George and Martha Washington as they entertained scores of guests at their Virginia plantation. Detailed historical essays and recipes make this work a culinary delight.

Tired of serving the usual fare at your holiday table this year? Surprise your guests and family with Veal Scaloppini or “Scotch Collops” (on page 144).

 

TayEndrina Tay is Associate Foundation Librarian for Technical Services at the Jefferson Library at Monticello.  Since joining the Foundation in 2002, she has been responsible for creating access to Monticello’s research and library resources, training and supervising library volunteers, and adapting technology solutions for the Jefferson Library.  Since 2004, she has been project manager for Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries, a project based at Monticello in partnership with LibraryThing.com, to build a comprehensive and publicly accessible inventory of the books Jefferson owned, read, and recommended during this lifetime.

The Revolving Bookstand: Peter Onuf reviews “The Men Who Lost America”

The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of Empire.
New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013.

Andrew O’Shaughnessy offers a provocative account of a familiar story from a refreshingly unfamiliar angle in The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire. The literature on the Revolution is vast, but overwhelmingly focused on the American side, with founding fathers garnering the lion’s share of attention in recent years. Until now, their British counterparts’ engagement in the Revolution generally has been neglected. This is hardly surprising. Despite George III’s commitment to suppressing the rebellion and widespread fears that the loss of America would jeopardize British prosperity and power, the war’s damage—if not its expense—proved limited. The wonderful irony of the American Revolution is that it set the stage for Britain’s ascendancy to global empire and power in the long nineteenth-century. O’Shaughnessy’s compulsively readable book helps explain both why victory in America proved so elusive and why, in the wake of Cornwallis’s humiliating capitulation at Yorktown, the collapse of Lord North’s ministry, and the 1783 Paris peace settlement, Britain rebounded so impressively. The men who lost America were a mixed lot, at different stages of their careers, and with different futures before them. But none of them were losers.

O’Shaughnessy’s approach is unabashedly top-down, with ten political or military leaders featured in nine engrossing chapters, with the brothers General William and Admiral Richard Howe, sharing a single chapter as they shared leadership of the first British campaign of the war. O’Shaughnessy follows his politicians through the labyrinth of British politics and his commanders to the field of battle in America, drawing on a rich array of primary sources to bring their campaigns to life. Winning the Revolution was never going to be easy, and it got harder when the war went international.

O’Shaughnessy’s story is driven by the question of how Britain finally would extricate itself from America and how the war would affect its relations with the other belligerents. Britain was doubtless better off without its unruly colonies: though the United States won its independence, the new nation remained in the former metropolis’s commercial orbit well into the future.

The Men Who Lost America gives us an illuminating new perspective on Britain’s ruling elite in a period of geopolitical upheaval. Far from being the effete, corrupt, and bumbling incompetents of American patriotic lore, British leaders acquitted themselves well in a nearly unwinnable war. Readers of O’Shaughnessy’s superb book will not be surprised that Britain would be well prepared for the far greater existential challenge of the wars with Revolutionary France that shaped the future of the modern world. Nor should it be surprising that the American Revolution should fade so quickly in British historical memory.

Peter S. Onuf of Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Monticello, & the University of VirginiaPeter S. Onuf of Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Monticello, & the University of Virginia. He is the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia and the 2008-09 Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History at the University of Oxford. Onuf is also the Early American History expert for BackStory with the American History Boys.

The Revolving Bookstand: The Best in Gardening Books

In celebration of Historic Garden Week and the beautiful plants that populate Monticello during the spring months, Brian Hartsock, Operating Manager for the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello, shares some of his favorite gardening books for our Revolving Bookstand series.

“A Rich Spot of Earth” Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden

Peter Hatch

One of my favorite Jefferson quotes, “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to its culture,” comes to life in the gardens of Monticello and their legacy. Through Peter’s elegant prose, the story of Thomas Jefferson’s garden strikes me not only because of his genius but what he had in common with every gardener: curiosity and experimentation. Peter, who tended Jefferson’s extraordinary gardens for decades, shows how Jefferson used his garden as a laboratory, trying an incredible variety of herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Peter’s meticulous attention to detail in restoring the gardens is evident as he weaves a rich tapestry of history, quotes, and anecdotes that is a testament to how much he loved and cared for these gardens just as Jefferson did himself.

herb gardenThe Edible Herb Garden

Rosalind Creasy

If I could plant only one garden, it would be an herb garden. It is impossible to fathom all the virtues of an herb garden, from the textures and aromas that invite smell and touch; the culinary delight of fresh herbs; to their resistance to deer, rabbit, and pest insects. Herb gardens are a beautiful complement to any landscape and also perfect for container gardens on the patio. Rosalind’s book, with inspiring photography, walks you through planning, planting, and maintenance, and brings your garden into the kitchen with wonderful recipes for every taste and season.

 

Starter Vegetable Gardens

Barbara Pleasant

I love this book for a number of reasons. First, it offers something for every gardener regardless of experience. Also, Pleasant’s book offers a number of ingenuous techniques that can help parents and grandparents introduce gardening to children and garden newcomers. Nothing is more encouraging than success and this wonderful book makes that easy.

 

 

The Heirloom Tomato from Garden to Table

Amy Goldman

Nothing says happiness like biting into a fresh garden-ripe tomato from your own backyard and then sharing your harvest with friends and family. Goldman’s book not only introduces the reader to a stunning array of culinary adventures with unique recipes, but also to the incredible diversity of heirloom tomatoes, their stories, and growing techniques.

 

amwoodgardenThe American Woodland Garden

Rick Darke

Many gardeners I talk to struggle with wooded lots, dry shade, and poor drainage. Fortunately, the rich botanic diversity of deciduous forests offers many beautiful, native perennials that are well-suited for these difficult areas. A woodland garden is an enchanting space. It brings the delicate beauty of the forest to your door step with a wonderful variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife not far behind. This beautifully illustrated book is a key resource to using native plants in a landscape that will hold beauty year round.

 

brianGrowing up in the mountains of West Virginia, Brian Hartsock says his love of plants comes from his grandmother.   “I would stay at my grandparents’ house in the summer. My grandmother used to wake me up saying we have one thousand and one things to do. I think that was an understatement, but I always admired how comfortable she was tending her flower gardens. It is a bond that my grandmother and I still share today.”   Brian joined the Monticello family in 2009 and is now the Operations Manager for the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants. He has overseen a number of garden renovations and works closely with Gabriele Rausse, head of Garden and Grounds, and the Monticello gardeners to help preserve the natural beauty of the “little mountain.”   Brian served in the Navy aboard the USS Kamehameha. He later attended West Virginia University and studied horticulture. Brian enjoys horticulture because he is able to work with great people while surrounded with beautiful things. He says, “This combination lends itself to happiness.”

gardenThe Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, established at Monticello in 1987, collects, preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants. The program centers on Thomas Jefferson’s horticultural interests and the plants he grew at Monticello, but covers the broad history of plants cultivated in America by including varieties documented through the nineteenth century, and choice North American plants, a group of special interest to Jefferson himself. Visit the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants during one of its annual open houses and learn more online at http://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/thomas-jefferson-center-historic-plants.

The Revolving Bookstand: Jefferson and Wine

Thomas Jefferson claimed, in 1818, that “in nothing have the habits of the palate more decisive influence than in our relish of wines.” His own habits had been formed over thirty years before—at the tables of Parisian philosophes and in the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Gardens and Grounds and a Virginia vintner worked to restore Jefferson’s vineyard at Monticello. Here are his recommendations for Jefferson and wine books:

9781604733709[1]Thomas Jefferson on Wine by John Hailman
This is probably the best researched book on Jefferson and wine. Hailman told me it took him 30 years to research and write this book. I love how detailed he is in every issue and situation on the topic. Nothing is left out—he puts together all of the little details and makes them into an attractive story. This book is not only for the person who wants basic information about Jefferson and wine, but also for experts who already know the subject.

 

passions[1]The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson by James Gabler
This detailed book tells the story of Jefferson’s travels throughout the vineyards of France, Italy, and Germany as well as his introduction of European wines. I remember when Gabler showed up at Colle (near Monticello) in 1989 looking to see the land that Mazzei had used to grow European grapes (Vitis vinifera). This book is not a difficult read, and is especially good when enjoyed with a glass http://blog.monticelloshop.org/wp-admin/post-new.phpof wine.

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello Director of Gardens and Grounds

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello Director of Gardens and Grounds

 

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Gardens and Grounds and local vitner, joined Monticello as assistant director of gardens and grounds in 1995. During his time at Monticello, he has worked to restore Thomas Jefferson’s vineyard, located just below the vegetable garden. The Northeast vineyard was replanted using several Jefferson-related European varieties, grated on hardy, pest-resistant native rootstock. The Southwest Vineyard was replanted entirely with the Sangiovese grape, a variety documented by Jefferson in 1807 and the principal ingredient of Chianti. Rausse oversees the production of wine as well as the care of the restored vineyards, which continue to serve as experimental gardens of unusual varieties of vinifera. Throughout Virginia, Rausse is known for his mark on Virginia wine and has often been called the “Father of the Virginia Wine Industry.” In October 2010, Edible Blue Ridge magazine called Rausse, “God of Wine.”

As an Italian immigrant, Rausse shares his Mediterranean knowledge of grapes and wine-making to the thriving market in Virginia. He first came to Virginia to establish Barboursville Vineyards in April 1976. Barboursville Vineyards was the first commercial vinifera winery in Virginia. By initiating the growth and development of this native Mediterranean grape, Rausse created a name for himself in the local wine community. He was drawn to other vineyards, such as Simeon (now Jefferson), Afton Mountain, and Blenheim, to help jump-start their place in the Virginia wine market.

Rausse has become one of the vital overseers in wine production and the restoration of vineyards in Virginia. He began the wine competition at the State Fair of Virginia and received Virginia Wine Person of the Year in 1996. Most recently, Rausse was awarded the 2011 Virginia Distinguished Service Award. This honor is presented to an individual for meritorious service to the council and state’s agribusiness industry.

The Revolving Bookstand: Jefferson’s Shadow

9780300184037[1]What author could more effectively tell the story of Thomas Jefferson and his fascination with science than Keith Thomson? Dr. Thomson is a professor emeritus of natural history at the University of Oxford, was a professor and dean at Yale University, and is currently the executive director of the American Philosophical Society. Since 2007 he has returned several times to the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello as a visiting scholar to research Jefferson’s interest in fossils, botany, anthropology, geology andmineralogy as well as Jefferson’s extensive collection of books on science. —–And here lies the strength of this book.

Given the author’s knowledge of science and its history in the western world, Thomson can evaluate Jefferson’s intellectual contributions within the context of the eighteenth century. He considers Jefferson’s interest in natural history (study of what is) and assesses his abilities in natural philosophy (study of what it means). In the introduction he puts forward the question as to whether Jefferson was a “dilettante”, a “typical Virginia gentleman-philosopher” or whether he was capable of making genuine contributions to the science of his day. In the following chapters he explores this question and presents how Jefferson approached and used his science in many interrelated ways. In introducing us to Thomas Jefferson, scientist, he gives us glimpses as well into Jefferson the mentor, teacher and most of all the passionate citizen and nation-builder. What makes this book even more convincing is that Thomson’s assessments are balanced and appear neither condescending toward Jefferson nor apologetic, but he speaks as a true and impartial scientific investigator.

Jefferson’s one book-length work, a natural history titled, Notes on the State of Virginia, often serves as the platform from which Thomson begins his discussions. He credits Notes as gaining Jefferson recognition as a man of science among his eighteenth century contemporaries and goes on to explain how Jefferson’s book was both an exercise in scientific observation and assessment while satisfying political objectives as well. Jefferson aimed much of his text at the French naturalist, the Comte de Buffon, who had written that the animals and indigenous peoples of the inhospitable North American continent were small and degenerate when compared to those of the Old World. European immigrants and their animals could also begin to degenerate within a few generations. This was not an idea conducive to immigration and economic growth, and thus Jefferson’s need to refute these claims. Though Notes began as a report on his home country, Jefferson ranged beyond the borders of Virginia and his work became a testament to the riches of North America in its geography, minerals, its waterways, climate, plants, animals, plus the character and abilities of the Native American inhabitants. Jefferson’s observations and collections of data on the natural world around him is still noteworthy, however it is his comments on race as put forward in Notes that have remained a contentious point of discussion among many modern readers.Thomson’s book has three chapters devoted to Jefferson’s provocative statements about race, color and slavery.  These chapters are excellent examples of the author’s ability to place these controversial issues into the thinking of the eighteenth century. He compares Jefferson’s thoughts with those of other important European writers such as Buffon, Voltaire, Maupertius, and Scottish writer David Hume along with comments from Jefferson’s American contemporaries. Thomson makes no excuses for Jefferson’s attitudes toward race but does give us some indication has to how he may have arrived at his conclusions. He presents clearly the paradox of a Jefferson who abhorred and feared the outcome of the practice of slavery and the degradation it imposed on both master and slave yet saw the black race as inferior and incapable of amalgamation into a white society. In contrast, Jefferson strongly defended the Native American Indians against European accusations of their degeneracy and contended that they, unlike the African-Americans, could be incorporated into American society. Jefferson joined other scientists in suppositions as to the causes in the differences in race, color, and as to whether all were of the same species.

Jefferson’s Shadow becomes almost a biography, as it tells Jefferson’s story but through science rather than a chronological ordering of events. Still Thomson gives us the necessary background of Jefferson’s youth and education as an explanation of his bent toward science and then follows Jefferson as minister plenipotentiary to Paris, where the world of the latest in scientific ideas and discoveries was opened to him, from the attempts in flight with hot-air balloons to the many applications of the steam engine. During his presidency he was able to focus on the great unknown West of North America and sort the data that returned from the expeditions he was instrumental in organizing. It is in one of his concluding chapters that Thomson addresses the event for which Jefferson is best known—the writing of the Declaration of Independence. He debates the influence of scientific thought and terminology within this historic document. Was there something Newtonian inherent in Jefferson’s famous composition along with the obvious links to John Locke? Thomson calls upon many sources to debate the substance of Jefferson’s language, and makes the discussion interesting and easy to follow. This is another positive aspect of this book. With his very clear writing style, Thomson is able to guide us through what could become an obtuse and difficult narrative in a clear and approachable manner.

Thomson concludes Jefferson’s Shadow by stating that “Jefferson followed a career that was a constant search for truths to hold on to. . .” and reminds us that “sometimes he found himself unable to integrate opposing ‘truths’ into one belief, and that led him into irreconcilable conflicts that confuse and infuriate modern readers.” Jefferson remains a paradox in many ways, but viewing him within the context of science, his ever present “Shadow,” Thomson offers us another approach to understanding his thoughts and actions that still remain pertinent today.

Gaye Wilson, Monticello's Shannon Senior Historian, gives her view of Keith Thomson's new book.Gaye Wilson, Shannon Senior Historian
Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello