Book Recommendations

Author Signed Copies of “The Invention of Nature”


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.






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)



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.

Jefferson and Apples

Of the many fruit species Thomas Jefferson cultivated in his Monticello gardens, his collection of apple trees were one of his most consistently successful crops. Peter J. Hatch,  the Director of Monticello Gardens and Grounds for over 34 years, said, “The apple was a standard, every-day fruit at Monticello…Jefferson’s cultivation of the apple was exceptionally discriminating as he concentrated on only four varieties.” Jefferson’s eight-acre Fruit Garden, called the “Fruitery” in Jefferson’s Memorandum notes, yielded a wide variety of fruit trees and special fruit plants. Included within the Fruitery was the North Orchard, a grove of about two hundred apple and peach trees. These trees were propagated from seed, which often resulted in interesting variations that remained unnamed and were unique to Jefferson’s garden.

With Jefferson’s favorite apple trees cultivated by the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants and featured at The Shop at Monticello, you can plant your own Fruitery. Each hardy variety produces a unique and delicious fruit that you can enjoy year after year.

Roxbury Russet

apple_roxburyrussetDescription: Vintage variety. Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 10 to 12 feet high. Extremely productive variety, stores well through the winter.

Taste: The fruit has a greenish skin and a crisp, tart taste which ripens in early fall. Great for eating fresh, cooking, homemade cider and juice.

History: Jefferson planted several “Roxbury Russet” trees in Monticello’s South Orchard in 1778, referring to them as “russetings” because of the distinctive flaking russets on the skin of the fruit. These were one of the more popular apple varieties in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Albemarle Pippin

albemarle-pippin-apple-tree-malus-cv-3[1]Description: Heirloom variety. Limited distribution in United States. Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 1o to 12 feet high. Stores well during cold months in a cool cellar or refrigerator.

Taste: The fruit flesh is greenish-white, juicy, crisp, tart, and with a fine aroma. Considered one of the best keeping apples.

History: The “Albemarle Pippin” was one of Jefferson’s two favorite table apples. He planted as many as 50 Albemarle Pippins in the Monticello Fruitery between 1769 and 1814. Benjamin Franklin reputedly introduced the variety into England as an example of superior American fruit.

Esopus Spitzenburg

esopus_spitzenburgDescription: Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 12 to 15 feet high. Bears handsome red apples which ripen in late autumn.

Taste: Fruit features a firm, juicy yellow flesh with a delicious, brisk, rich flavor. Particularly excellent for baking pies.

History: The “Esopus Spitzenburg” was Jefferson’s other favorite apple variety. He planted 32 of these trees in the Monticello Fruitery between 1807 and 1812. This apple variety is still considered one of the world’s finest today.

Hewes Crab

Hewes' Crab or VaCrabApple.sjDescription: Hardy fruit tree that can be grown as an ornamental. Grows to eight feet. Yields small rounded fruits of a dull red streaked with green, which ripen in early autumn.

Taste: Fruit produces a delicious cinnamon-flavored cider that is both sugary and pungent. Considered the finest cider apple by apple connoisseurs.

History: This was the most common fruit variety grown in eighteenth-century Virginia. Jefferson planted his entire North Orchard exclusively with this variety from which several batches of homemade cider were made over the years.


Made at Monticello

Even if you don’t grow your own, you can still bring ‘apples’ to your table! Monticello Handcrafted Apple Spoons are created from branches pruned from apple trees in Monticello’s Orchard. The spoons are beautiful and functional, perfect for serving salad or a delicious fruit cobbler dessert.

Our collection of fruit butters are the perfect addition to a breakfast or lunch spread. Wonderful on biscuits, toast, and sandwiches, Monticello’s Apple Butter, Peach Butter, and Strawberry Butter are staff favorites. Our fruit butters contain no preservatives and are truly versatile spreads.

Monticello kitchen records reveal that apple cider was a staple beverage at most meals. Jefferson’s extensive apple orchards were vital to the production of his homemade cider. The non-alcoholic Monticello Sparkling Cider is reminiscent of the third president’s preferred beverage.

For more information on Jefferson and apples, check out these staff favorites:

Apples of North America is brimming with beautiful portraits of heirloom and modern apples of merit, each accompanied by distinguishing characteristics and common uses. As the view broadens to the orchard, you will find information on planting, pruning, grafting, and more. The exploration of the apple culminates with an overview of the fruit’s transformative capabilities when pressed, fermented, cooked, or dried.

The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello details Jefferson’s extensive Fruitery and orchards. Jefferson cultivated over 170 kinds of temperate fruits; this book explores his methods and research that helped him become a successful fruit farmer.

The Best Apples to Buy and Grow provides plenty of information on growing and cultivating apples in your backyard, as well as tips on purchasing and cooking with apples. It’s handy to take along when visiting farmer’s markets and roadside stands, and will help buyers choose from the bounty of treasured heirloom breeds and tasty new types.



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 Additional information and reviews of these books can also be found at


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, to build a comprehensive and publicly accessible inventory of the books Jefferson owned, read, and recommended during this lifetime.

History of the Quote: “I cannot live without books”

A 1582Quotations by Thomas Jefferson are frequently used by professors, politicians, and “experts” in just about every field, but why did Jefferson say what he said when? Endrina Tay, Monticello’s  Associate Foundation Librarian for Technical Services at the Jefferson Library, shares the story behind Jefferson’s famous book quote. 

I cannot live without books, where fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object[1],” declared Thomas Jefferson to John Adams in June 1815, shortly after the tenth and last wagon carrying his library left Monticello for Washington, D.C.  Jefferson had sold his library to Congress to replace the congressional library that was destroyed when the British burned the United States Capitol on August 24, 1814.  Congress, he felt, could not function without access to a proper reference library, so he promptly offered his own.


The Monticello Book Room

His library collection numbered over 6,500 volumes.  It was the result of nearly 50 years of painstaking organization and meticulous selection from all of the principal book marts and publishing centers in Europe and America. Over 2,000 alone had been acquired while he was in Europe between 1784 to 1789, first as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate commercial treaties with foreign powers, and then as minister to France.  Jefferson was justifiably proud of his unique collection, calling it the “choicest collection of books in the US[2]”. The range of subjects it covered was truly remarkable — from history, mathematics, natural history and the sciences, to law, politics, ethics, religion, literature and fine arts.  In recommending his collection to Congress, he wrote, “there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.[3]”

After heated and rancorous debate, Congress approved the purchase of Jefferson’s library.  The sale provided Jefferson with a much needed cash infusion of $23,950, which he used to settle outstanding debts, and yes … to acquire more books!  While busy organizing and packing up his prized collection for the journey north to Washington, he was already planning another library at Monticello, albeit on a much smaller scale.  He wrote, “I have now to make up again a collection for myself of such as may amuse my hours of reading.[4]”

Since childhood, Jefferson was never far away from books.  He drew ideas, inspiration and innumerable hours of delight from them.  Reading was for him his “greatest of all amusements[5].”  He counted it among the simple joys of life.  While carrying out his diplomatic duties in Paris in 1788, he wrote, “I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post which any human power can give.[6]”  Now in retirement after leaving public life in 1809, he turned to reading as a welcome escape from the daily tedium of attending to his correspondence and business affairs.

The replacement library he envisaged would reflect his retirement interests over the last 11 years of his life, and come to include many of his favorite titles and editions.  Between 1815 and 1819, we observe a book buying frenzy in Jefferson’s correspondence and account books.  With the aid of George Ticknor, David Bailie Warden and others, Jefferson tapped booksellers across the Atlantic and in metropolitan centers like Philadelphia and New York to replenish his empty shelves at Monticello.  By the time of his death in 1826, his “little collection of books[7]” had grown to some 1,600 volumes.  Granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph, recalled, “Books were at all times his chosen companions, and his acquaintance with many languages gave him great power of selection … I saw him more frequently with a volume of the classics in his hand than with any other book.[8]”  He continued to enjoy works of history in various languages, particularly ancient history, along with scientific works, especially physics and geometry.  He read Tacitus, Thucydides, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, among many others.  He also kept up with new publications by reading the Edinburgh Review, and “kept himself acquainted with what was being done, said, or thought in the world from which he had retired[9].”  Jefferson had intended his library to become part of the University of Virginia after his death.  But sadly, it was dispersed at auction in Washington, D.C. in 1829, with the remainder sold off in a smaller sale in Philadelphia in 1831, in an effort to settle his debts.

Apart from his library at Monticello, Jefferson also maintained a satellite library at his Poplar Forest retreat in Bedford County.  There he maintained his “petit format” library of small-format editions of works by British, Italian, French, Greek and Latin poets, along with works of prose by his favorite authors.  Jefferson’s grandson, Francis Eppes, inherited Poplar Forest and its contents, and years later, put 675 volumes from Jefferson’s Poplar Forest library up for sale in New York in 1873.

Jefferson spent his life surrounded by books.  For him, books were indeed “a necessary of life[10].”

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, to build a comprehensive and publicly accessible inventory of the books Jefferson owned, read, and recommended during this lifetime.

[1] Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, June 10, 1815. Published in Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), vol. 8, 523.

[2] Thomas Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith, May 8, 1815, PTJ:RS, vol. 8, 476.

[3] Thomas Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith, September 21, 1814, PTJ:RS, vol. 7, 683.

[4] Thomas Jefferson to David Bailie Warden, February 27, 1815, PTJ:RS, vol. 8, 292.

[5] Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, August 22, 1813, PTJ:RS, vol. 6, 437.

[6] Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Donald, February 7, 1788. Published in Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), vol. 12, 572.

[7] Thomas Jefferson to George Ticknor, March 19, 1815, PTJ:RS vol. 8, 361.

[8] Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1858), vol. 3, 346.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, June 22, 1819. Series 1, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress,

“music, drawing, books…”


The Revolving Bookstand: Christa Dierksheide Reviews “Those Who Labor for My Happiness”

Slavery’s definition is also its crime – it is the ultimate denial of personhood.  For decades, historians have worked to restore the humanity denied to the millions of Africans who were forcibly brought to the Americas in the holds of slave ships and then made to endure the violence and coercion of a slave system that rendered them mere property.  But few have executed this important task with the same insight and empathy as has Lucia Stanton, Monticello’s Shannon Senior Historian Emeritus.  She has devoted a career that spanned more than three decades to naming, understanding, and describing the 607 enslaved people that Thomas Jefferson held in bondage during his lifetime.  Her new collection of essays, “’Those Who Labor for My Happiness’: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello,” depicts slaves in a way that scholars often do not: as individuals and as members of families.

justbookPublished in conjunction with the 2012 exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty,” Stanton’s book of essays explores slavery through three main perspectives.  In the first section, Stanton shows us the world of Jefferson the patriarch and slaveholder; she describes the man who possessed about 10,000 acres of land across Virginia, owned hundreds of human beings, sometimes separated slave families, and was, as most historians now believe, the father of all of Sally Hemings’s children.  Although the portrait that emerges of Jefferson the slaveholder seems a far cry from Jefferson the author of the Declaration of Independence, Stanton shows that Jefferson’s apparently oppositional “selves” are actually reconcilable; Jefferson remained committed to his lofty ideals even if his actions ironically undermined them, often devastating the lives of his slaves in the process.

In the second part of the book, Stanton shifts her focus to the enslaved community at Monticello.  In highlighting the central role of the African American family, Stanton emphasizes that even within the constraints of bondage, the Hemingses, Herns, Gillettes, Grangers, Hubbards, and other families were able to carve out lives independent of Jefferson.  In tracing these families, Stanton recovers the individuality, agency, domestic economy, and day-to-day interactions that defined the lives of the men, women, and children who labored for the “happiness” of their owner.  Yet she does not let us forget that the African American family was never safe from the horrors of the slave system – during Jefferson’s lifetime, over 400 of the 607 people that he owned were separated from home and family by sale or gift.

In the third and final part of the book, Stanton moves beyond the Jefferson era to consider the stories and perspectives of the descendants of the Monticello enslaved community.  The essays in this section, two of them published for the first time, are an outgrowth of the Getting Word oral history project, Monticello’s effort to record those memories of slavery passed down through generations of descendants.  The most striking feature of these essays is how descendants of Monticello slaves fought tirelessly to “fulfill the Declaration” – to gain full equality and freedom in American society and to realize the words written by a man who had owned their ancestors.

Stanton’s work brings to life a man, his slaves, and a world that had previously been depicted as two dimensional or made invisible.  Ultimately, these essays emphasize the humanity of Jefferson, the people he owned, and their descendants.  Stanton conveys to us for the first time the hopes, fears, flaws, and triumphs of the people who lived and worked on the 5,000-acre plantation.  Her approach in this book mirrors that of the writer James Agee, who chronicled the lives of Alabama sharecroppers during the Great Depression.  Agee, like Stanton, sought to capture the life in each one of his subjects, to show “who is he and where from, that he is now here; what is it his life has been and has done to him: what of his wife and of their children, each, for all these each is a life, a full universe.”  Stanton’s real triumph has been to restore the people to the Monticello plantation, and to depict each of their lives as a “full universe.”

Christa Dierksheide

Christa Dierksheide, Historian
Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Christa Dierksheide specializes in the history of plantations in Age of Revolutions, with a special focus on Jefferson.  She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 2008.  Her forthcoming book, “Improving Slavery or Ending Slavery in Jeffersonian America, 1770-1840″ (University of Virginia Press) interrogates planters’ visions of progressive slave societies in Virginia, South Carolina, and the British Caribbean.  Since 2006, she has conceptualized and written exhibitions for Monticello, including “The Boisterous Sea of Liberty” and “The Landscape of Slavery: Mulberry Row at Monticello.”  She is also co-author of “Thomas Jefferson’s Worlds,” the introductory film at Monticello.  Currently, she teaches in the U.Va. history department and works at Monticello’s Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies.

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.