Thomas Jefferson's was one of history's greatest voices for the importance of individual freedom. His eloquence on this fundamental right became the cornerstone of our nation and a central theme of the Enlightenment. And yet Jefferson presided over a society that depended on slavery, and he was himself the holder of many slaves. How are students of history to reconcile this contradiction in the third president? Now the celebrated biographer and historian Natalie Bober presents a life of Jefferson that does not evade this difficult question. Bober explores the slave community that built and maintained his home, Monticello - and what their lives under Jefferson tell us about him and about slavery as an early American institution. To assess fully what Jefferson might mean to our time, we must first understand what it meant to be a man of his own time. From the first page, the world he inhabited is made vivid - and so, too, is Jefferson himself, standing before us as a shy, freckle-faced, and, for the eighteenth century, unusually tall young man. Bober follows him through a life in which the presidency was just one of many accomplishments.
As designer of Monticello and other renowned buildings, he was one of the great architects of his era; as founder of the University of Virginia, he was one of the nation's early champions of higher education. His greatest legacy is perhaps as author of the Declaration of Independence, a nearly unrivaled instance of words giving tangible meaning to life. The Jefferson revealed here is distinguished by his often contradictory nature but also by his optimism, his curiosity, his exceptional sense of history (including the history still to be made). While primarily aimed at young adult readers, the book is a substantial work of scholarship, based on many years' research of primary-source materials (including black oral history) and the most current writings, and like Bober's earlier works, should attract students of history of all ages. This book faces the fact that Jefferson was a flawed human being - yet insists that this does not disqualify him as a hero.
Natalie S. Bober is the author of numerous books of history for young adult readers, including Countdown to Independence: A Revolution of Ideas in England and Her American Colonies 1760-1776 and Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution.