George Washington's Mount Vernon brings together–for the first time–the details of Washington's 45-year endeavor to build and perfect Mount Vernon. In doing so it introduces us to a Washington few of his contemporaries knew, and one little noticed by historians since.
Here we meet the planter/patriot who also genuinely loved building, a man passionately human in his desire to impress on his physical surroundings the stamp of his character and personal beliefs. As chief architect and planner of the countless changes made at Mount Vernon over the years, Washington began by imitating accepted models of fashionable taste, but as time passed he increasingly followed his own ideas. Hence, architecturally, as the authors show, Mount Vernon blends the orthodox and the innovative in surprising ways, just as the new American nation would. Equally interesting is the light the book sheds on the process of building at Mount Vernon, and on the people–slave and free–who did the work. Washington was a demanding master, and in their determination to preserve their own independence his workers often clashed with him. Yet, as the Dalzells argue, that experience played a vital role in shaping his hopes for the future of American society–hope that embraced in full measure the promise of the revolution in which he had led his fellow citizens.
George Washington's Mount Vernon thus compellingly combines the two sides of Washington's life–the public and the private–and uses the combination to enrich our understanding of both. Gracefully written, with more than 80 photographs, maps, and engravings, the book tells a fascinating story with memorable insight.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote his epitaph, he listed as his accomplishments his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia statute of religious freedom, and his founding of the University of Virginia. He did not mention his presidency or that he was second governor of the state of Virginia, in the most trying hours of the Revolution. Dumas Malone, author of the epic six-volume biography, wrote that the events of this time explain Jefferson's "character as a man of action in a serious emergency." Joseph Ellis, author of American Sphinx, focuses on other parts of Jefferson's life but wrote that his actions as governor "toughened him on the inside." It is this period, when Jefferson was literally tested under fire, that Michael Kranish illuminates in Flight from Monticello.
Filled with vivid, precisely observed scenes, this book is a sweeping narrative of clashing armies–of spies, intrigue, desperate moments, and harrowing battles. The story opens with the first murmurs of resistance to Britain, as the colonies struggled under an onerous tax burden and colonial leaders–including Jefferson–fomented opposition to British rule. Kranish captures the tumultuous outbreak of war, the local politics behind Jefferson's actions in the Continental Congress (and his famous Declaration), and his rise to the governorship. Jefferson's life-long belief in the corrupting influence of a powerful executive led him to advocate for a weak governorship, one that lacked the necessary powers to raise an army. Thus, Virginia was woefully unprepared for the invading British troops who sailed up the James under the direction of a recently turned Benedict Arnold. Facing rag-tag resistance, the British force took the colony with very little trouble. The legislature fled the capital, and Jefferson himself narrowly eluded capture twice. Continue reading →
Thomas Jefferson was an avid book-collector, a voracious reader, and a gifted writer–a man who prided himself on his knowledge of classical and modern languages and whose marginal annotations include quotations from Euripides, Herodotus, and Milton. And yet there has never been a literary life of our most literary president.
In The Road to Monticello, Kevin J. Hayes fills this important gap by offering a lively account of Jefferson's spiritual and intellectual development, focusing on the books and ideas that exerted the most profound influence on him. Moving chronologically through Jefferson's life, Hayes reveals the full range and depth of Jefferson's literary passions, from the popular "small books" sold by traveling chapmen, such as The History of Tom Thumb, which enthralled him as a child; to his lifelong love of Aesop's Fables and Robinson Crusoe; his engagement with Horace, Ovid, Virgil and other writers of classical antiquity; and his deep affinity with the melancholy verse of Ossian, the legendary third-century Gaelic warrior-poet. Drawing on Jefferson's letters, journals, and commonplace books, Hayes offers a wealth of new scholarship on the print culture of colonial America, reveals an intimate portrait of Jefferson's activities beyond the political chamber, and reconstructs the president's investigations in such different fields of knowledge as law, history, philosophy and natural science. Most importantly, Hayes uncovers the ideas and exchanges which informed the thinking of America's first great intellectual and shows how his lifelong pursuit of knowledge culminated in the formation of a public offering, the "academic village" which became UVA, and his more private retreat at Monticello. Continue reading →
The definitive life of Jefferson in one volume, this biography relates Jefferson's private life and thought to his prominent public position and reveals the rich complexity of his development. As Peterson explores the dominant themes guiding Jefferson's career–democracy, nationality, and enlightenment–and Jefferson's powerful role in shaping America, he simultaneously tells the story of nation coming into being.
Six months after the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. A powerful British force had routed the Americans at New York, occupied three colonies, and advanced within sight of Philadelphia.
Yet, as David Hackett Fischer recounts in this riveting history, George Washington–and many other Americans–refused to let the Revolution die. On Christmas night, as a howling nor'easter struck the Delaware Valley, he led his men across the river and attacked the exhausted Hessian garrison at Trenton, killing or capturing nearly a thousand men. A second battle of Trenton followed within days. The Americans held off a counterattack by Lord Cornwallis's best troops, then were almost trapped by the British force. Under cover of night, Washington's men stole behind the enemy and struck them again, defeating a brigade at Princeton. The British were badly shaken. In twelve weeks of winter fighting, their army suffered severe damage, their hold on New Jersey was broken, and their strategy was ruined. Continue reading →
Thomas Jefferson designed his own tombstone, describing himself simply as "Author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia." It is in this simple epitaph that R.B. Bernstein finds the key to this enigmatic Founder–not as a great political figure, but as leader of "a revolution of ideas that would make the world over again."
In Thomas Jefferson, Bernstein offers the definitive short biography of this revered American–the first concise life in six decades. Bernstein deftly synthesizes the massive scholarship on his subject into a swift, insightful, evenhanded account. Here are all of Jefferson's triumphs, contradictions, and failings, from his luxurious (and debt-burdened) life as a Virginia gentleman to his passionate belief in democracy, from his tortured defense of slavery to his relationship with Sally Hemings. Jefferson was indeed multifaceted–an architect, inventor, writer, diplomat, propagandist, planter, party leader–and Bernstein explores all these roles even as he illuminates Jefferson's central place in the American enlightenment, that "revolution of ideas" that did so much to create the nation we know today. Together with the less well-remembered points in Jefferson's thinking–the nature of the Union, his vision of who was entitled to citizenship, his dread of debt (both personal and national)–they form the heart of this lively biography. Continue reading →