Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gordon-Reed's Latest Reviewed

Mary is more systematic than I about surveying the book reviews, but I didn't want the appreciative notice in the Washington Post of Annette Gordon-Reed's latest, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, go unacknowledged here. The cover review, by Fergus M. Bordewich, commences:
Thomas Jefferson's contradictions have long baffled historians. His clarion assertion of human equality in the Declaration of Independence became the battle cry of the abolitionist movement. Yet he lived on the fruits of slave labor and never risked political capital (or his own comfort) to oppose the institution of slavery. He regarded blacks as odorous, intellectually inferior and incapable of creating art. Yet, as Annette Gordon-Reed convincingly argues in this monumental and original book, he cohabited for more than 30 years with an African American woman with whom he conceived seven children.

Liberating the woman known to Jefferson's smirking enemies as "dusky Sally" from the lumber room of scandal and legend, Gordon-Reed leads her into the daylight of a country where slaves and masters met on intimate terms. In so doing, Gordon-Reed also shines an uncompromisingly fresh but not unsympathetic light on the most elusive of the Founding Fathers.
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