Editor’s note: Each week The Frontier will publish a book review from someone in the community. The book reviews will also include the name of the reviewer’s favorite book and a selfie. We’re trying to have a little fun around here, after all. If you would like to review a book, email Kevin Canfield at email@example.com.
Thomas Jefferson’s life is so oversized that it makes sense to take it in slowly.
He was the leading proponent of the Enlightenment in America. He contributed immensely to the Revolution and its aftermath. As president, he secured the Louisiana Purchase, dispatched the Louis and Clark Expedition, and established a strongly moral tone to foreign policy. As the Sage of Monticello in his later years, he founded the University of Virginia.
In his magisterial six-volume work, “Jefferson: the Man and His Times,” Dumas Malone practices “slow history.” It might not be everyone’s game, but I highly recommend this work as an adventure in reading, for anyone serious about American history.
Jefferson invites strong views. Contemporary critics called him a tyrant, an atheist and an adulterer. This generation is more familiar with David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. There, McCullough compares Adams favorably to Jefferson, who he accuses of fiscal mismanagement and aversion to conflict. And then there is the issue of Sally Hemings: how could the man who said “all men are created equal” have owned slaves, had an affair with a slave, and left her in slavery after his death?
Malone’s method is to present the man in context and in depth, over the course of a lifetime, as seen in his letters, writings and actions.
The man was like us – complicated. He was principled but flawed. When viewed in the context of his influences, his aspirations and the comings and goings of his time, Jefferson the human being emerges. And after six volumes, you feel almost like a member of his family, peopled as it was with revolutionaries and slaves, philosophers and generals, heroes and rogues. An American family.
Favorite book: The Lord of the Rings
John Waldron teaches social studies at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa. Waldron is a National Board Certified educator and the recipient of the 2013 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Secondary teaching. Waldron teaches courses in world history and Asian history for the high school’s International Baccalaureate program as well as U.S. government, ancient and medieval history, and Advanced Placement government and politics.