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Mr. Jefferson's Telescope

A History of the University of Virginia in One Hundred Objects
Brendan Wolfe


BUY Cloth · 248 pp. · 7 × 8 · ISBN 9780813940106 · $29.95 · Aug 2017

Thomas Jefferson considered the University of Virginia to be among his finest achievements--a living monument to his artistic and intellectual ambitions. Now, on the occasion of the University's bicentennial, Brendan Wolfe has assembled one hundred objects that, brought together in one fascinating book, offer a new, sometimes surprising history of Jefferson’s favorite project.

Mr. Jefferson’s Telescope begins with the years leading up to the University's 1819 founding and continues to the triumphs and challenges of the present day, each entry joining a full-color image with an engaging description that both stands alone and contributes to an engrossing larger narrative about how the school has evolved over time. Considering an orange and blue silk handkerchief, Wolfe reveals that the University’s school colors were originally cardinal red and gray--calling to mind a Confederate soldier’s blood-stained uniform but ultimately deemed not bright enough to stand out on muddy football fields. The record of an overdue book checked out by a young Edgar Allan Poe speaks to a long literary tradition. On the subject of a key to the Rotunda’s doors, Wolfe introduces us to its keeper, the Monticello-born ex-slave who rang the hourly bells on Grounds into the early twentieth century.

Beautifully illustrated with over one hundred new and archival images, this book brings to life a remarkable array of significant objects while offering to the reader the best introduction available to the history of Jefferson’s great institution.

About the Author: 

Brendan Wolfe is the author of Finding Bix: The Life and Afterlife of a Jazz Legend and has contributed to the Morning News, Colorado Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review.

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