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Thomas Jefferson

Draftsman of a Nation
Natalie S. Bober

BUY Paper · 376 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813927329 · $16.95 · Feb 2008

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 was himself the holder of numerous slaves. How are students of history to reconcile this contradiction in the third president? Now 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 freckled and, for the eighteenth century, unusually tall young man. Bober follows him through a life in which the presidency was just one of many accomplishment. As designer of Monticello, 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 readers, the book is a substantial work of scholarship, based on several 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--and insists that this does not disqualify him as a hero.


Bober has taken on an extremely vital, but difficult, task: writing a history that speaks to young people, black and white alike, in a way that is respectful to both cultures.... Hits all the relevant points that young readers should know about the third president, while adding new perspectives that are always nuanced. The detail is rich and her presentation is elegant.

Annette Gordon-ReedNew York Law School, author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

About the Author(s): 

Natalie S. Bober is the author of numerous books of history for young readers, including Countdown to Independence: A Revolution of Ideas in England and Her American Colonies 1760-1776 and Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution.

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