What did Thomas Jefferson look like? How did he carry himself? Such questions, reasonable to ask as we look back on a person who lived in an era before photography, are the starting point for this boldly original new work. Maurizio Valsania considers all aspects of Jefferson’s complex conception of "the body," from eighteenth-century clothing and fashion to manners, adornment, posture, gesture, and visual and material culture. Drawing also from the fields of medical science, psychology, and cultural anthropology, the author conjures a vivid and detailed re-creation of the third president as a living, breathing—and pondering—human being.

Having situated Jefferson in his own body, Valsania looks at the embodied Jefferson in the world of his fellow humans. Any one of the other people in Jefferson’s society—whether that other person was male or female, free or enslaved, African American or Native American—was a critical counterexample for the eighteenth-century Virginian to define himself against, and Valsania’s explorations here lead to numerous insightful discoveries about race, gender, and structures of power. The first comprehensive exploration of Jefferson’s corporeal world, Jefferson’s Body brings the man vividly to life for the modern reader while deepening our understanding of what it meant to Jefferson to be alive.