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The Private Jefferson

Perspectives from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Peter S. Onuf, Andrea Wulf, and Henry Adams. Edited by Ondine LeBlanc

BUY Cloth · 224 pp. · 10.5 × 9.38 · ISBN 9781936520084 · $60.00 · Mar 2016
BUY Paper · 224 pp. · 10.5 × 9.38 · ISBN 9781936520091 · $35.00 · Mar 2016

One of U.S. history’s most eminent figures, Thomas Jefferson is as elusive as he is revered. The Private Jefferson opens a window onto the third president’s inner life by exploring the single largest cache of Thomas Jefferson’s private papers, held--to the surprise of many--at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Essays by Peter S. Onuf ("The State of the World: Thomas Jefferson’s Political Vision"), Andrea Wulf ("Revolutionary Gardens: Jefferson, Politics, and Plants"), and Henry Adams ("The Architectural Jefferson: The Draftsman and His Ideals") underscore aspects of Jefferson’s character--his unusual creativity and less frequently studied perspectives on the world--rather than retelling the well-known achievements of his political career. The qualities that come to the forefront are, instead, the principles, passions, and faith that suffused his actions as a statesman, including his love of the natural world as well as his lifelong effort to find a balance between his role on an international stage and his need for a domestic retreat, a reverie for study and experimentation.

Generously illustrated with full color reproductions of architectural drawings, letters, and other manuscripts, this volume is published as a companion to the exhibition The Private Jefferson: From the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Both exhibition and book celebrate the society’s 225th year.

Distributed for the Massachusetts Historical Society


The Private Jefferson stars an important collection of Jefferson documents, and they are given fine treatment here.... Bolstered by supporting text and large images, this catalog is a worthy addition to the Jefferson bookshelf.... If this book is all we had to frame a biography of Jefferson, this collection would be rich indeed. As such, this text whets the appetite and reminds the reader of other drawings or writings wherein Jefferson grapples with ways to observe, reason, and debate his place—and ours—in the world.


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