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Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  392 ratings  ·  97 reviews
Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery? The answer is a resounding yes. Master of the Mountain, Henry Wiencek’s eloquent, persuasive book—based on new information coming from archaeological work at Monticello and on hitherto overlooked or disregarded evidence in Jefferson’s papers—opens up a huge, poorly understood dimension of Jefferson’s world. W ...more
ebook, 352 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Nancy Peacock
My husband said that he had never heard me say, "Wow," so many times while reading a book. Henry Wiencek is a master of research. He has waded through letters, memoirs, farm records, archeological discoveries, as well as Jefferson's own books and writings, and the most popular books about him. What I felt at the end of Master of the Mountain was proof that Thomas Jefferson was a master of spin. The world of Monticello mirrors the America we live in today, with some at the top, and many more at t ...more
Florence
This book has fired up my imagination and awakened a desire to dig deeper into American history in search of what really happened. Thomas Jefferson has been knocked off his pedestal and in the future will be known to me as the great prevaricator. It seems that the political art of "spin" is not a modern phenomena. Jefferson left numerous written documents expressing his desire to end the practice of slavery of human beings. It is a false legacy. Jefferson profited mightily from the abhorent inst ...more
Michelle
To quote the book’s description, “Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery?” The answer, apparently, is yes.

Jefferson has forever been portrayed as an anti-slavery man somehow caught/stuck in a system he hated. In other words, he had hundreds of slaves but it was the way of the world then. Poor Jefferson, ahead of his time. Alas it is clear early on there were plenty, PLENTY, of people freeing slaves, wanting to free slaves, imploring Jefferson to do exactly that. Many peo
...more
Ed
Jul 18, 2013 Ed rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Early American history buffs
Recommended to Ed by: I heard the author read from his previous book which I liked.
Mr. Jefferson did some good things, and he did some not so good things. This historical study does a lot to illuminate the latter. I liked the sections about the archaeological diggings being done at Monticello beyond the view of the tourists going there. The historical research is well-researched with lots of footnotes, but the writing isn't too scholarly or inaccessible for the lay reader like me. So, I came away with some key new insights and appreciate the candor. History buffs should like t ...more
Melissa Jill
This book made me mad. And it made me want to scrape Jefferson's face off Mount Rushmore. Turns out the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence didn't really think or live by the belief that "all men are created equal." Historians have long been kind to Jefferson -- focusing on some of his earlier pronouncements against slavery -- and turning a blind eye to how he lived his life.

Some quotes from the book that I want to remember:

"Jefferson constantly moved the boundaries on his moral map t
...more
Caroline
Apparently this book caused quite some controversy upon its publication, although I must confess I fail to see why. It could surely only cause upset amongst those who still cling to the naive, mythologised version of Thomas Jefferson as the moral compass of the Revolution, the upright and honourable Sage, the enemy of the slavery and the frustrated emancipationist. Jefferson is part and parcel of America's foundation myth, and it is somehow therefore important that he and the other Founders be s ...more
Barbd
Both this book and The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed explain how slavery worked - especially the economics. I always wondered how could it be profitable for a master to enforce his will upon a mass of people. Why didn't they revolt or run away? Why did slave owners work so hard and risk everything to maintain the "institution" of slavery at the same time that they claimed that maintainance of their slaves was "bankrupting" them? Thomas Jefferson stated often ...more
Beth
Interesting to find that 241 people have marked this: "to read" or given it stars without a review. So I am writing the first review.

Author Henry Wiencek writes this book with lots of detail from many sources in order to substantiate his conclusions that differentiate the common view of Jefferson from what he thinks is a more considered view now that Jefferson's lifetime is further away from us historically.

Jefferson is an enigma who begins political life believing a liberal view of "man as bei
...more
Marty Selnick
This book has forever changed the way I will think of the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence. It's a compelling and utterly damning picture of a man we have been taught to admire on the most lofty plain. When it came to slavery, he said one thing and did quite the opposite. History books, especially those used in classrooms, need to be revised to show his true beliefs about the economy and commerce of slavery.
This is a very good book, well-researched and written in a very accessible
...more
emi Bevacqua
I'm not a Jefferson scholar by any means, and while I do appreciate the volume of research work Wiencek has clearly done here, I struggled to get through this non-linear compilation of historical facts. Master of the Mountain doesn't tell a straight-forward story, it dumps all connected gossip about Jefferson and his slaves jumbled up since the time they lived to the present. It seemed to me that his painstaking rehash of so much murky controversial research out there, dimmed whatever light Wien ...more
John Eddy
While this was a good read, I don't feel I really learned that much about Jefferson beyond what was brought to light by the Sally Hemmings discoveries and just an overall assumption that people of that era could be both slave owners and want to free the slaves and not do either very well.

What I will take away from the book, however, is a few different little bon mots..

For instance, coopers (those who made barrels) were very important to early lighter-than-air travel because hydrogen was created
...more
Robert

A clarifying work, this is a comprehensive study of Thomas Jefferson's changing thought about slavery and his unchanging practice of it. It is probably the definitive work on slavery as it existed at Monticello. The author, by closely following chronologically the changes in Jefferson's thought, convincingly resolves the contradiction between the young idealist who wrote that 'all men are created equal' and the mature Jefferson, the world-renowned icon of freedom, whose wealth consisted in slave
...more
Nancy
Our 2008 visit to Monticello was brought back to me by this book. I recall feeling both amazed and amused by Jefferson's inventions and innovations in his relatively small mansion. I deeply respect the pivotal role he played in the birth of our country, especially as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and was inclined to accept that he was a captive of his times (ironically) with regard to his ownership of slaves. Yet when we embarked on the optional side tour of the remain ...more
Lauren
A strong historical synthesis of Jefferson, and his complex relationship with the institution of slavery. The 1990s saw a lot of new research on this topic after the discovery of genetic links between the Jeffersons and the Hemmings, one of the premiere "house slave" families at Monticello. The book does cover this topic, but it is not the central theme, but instead focuses on the great dichotomy between the slaves at Monticello, Jefferson's vacillations between slave holder and emancipator (he ...more
Gary Hoggatt
In 2003, historian Henry Wiencek tackled the difficult subject of America's Founding Fathers and slavery with his excellent and penetrating An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. In 2012, he revisited the topic to take on a Founder who comes out much worse for the contest in Thomas Jefferson in Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves. Wiencek delivers another fascinating look at a troubling part of the American past in examining how the auth ...more
Manny
I will be truthful here, I am a big fan of Thomas Jefferson. I believe he was pivotal in setting a system of government that was fair and in line with natural law. With that said, this book exposes a side of Jefferson that is dark and disturbing. Wiencek has obviously done a lot of research on Jefferson's slave owning time. Much of the first half of the book relies on Jefferson's "Farm Book"

The book is riddled with words such as: probably, perhaps, maybe and assuming. That turns me off. As for t
...more
Nathan Lott
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Drury
Brilliant. Well-researched and utterly revealing analysis of the thought process going on in the mind of a slave-holding founding father. "Mr. Jefferson" is currently interpreted as the renaissance man who wrote the words of the Declaration of Independence, ran the country, designed and built beautiful buildings, and founded the University of Virginia, now referred to as "Mr. Jefferson's Academical Village" by those who go for that kind of Disney-esque baloney. On top of that, he is interpreted ...more
Ann
I don't have any original thoughts to share on the subject of this book, I think it's all been said. Every American should read it; every American should have the understanding that our founding fathers were flawed human beings, who despite themselves created a form of government--or better yet, the ideal of a form of representative government--that may or may not stand the test of time. That they were able to do so AT ALL is a tribute to their determination. Jefferson understood that the pecul ...more
Dale
Published by HighBridge Company in 2012
Read by Brian Holsopple
Duration: 11 hours, 5 minutes.
Unabridged


I am a history teacher. My favorite area of study is the American Civil War but the American Revolution comes in at a close second. I cannot even count the number of books that I have read about the Revolutionary Era and I thought that I had a pretty solid handle on Jefferson - until I read this book.

I had always pictured Jefferson as a...

Read more at: http://dwdsreviews.blogspot.com/2013/...
David Bird
Henry Wiencek must have a very strong sense of the injustice of slavery, and the harm wrought upon both its victims and our country at large, yet he has produced a remarkably balanced book, which damns with its facts rather than its rhetoric.

The case that TJ was not the father of children who grew up as Hemmingses, so far as it can be made seems to rest on the assumption that Jefferson was a man of principle and ideas, and above such tawdriness of the flesh. Wiencek coolly demolishes the latter
...more
Elliott
The brilliance of this book is that it says more about the present than it does the past. Paradoxically this is what history ought to do if it is to retain any relevance, and Henry Wiencek touches upon that throughout the book, but most prominently at the end when he refers to the United States through a quotation as thinking itself the one nation in the world that is completely innocent. As Wiencek shows, if one is to confront slavery with any meaningful sort of analysis we must discard this vi ...more
Richard White
Master of the Mountain examines what might be considered Thomas Jefferson's legacy: a liberty-obsessed reluctant slave owner, philosopher-founder, and defeated abolitionist caught in a system he could not change. It then strongly suggests that this is all nonsense.

Henry Wiencek wrote An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves And The Creation Of America, so he is well-researched when it comes to our founders and the human beings that they owned. I assume that after writing An Imperfect God
...more
Jim
Henry Wiencek has done a masterful job of revealing the truth about Thomas Jefferson, slaveholder. In doing so, he's made a magnificent contribution to truth and justice for the 600 slaves the founder held in bondage.

An enormous amount of research went into this book. What we learn here is long, long overdue.

Jefferson's genius and early liberalism still impresses me but his profound commitment to the enslavement of people of color breaks my heart. Jefferson changed and it isn't pretty. In fact,
...more
Steve
This is an unflinching look at Thomas Jefferson, and at the central contradiction of his life. That is, how could a man who wrote so passionately and eloquently about freedom have kept slaves? How did he deal with that contradiction? Was he trapped by his times? If we judge him for this unambiguous hypocrisy, are we committing the sin of "presentism", that is, judging a person from a different time by today's moral standards?

Historians and lay people alike have struggled with these difficult que
...more
Evan Thomas
Truly an excellent an devastating dissection of Jefferson's hypocrisy on the question of slavery. It also offers an excellent perspective on plantation life in 18th century that goes equally far towards refuting the myth that slavery was a dying institution until the invention of the cotton gin.
Dkolacinski
All men are created equal -- and increase your personal worth 4% per year by propagating every two years. Think of Beacon Hill and America being the light of guidance for Europe. Fast forward a century or so. Massa Tom sits in his mansion on the mountain writing great words of freedom, and dealing in the wholesale exploitation of a significant part of mankind. Jefferson wasn't just a man of his age, filled with contradictions. He was a man of all ages, speaking one thing yet living something els ...more
Antony
The man who wrote the words "All Men Are Created Equal" doesn't come off too well in this close study of his role as "master" to 600 souls in the course of his lifetime.
Rob Mcclintock
As I have been doing more reading of the cadre of Founding Fathers in the last decade or so, the more I read of Jefferson the more his stock drops in my eyes. He was not only the master or his little mountain, but also a master of cultivating his public image and burnishing his selective legacy. For all of his acknowledged intellectual heft and philosophical guidance for the creation of our republic, this well -researched book illuminates his moral and frankly, personal failures to actually alig ...more
Tom
An interesting and provocative look at Jefferson
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Henry Wiencek is a prominent American historian and editor whose work has encompassed historically significant architecture, the Founding Fathers, various topics relating to slavery, and the Lego company. In 1999, The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White, a biographical history which chronicles the racially intertwined Hairston clan of the noted Cooleemee Plantation House, won the Nati ...more
More about Henry Wiencek...
An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White The World Of Lego Toys National Geographic Guide to Americas Great Houses (National Geographic Guide to America's Great Houses) Old Houses

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