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The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  2,110 ratings  ·  427 reviews
Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize: “[A] commanding and important book.”—Jill Lepore, The New Yorker

This epic work—named a best book of the year by the Washington Post, Time, the Los Angeles Times, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a notable book by the New York Times—tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third presid
Paperback, 816 pages
Published September 8th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2008)
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I will not finish this book. For a non-fiction work there is too much conjecture and speculation about the character's feelings without sources to back it up. I also felt manipulated while reading. I do not need to be reminded over and over again about how morally wrong, cruel and degrading slavery was - I possessed this opinion long before I picked up this book. There seemed to be an angry tone throughout.
Perhaps there are some redeeming qualities to this book - it did win the National Book Awa
This is an extremely well written and thought provoking boook. Gordon-Reed addresses the history of the Hemings family, the slaves whose live were so completely intertwined with the life of Thomas Jefferson. She focuses on them and their individual lives, not just as extensions of Jefferson, although he was of course, central to their existence.

I am surprised at some of the comments I have read about this book. I did not find Gordon-Reed to be particularly angry, although, God knows, people of
Sara W
I just cannot finish this book.

I found parts of this book to be excellent. When the author presented a narrative about what the people did based on primary sources (and some secondary sources), I was hooked. It was well written and incredibly interesting. I would easily have given those parts 4 stars.

The problem is, those parts are less than half of what I managed to read. A good part of the book is just speculation. She even tells the reader when she is departing from the narrative (at one poin
This is a very ambitious attempt to reconstruct the world of the Hemingses who lived at Monticello with Thomas Jefferson. Given the absence of diaries, letters, paintings, or direct accounts from the subjects in the book that would provide direct evidence for such a project, this was a very tricky task.

Gordon-Reed's approach is primarily to use the context of slavery, psychology, and business transaction ledgers to figure out what must of happened. She relies heavily on supposition and logic to
I just read another review which said that she couldn't continue with this book because the author belabored the point that slavery is evil, and that her tone can came across as being angry. I couldn't agree more. I just started this book (I was listening to it in the audio form) and finally had to quit. I am absolutely, un-equivocally, 100% against slavery. I totally agree with the fact that slavery is evil and that its abolishment was one of the great struggles in our nation's past that needed ...more
Bruno Bouchet
Like many people reading this book I found its length and repetitiveness utterly frustrating. I ended up putting it aside for a few weeks before returning, persuaded by the glowing references on the cover to finish it. There is a fascinating story here of the slave family ‘owned’ by Thomas Jefferson. For a newcomer to writings about slavery there were many great insights into the realities and repercussions of slavery but so much repetition. Sometimes it felt like a record stuck on a long groove ...more
The Hemingses of Monticello, by Annette Gordon-Reed , poses and answers a question which should have been asked long ago; what if the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings controversy isn’t really ‘about’ Jefferson at all? What if instead we put the surprisingly well-documented story of the Hemings family front and center? Viewed in that light, the entire picture changes. Gordon-Reed brilliantly and sometimes movingly draws the group portrait of several generations of slaves who had both a keen intere ...more
While not an easy read, this is a fascinating book that deserved every honor that it was given when it was published. When Thomas Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton she brought with her, and then Jeffrson inherited from her father, a family of slaves (Hemings) who were the product of John Wayles's long sexual relationship with a slave women. These slaves were half-brothers and half-sisters of Martha Jefferson. Unfortunately Martha Jefferson died at the age of 34 leaving Jefferson with three ...more
"The Hemingses of Monticello" by Annette Gordon-Reed is an historical epic about Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved family who served him. Anyone who has ever done research based on the letters, memoirs and records of a family will know how difficult it can be to piece the information into a coherent narrative. For this reason, Dr. Gordon-Reed's work is truly awe-inspiring, in that she pulls together scraps of information about the Hemingses from the writings by and about the Jeffersons in order ...more
This is a really excellent historical work about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the Hemingses, a family of slaves he inherited from his father-in-law. At the center of this story (though by no means the only focus) is his relationship with Sally Hemings, whom Thomas Jefferson took as his mistress several years after his wife died. They had seven children together, four of whom lived to adulthood.

This book is extremely well researched and presents a fascinating, and disturbing, lo
a brilliant piece of research where information on this lovely family had to be culled from ashes and dust and few documents. a big book. a real american story.
Jay Perkins
Truly amazing book. Gordon-Reed offered more than expected. She is extremely through, careful, and fair. You can tell she is very passionate about this topic. I was surprised by many of her arguments, but was convinced by most of them.

Learning about the lives of the slaves and how they dealt with their situation was incredible. Too often the oppressed, American, slaves are portrayed lacking individuality and even humanity. Yes they were oppressed, but little is explained how they creatively dea
Gordon-Reed has written an meticulously researched epic of the Hemingses, an 18th century Virginia slave family. Thomas Jefferson inherited the Hemingses and other slave families from his father-in-law. The Hemingses received special treatment from Jefferson and Gordon-Reed argues that was because they were half brothers and sisters to Jefferson' s beloved wife, Martha. After Martha’s early death Jefferson began a thirty-eight year liaison with Sally Hemings, Martha's beautiful, mixed-race, half ...more
This book would be twice as good if it were half as long. I listened to the first third or so in the car. Every point is explained six different ways - except that, at least as far as I survived, the author did not discuss the evidence of Jefferson's paternity or not. The DNA evidence is compelling that a Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemmings but it is impossible to verify that the Jefferson was Thomas.

Considering how much time the author spent reviewing the paternity of Martha Wayles
Jefferson has always been one of my favorite presidents for a variety of reasons. But I've always been troubled by his ownership of 100+ slaves until his death, and then his failure to free them when he died because they were valuable property needed to pay his debts & leave some assets to his white heirs.

This family biography by Gordon-Reed of the Hemings family -- an extended family of slaves owned by Jefferson and which included Sally Hemings, Jefferson's slave mistress for nearly 40 yea
Andy Miller
This was a great book. Not necessarily an easy read, but it is so well written and provoking that I almost read it as a novel even though it has the references and research that you would find in a textbook.

I had read the author's earlier book about the relationship before DNA proved her right and had been impressed by the complexity of the relationships and times. Same with this book, In the past it seemed that books I read gave you a choice, believe Jefferson fathered Hemming's children and b
I didn't get to finish the book, but I want to rate it anyway. It is a library book, and the rest of the books from this batch need to go back soon, and this one, being new, can't be renewed.

For the second time I've picked this book up and I've been caught by the author's very good writing style. In addition, right now the part of the book that I'm reading is more about what it was like to be a member of the Hemings family or any family black or white that was living around Thomas Jefferson, tha
This is the 3rd book that I have read about Sally Hemings and the most carefully researched.n It is also the first book I have read post-DNA evidence. Traditional scholars were always horrified at the thought that Sally Hemings was Jefferson love for 38 years. Parts are enlightening. Others are "well,duh". I found the section on Sally's arrival in Europe particularly irritating. She was the 14 year old maid to 9 year old Maria Jefferson. Abigail Adams met the ship and cared for the girls until t ...more
I admit, I chose this book to read because I was looking for details of the affair between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings. For someone who is interested in learning more about Thomas Jefferson, there are a lot of award-winning biographies to peruse. Interestingly, all of these books turn out to be written by white males who treat Sally Hemings as a footnote in Jefferson's life and discount the idea that she could have had a relationship with Jefferson or conceived his children. Th ...more
Thanks to DNA testing, we can know definitively that Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings had children. Lots of white Jeffersons tried to deny that over the years--and lots of white Hemingses who didn't wany to acknowledge their black ancestor also tried to deny it. This is a fascinating domestic biography based for the most part of conjecture and the history of the period. The author, a historian and fine writer, does have the annoying habit of writing statements such as "we may never k ...more
Tony Diaz
The mixed race children of white planters like Thomas Jefferson and their slave mistresses occupied a paradoxical place in Southern culture. Both visible and unspeakable, mixed race children's sheer existence gave the lie to racial ideology color-coded division of humanity and deserving. Annette Gordon-Reed's "The Hemingses of Monticello" looks at the most famous case. She shows how Jefferson & Sally Hemings' children turned to their unspoken genealogy and connections for relief and, in some ...more
The product of extensive archival research, The Hemingses of Monticello traces three generations of an enslaved African-American family in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The tale of the Hemings family, unlike those of most enslaved families, is at least partially recoverable by historians because of their relationship with Thomas Jefferson, who had a decades long relationship with Sally Hemings and had at least six children by her. In an earlier work, Gordon-Reed proved conclusiv ...more
One of the most memorably--I'm tempted to say horrifyingly--interesting books I have ever read. Imagine this: you get married, and you take to your husband's house, as you do, your things. Among those things are your slaves, and among those slaves are several who are your half-sisters and half-brothers. Such was the appalling world inhabited by Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha Wayles Jefferson. Annette Gordon-Reed succeeds brilliantly in making us see and understand what that world was like, ...more
Jul 05, 2010 Linda rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in history, slavery, and the relations between Blacks and Whites
Recommended to Linda by: NY Times Review
This was a completely fascinating, well-documented look at the mysterious relationship of Thomas Jefferson to his slaves, especially Sally Hemings and her relatives. There are no surviving photographs of Sally Hemings, although there are of her brothers. No one really can know for sure what happened to Sally when Jefferson died. Descendants of their relationship have discussed what they know and possibilities (see The book was really a masterpiece. It wa ...more
Thomas DeWolf
As much as I was impressed with Gordon-Reed’s scholarship and all the fascinating details of the lives of the members of the Hemings family and their relationship to our third President, it was something other than the stories of these lives that had the biggest impact on me. This book, though it is certainly the story of one famous, extended family, is really a powerful symbol for the whole of the American experience. The complexity of relationships, the love, violence, power, horror, political ...more
Sarah Finch
A brilliant work of scholarship infused with deep emotion. Gordon-Reed resists easy answers and armchair psychoanalysis of her subjects, instead challenging the reader to take a journey that lasts several generations in a family that is at once exceptional in the annals of American history and all-too-typical of the "peculiar institution" that molded it. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Doug Piero
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Meticulously researched, to the point of being almost incomprehensible and impossible to follow. I have a lot of respect for Gordon-Reed's work digging into this story, but the way it is presented it is really difficult to track who is going to be important to the narrative. All of the historical characters are presented very democratically, with as much of their story being told as she was able to discover. However, I found myself constantly confused with regard to relationships, names, dates, ...more
This book is really an astounding achievement. At first I was nervous about how she was going to get 600 pages of material from so few written records without having to go deep into speculation, but she does it by knowing an incredible amount about slavery and its time and using her knowledge to give as much information about the context the family was living in and how that might have impacted them as possible. Unlike many portrayals of slavery, this book has few of the more shocking or gory mo ...more
Jeni Enjaian
Where do I start with this book?
First, I cannot believe that I finished it.The narrator's voice (and syntax and inflection) started grating on me from her very first word. It did not get better. In fact, as the book progressed, I'm fairly certain that she got worse. Also, I don't speak French but I know how it should be pronounced. She did not.
Second, Gordon-Reed used "Hemings" for multiple members of the family. On one page she uses "Hemings" to refer to Sally. On the next she uses the name to
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Live Chat with Annette Gordon-Reed 1 22 Feb 23, 2010 04:56PM  
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Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School and a professor of history at Rutgers University. She is the author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. She lives in New York City."
More about Annette Gordon-Reed...
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy Andrew Johnson (The American Presidents, #17) Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History (Viewpoints on American Culture) A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

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