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Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History
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Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  887 ratings  ·  58 reviews
A seminal biography of Thomas Jefferson and a fascinating exploration of his relationship with Sally Hemings. With a novelist’s skill and a scholar’s meticulous detail, Fawn M. Brodie portrays Thomas Jefferson as he wrestled with the great issues of his time: revolution, religion, power, race, and love—ambivalences that exerted a subtle but powerful influence on his politi ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published August 16th 2010 by W.W. Norton & Company (first published 1974)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,514)
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Steve Sckenda
Fawn Brodie wrote psychobiographies, a style of biography that analyzes the subject using modern psychological techniques. I now understand that professional historians reject this approach to history, but I was unaware of the controversy when I read Brodie’s biography of Jefferson more than 20 years ago.

Brodie focuses on the private life of Jefferson, and she was one of the first to declare that Jefferson had fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemmings. Although she met with disdain by pr
Erik Dryden
This book is absolutely atrocious as a biography, full of unsupported claims and leaps of logic, not to mention all the pop psychoanalysis. That said, Brodie is a pretty good storyteller, so I give her an extra star for that.
Erik Graff
Dec 29, 2012 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in Jefferson or psychobiography
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
Having just read an "intimate" biography of Franklin and feeling a need to brush up on American revolutionary history, I pulled this thing off the shelves some months after picking it up at a used bookstore in Evanston.

Although a professor of history, Brodie's academic background was in English--maybe fortuitously as her prose is good. She got into history through the back door provided by Erik Erikson, the psychoanalytically trained inventor of psychohistory and psychobiography known for his Yo
I pulled a not-too-thick and not-too-thin biography of Thomas Jefferson off the shelf at the library and was amused that it was written by Fawn Brodie (who also wrote a rather infamous, although respected, biography of Joseph Smith). I decided to read it, despite first reading reviews that warned it fixated a bit too much on his romances. It was a fun book, although it did spend a lot of time on his romances and tried as hard as it possibly could to talk about issues Jefferson had with his mothe ...more
Continuing my trek through presidential biographies, I chose this one for Jefferson for two reasons. First, not much is actually known about Jefferson's life, for reasons I'll get into in a moment, and Brodie's book is an attempt to apply psychology to what we do have to deduce the parts we don't know. Second, DNA testing recently verified that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of a number of slave children, and Brodie's book was the first to assert that this was true, long before the te ...more
This reading was inspired by our visit to Monticello three weeks ago. The criticism of Brodie’s bio of Jefferson by some is that it is overly psychoanalitic, and that she at times jumps to conclusions from too little evidence. I can see that at times. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating look at the life and times of TJ based on reams of correspondence. I enjoyed the story of this multi-talented, often conflicted man, his relationships with other founding fathers and mothers, and his ambivalent and ...more
I wanted to read this book after reading McCullough's John Adams biography. I found it a disappointing successor. I haven't read much biography but Brodie had a troubling use of psychoanalysis mixed in with historical record. Much of the beginning of the book had little record of his relationship with his parents so she relied on conjecture and cited human psychology research. Feels more like author supposition than analysis of historical fact.
K.S. Collins
Dr. Brody's book on Thomas Jefferson was the most analytical and fascinating bio I'd read up until that time. Her's was the first study to openly and convincingly address Jefferson's almost 40 year relationship with his quadroon slave and lover, Sally Hemings. Until the time of publication, this dimension of Jefferson's life had always been ignored, or outright dismissed as scandalous fabrication, by almost all of the titans of Jefferson's life, literature, and political career. Fascinating, con ...more
Steven Montgomery
Another highly biased book from Fawn Brodie.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Colleen Browne
I had this book on my shelf for over 30 years and always meant to read it. I finally have and am glad I did. Initially, I had a difficult time getting into the book because it was without a doubt, the weakest part of the book. Brodie seemed to fancy herself a psychiatrist- more than willing to analyze Jefferson. Brodie was a historian and seemed a bit too anxious to pass judgment in areas about which she obviously was not qualified. Further, her pronouncements about Jeffersons relationship with ...more
If you like you're biography with some history then pass this one up, but if you're in the mood for some long winded overreaching supposition, have I got a book for you. Brodie does an admirable job of taking a spotlight to small details so that they cast long shadows. Jefferson left so little in the way of letters and personal thoughts put to pen that any biographer tasked with bringing him to life is stuck postulating. In fact, study of Jefferson leaves many people spending many hours scouring ...more
Heather Leipart
I feel as if I know Thomas Jefferson on a much more personal level now and I am glad I took the time to read up on this great man. I am very impressed with his zeal for life and all that he accomplished in it. He truly is exceptional and not just from our vantage point looking back. He had attained notoriety in his day, of course, but not just for being President. He was successful at pretty much everything he touched. I thought it particularly interesting to learn of his hobbies of which inclu ...more
Salena Moffat
Very well written, but I've got to agree with reviewers who've said the book is far too steeped in psychoanalysis. Trying to find a person's every little motivation and flaw in their presumed hatred of mother and wife is just not going to fly. I'm sure Jefferson did love other women after Martha died, but I am suspicious of the claim here that he was relieved and suddenly freed by her death. And blaming his mother for just about everything else is simply nonsensical, especially since we know ver ...more
Buddy Don
This is not the book to read if you wish to read detailed discussion of Jefferson's policy positions, his public life, etc. It is, rather, a good book to read to get a better sense of the man and the contradictions of his personal life, especially his 37-year relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. Hers was a brave stand to take in 1974 since there was no DNA proof of the allegations that Jefferson and Sally had fathered several children together, some of whom he freed, some of whom he allow ...more
Had this on my shelf for the longest time. After reading Vidal's Burr...I thought I might stay with the politicians. Seems I picked up the right Jefferson book. Brodie was the first author to mention Sally Hemmings as a lover. She was not treated kindly at the time and not treated as fact. Now it turns out she was right!

I did like Brodie's book. It was a personal and private look into Jefferson's life. Which for me made for a more enjoyable read. Dates and facts about laws, treaties you can get
Thomas Jefferson was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, writer & signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the Continental Congress, founder of the University of Virginia, & ambassador to France. Ms Brodie has written perhaps the best single volume biography of this remarkable "Founding Father". Well-researched & written it provides an insight to his times, life & improtance on the world stage during the Republic's early years.
The premise - a history about Jefferson's thoughts and what made him tick - certainly sounded like it would be interesting. Instead, I was amazed at how often Brodie used phrases like "from this we can infer..." or "based on this we must conclude..." In fact, it would appear that the whole book is nothing more than speculations about what was going on in his mind based on what he did or didn't say or write or his choice of words. Only slightly less irritating is that Ms. Brodie (who apparently e ...more
Personal history that focuses on Jefferson and his private life rather than his political career. Good background and discussion on his relationship with Sally Hemings. Probably best for those who have read a few other biographies on Jefferson and want to know more about Jefferson as a person.
Fascinating and well-organized. Excerpts from much of his personal correspondence provide insight into the heart of the man, his personal anxieties and passions, and give an appreciation for his many talents and diverse interests. It also explores the relationships between many of our country's founding fathers, who were vulnerable to insecurity and often jockeying for governmental position, and guilty of the same mud-flinging election tactics as our present-day politicians. It does much to fles ...more
I recently re-read this book. The author gives a fascinating insight into the private Thomas Jefferson.
Carol Fitzgerald
After reading several other biographies of our forefathers, I was not that impressed with the writing.
Henry Sturcke
Not everything you need to know about Jefferson, but you also need to know this.
I loved reading about this man's life. I think he may very well be my favorite historical person; dead or alive. There's not that many male role models to look up to. I just love how he immersed himself into everything so that when he would talk to people about whatever, they assumed he was a craftsman in that particular trade. I loved that he tough himself how to speak all those languages, especially Spanish through literature; very inspiring. This book lacked any romanticism, but still introsp ...more
Oct 24, 2008 Tom rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: A Thomas Jefferson Historian
The inside cover said, "This is a challenging new biography..."
and it was an accurate statement. Each chapter was more of an essay or a scholarly paper written for submission for a class of some sort.

I guess if anyone is doing serious research on Thomas Jefferson would find this book useful. (from the looks of the notes and underlines in the book, it has been used for that purpose).

As for me, I prefer more of the story of the mans life, not this in depth reporting.
Kerry Kenney
This book has worth if you read a range of Jefferson biographies. I would not rely on it as a single source about Jefferson's life. Fawn Brodie is gossipy and takes liberties :) with Jefferson. I believe that Jefferson had a long term relationship with Sally Hemings. I believe Hemings bore his children. This book didn't convince me of that fact, but Fawn Brodie definitely explores this relationship. If that's what you are looking for, Brodie fits the bill.
Great read prior to going to Monticello. Long but interesting. Author is one of the earlier biographers to focus on more psychological analysis. I found some theories a stretch. But overall worthwhile. She was among the first historians to argue that Jefferson had a relastionship with a slave, a view now widely accepted. Interesting to read her analysis of the info regarding Sally Hemmings and why her view differed from earlier historians.
Bob Allen
Read this in college, just after its publication. The first biography I read that really looked at the man behind the myth (not just the first about Jefferson, but the first about anybody). Opened a new genre of history for me and helped me appreciate the accomplishments of historical figures in spite of their failings. I remember it as being well written and ended up reading it again after a few years.
Dr. Jim
What a story. I've read a lot of Jefferson bios but Brodie's is far and away the very best. I think she won the Pulitzer for this book - a well-crafted and true story of Jefferson that captures his humanity and genius at the same time.. I doubt our nation would have existed today without him. When you finish this book, TJ will e your favorite president for a long time.
This book reveals the wide gulf that often existed between Jefferson's political philosophy (best expressed in the Declaration of Independence) and his personal life. Brodie does excellent work in stating the case that he fathered several children by his slave (and his late wife's half-sister) Sally Hemmings. This she did years before DNA evidence proved the fact.
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Fawn McKay Brodie (September 15, 1915 – January 10, 1981) was a biographer and professor of history at UCLA, best known for Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, a work of psychobiography, and No Man Knows My History, the first prominent non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Raised in Utah in a respected, if impoverished, Latter-day Saint (L
More about Fawn M. Brodie...

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