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

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,065 Ratings  ·  67 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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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.
May 26, 2010 Gina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Steven Montgomery
Another highly biased book from Fawn Brodie.
Nov 02, 2008 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Erik Graff
Mar 21, 2008 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jul 04, 2013 Jack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2008 Sheila rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Susan Liston
Oh my goodness, I've had this book since the Bicentennial, and am just now getting around to it? Well, I had read some parts previously. I know this was controversial at the time, since Fawn was apparently the first biographer to acknowledge what we now know for sure was a fact--that Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a slave. (Sally was three quarters white, and the half sister of Jefferson's late wife, I have always wondered if there was any resemblence. One of those things we wil ...more
Laurel Lasley
Mar 13, 2017 Laurel Lasley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent book. I read it several years ago, and read it again this year. There's a lot of valuable history in this book.
Mar 07, 2017 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is another book that I found both surprising and interesting. While it is true that Thomas Jefferson has been handed down to us as one of our founding fathers, the author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the great defenders of individual liberty and state’s rights — there is much that doesn’t appear in the basic history books. Brody presents a more in-depth look into the life of this very private man, his relationships, passions, and weaknesses.

For my full review, vist me at ht
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
Betty Confetti
Feb 12, 2017 Betty Confetti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A bit of over-psychoanalysis here and there, but this author was really a trailblazer with this history. She may have loved Thomas Jefferson, yet she also concluded he fathered many children by his slave, and this conclusion has pretty much held for the following decades. I particularly appreciated the insights into the Jefferson-Burr controversy, as well as the Callendar revelations of Jefferson's miscegenation. BTW, miscegenation is a term that to me does not fully capture that absolute disgus ...more
Feb 13, 2013 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Michael Guarnieri
Not so excellently written or as dramatically compelling as Brodie's seminal Joseph Smith bio "No Man Knows My History," a masterpiece of historical research and writing, "Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History" has its ups-and-downs. The prose is readable throughout, but at times the narrative is only as interesting as Jefferson's intermittently busy and tranquil life allows it to be. Some of Brodie's conclusions regarding Jefferson's psychology making itself apparent through his writings seem l ...more
Colleen Browne
Apr 04, 2012 Colleen Browne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Jan 16, 2009 Vince rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
K.S. Collins
May 31, 2015 K.S. Collins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 16, 2014 J.S. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
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
Buddy Don
Jun 15, 2015 Buddy Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
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
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
Mar 29, 2014 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 11, 2012 David rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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
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
Tina Lau
May 09, 2016 Tina Lau rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was originally published in 1974, and was quite controversial at the time. Fawn Brodie showed that Thomas Jefferson had probably fathered 4 children by his slave Sally Hemings. DNA analysis in 1998 finally confirmed her view.

The book annoyed me at times because of psychoanalytic assumptions the author makes. I kept with it because of the thorough research she did, and because I enjoyed her No Man Knows My History book about Joseph Smith very much. The book is well worth reading. I lea
Oct 24, 2008 Tom rated it it was ok  ·  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.
Sep 30, 2010 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 29, 2013 Bob Allen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
I read this after reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton and wanted to spend a little more time with the founding fathers. This biography is indeed "intimate" in that there is much speculation about motives and character. The writing is for a general audience and not grimly academic. I will probably seek out a more recent biography for another round.
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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
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