Kelly's Reviews > Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a Builder

Jefferson and Monticello by Jack McLaughlin
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Jan 10, 12

Read in January, 2012

I want to admire Jefferson, I really do: the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, the University of Virginia, his love and pursuit of science, his devotion to family, and...Monticello. But as this thoroughly researched and intriguingly written biography highlights, Monticello was built using a tremendous quantity of slave labor. Slaves made the brick, sawed the lumber, dug the foundations, and terraced the gardens at Monticello. Despite Jefferson's careful attention to recording the smallest details of daily life, he never balanced his accounts and at the end of his life not only could not afford the upkeep of Monticello, but left his estate with a debt that took 50 years to settle. Then, of course, there is Sally Hemmings (only treated lightly in this account) and the less-than-noble treatment of John Adams (not addressed in this book). Nevertheless, admiration for Jefferson as an architect-builder does not escape me, nor does admiration for the masterpiece that Monticello is.

Another point that struck me is that the Monticello that you walk through today is quite different from the unfinished and already deteriorating building that Jefferson inhabited. Today's Monticello is a meticulously-kept museum and shrine.
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09/28/2011 page 154
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