Joanne's Reviews > Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson

Twilight at Monticello by Alan Pell Crawford
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Jan 25, 14

bookshelves: history-southern, biography
Read in January, 2008

In Twilight at Monticello, I was looking for an accessible portrait of Thomas Jefferson the planter, neighbor, and family man. I got exactly that while simultaneously revisiting Jefferson the politician, history-maker, philosopher, and visionary. The great man was always there facing the mundane, the day-to-day difficulties of clashing personalities, mounting debt, and the inescapable effects of aging.
Crawford's prose is relaxed, yet precise - a pleasant balance between hard facts and evocative descriptions. He's an incredibly efficient storyteller, deftly drawing dozens of characters, while steadily revealing Jefferson himself.

Crawford's organization is fundamentally chronological, pausing from time-to-time for a story or discussion, such as Jefferson's philosophical struggle with the institution of slavery contrasted with his relationship with Sally Hemmings. Other "subplots" are skillfully and dramatically carried across the book - like the gruesome story of Jefferson's nephew Isham Lewis or Jefferson's relationship with the thoughtful and determined Edward Coles.

Monticello, Poplar Forest and Albemarle County come to life as well -- from the fog rolling over the Blue Ridge mountains, to the terraced gardens, to the charged excitement of Court Day in Charlottesville.
Jefferson the intellectual is never lost in this look at his later years. The reader finishes with a good grasp of Jefferson's world view and how it impacted his relationships with friends and family members. Irony fills Jefferson's old age, yet tragedy and pain can never really dampen his extraordinary vision.

Crawford paints Jefferson and life at Monticello with a swift, broad stroke, still the book is rich with detail. It is an engaging springboard to a wealth of Jefferson scholarship. Crawford left me wanting more, which in this case, is a very good thing.
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