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Thomas Jefferson (Oxford Portraits)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  4,470 ratings  ·  147 reviews
Thomas Jefferson designed his own tombstone, describing himself simply as "Author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia." It is in this simple epitaph that R.B. Bernstein finds the key to this enigmatic Founder--not as a great political figure, but as leader of "a revolution of ideas ...more
Paperback, 253 pages
Published September 15th 2005 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2003)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Mar 29, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers Looking for a Basic Introduction to Thomas Jefferson
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new ...more
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
A concise biography of Thomas Jefferson, covering the entire span of his life.

So after reading the magnificent John Adams by McCullough, I didn't think I could stomach a bio on .Jefferson because that book went into a lot of detail about Jefferson that really convinced me of his jerkiness. Yet I continue on with this crazy, epic goal of reading a few bios of the presidents in order until I finish, so I found this book on Jefferson that was hailed the best short bio of Jefferson and it actually
Aug 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
I must say I knew very little about Thomas Jefferson. I am also surprised and a little dismayed when our heroes don't think, act, respond to their world in the way we as Americans would or should respond. Being the perfect humans we all are. But that's just the point. Thomas Jefferson was very human and flawed. Yet he had a brilliance and a passion that has endured over 200 years though sometimes minimally.

I could never figure out why we in 2012 look back to 1776 and wonder why our founding
Christopher Litsinger
Writer of the Declaration of Independence, notably two-faced, father of illegitimate children with his slave (the half-sister of his wife), Defender of States rights, A man who deplored the idea of overstepping constitutional authority, and yet did so many times during his presidency. There's a lot of interesting things to be said about Thomas Jefferson.
After reading John Adams, which paints a very negative picture of Jefferson, I was curious to read this.
This book sets out to tell the story of
Heddy Panik
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book is more about the events during Jefferson's presidency than about him. It reads like a history book, nevertheless it is very informative.
After reading 1776, George Washington and John Adams, I was ready to expound upon my knowledge of our third President and writer of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is an immortal hero for Americans, and often that status comes with a lofty purity that is difficult to actually live up to. In R. B. Bernsteins abbreviated biography, I felt I got to know the real person that Jefferson was, rather than the icon.

Jefferson was clearly a passionate man. He had a love for learning and
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this biography of Thomas Jefferson. I have to admit that I was drawn to it initially because it was on the shorter side and the last presidential biography I read took me ages to get through, but once I started reading I found this book to be very well written with a lot of great information. This biography had a balance of personal and professional information on Jefferson and the pacing made it a relatively quick read.

I found it very interesting to see some of Thomas
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014-reads
This was a well-written, concise biography. I really enjoyed it. Bernstein neither apologizes for nor ignores Jefferson's shortcomings. He presents a very well-balanced view of the man and doesnt get caught up in superfluous details.

I found this biography to be really accessible and I enjoyed the balance Bernstein was able to strike between Jeffersons personal and professional lives. He did a great job of identifying the major events in Jeffersons life without going overboard with details.

Apr 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a concise (198 pgs) biography of the contradictory life of Thomas Jefferson. I found it interesting to read what he considered his greatest accomplishment--The University of Virginia. He was instrumental in all aspects of the school, and when his secular University opened its doors, "it was one of the happiest and proudest days of his life." Hence, the inscription on his tombstone--Here was buried the Author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious ...more
Courtney Umlauf
This was a good introductory biography of Jefferson. Well written and easy to follow, and more importantly, Bernstein took a more balanced approach to the controversies surrounding the third president. So far what I've read about Jefferson in other presidential biographies has given me a very bad impression of him. This book didn't completely change that opinion, but it did give me a more well rounded view.
Chandler Jechura
This review will not necessarily follow the usual format. When it comes to the Presidential biographies that I am reading, I would like to write first about the president himself, consisting of what their life was like and his eventual presidency, through what I have learned in the text. Next, I would write a review on the text itself. I cannot do this however, since this book feels so...underwhelming.

At a scant 200 pages of actual narrative, this is one of the shortest biographies that one can
Karenbike Patterson
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recently, I visited Monticello and The University of Virginia. This was the perfect book to read after those visits. First, it is not a daunting tome with too much information. This biography trots along giving all the highlights before you get bogged down in too many details. Second, there are just enough interesting highlights to let the reader into the setting, personalities, conflict, and thinking of the people involved. And finally, Jefferson is revealed as a real person: a deep thinker, ...more
Natalie M.
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I believe that R.B. Bernstein did a very good job showing the intricate life of Thomas Jefferson in his book "Thomas Jefferson". The book not only talks about Thomas Jefferson's life in politics, but also his personal life. It has many interesting facts, quotes, articles and images. It also has descriptive detail which makes it a more engaging read, unlike reading a boring textbook that just lists the facts. At times the book can be a bit slow and hard to understand, but this sometimes helps to ...more
A very good concise biography of Thomas Jefferson. I would have liked more details on the events in his life and I felt as if Bernstein flew through several of the major elements, but as an overview? As a survey on Thomas Jefferson it was good. Best of all it was not fawning over the man like he was a decedent of the almighty. One day, I'll find a longer work on Jefferson and give it a go. For now, it's on to Madison!
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Initially, I thought this discussion did not have enough depth. In the second half of the book, however, I did find several interesting points. Overall it is an easily read and useful summary, though it does contain some flaws. Its tone is somewhat sympathetic yet it is balanced in its presentation of the positive and negative facts of Jeffersons life. ...more
Ty Turley Trejo
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Loved it. Great, quick introduction and overview to TJ's fascinating and flawed life. Thought it was well-balanced and even-handed in its representation of the man. Was inspired by the principles and vision that has made this country.
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Very well written

Really enjoyed this book. I learned quite a bit about Jefferson that I didnt know. Well written and easy to read. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history or Jefferson.
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting summary of his life

This is not the most detailed, in-depth biography I have ever read, but as a summary, top-level review of Jefferson's life, it does the job well. The writing flows, and three are plenty of interesting tidbits included.
Mark Walsworth
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, this is a good book but perhaps best thought of a summary of events over the course of Jeffersons life. ...more
Joseph Holm
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Introductory, good timeline.
Jul 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Overall, this is a good book but perhaps best thought of a summary of events over the course of Jeffersons life. ...more
Matt Danner
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very good. This is a good one to pick up if you're unfamiliar with most of Jefferson's life and need/want and overview before diving deep on specific timeframes or topics.
Jason Robert Bowers
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Succinct and readable, this is a great introduction to Thomas Jefferson. Start with this volume and dig deeper if you still need to know more.
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thought this was an excellent summary of Jefferson's life, accomplishments and disappointments. A very enigmatic man. Great for our upcoming visit to Monticello.
Jeremy Perron
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
R.B. Bernstein's biography on Thomas Jefferson packs a great deal of information into a very little space. Inside this a fewer than two-hundred-and-fifty-page work, is the life of the third president of the United States. Yet, the work has very ease flowing narrative that makes it enjoyable to read.

Thomas Jefferson's entire life is put into to nicely fit little chapters. The Revolution starts right at the second chapter, which makes sense considering Jefferson was only thirty. The second
Jul 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Its amazing how much Bernstein is able to cover in his little book. He outlines Jeffersons political and personal career, his ideologies, his successes, and his failures. His footnotes and bibliography are a great starting point for further research. There really arent any wasted words here, and its a testament to Bernsteins skills that hes able to stay focused and lively from start to finish.

Bernstein argues that Jeffersons lasting legacy, for all his importance as a political figure, is his
Patrick S.
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: e-books, audible
This is probably one of the best biographies I've read on a Founding Father. This came with a recommendation from Tom Wood's forum ( as being a good book on Jefferson.

Bernstein presents probably the fairest assessment of a person from the time period as I've seen. He doesn't ascribe deity or hero worship or perfection to the man. He also doesn't disparage Jefferson for being a product of his time and class and society. Bernstein presents Jefferson as a flawed individual who is
Sep 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
The very thing that made this book so good, also left me wanting more. It is written as a concise, non-opinionated biography of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States. Thus, often throughout the book things would be stated about Jefferson's actions or opinions, and I was left wanting more detail. Of course, had the detail been provided, the book would ultimately have had to span several volumes, rather than its modest 200 pages. And to be sure, the book is well ...more
Feb 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I probably liked it more like a 3.5. But quality wise it might deserve at 4 or so. I'm no expert in biographies and have only read a few, and not many recently.

This biography is accessible and doesn't say in one place or get bogged down in details or what some may see as trivialities--for better or worse. The composition wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. Again I'm not sure about the standard procedure is for bios, but there are a lot of years/dates that are referenced in the bio and at times I
May 20, 2009 rated it liked it
It's a relief to have such a succinct but quality book in the world of academic history and biography. Too often professors write only for other professors and lose some of us non-professors in extraneous, inane, scholarly details, often right around page 200 or so. Luckily, that's about where this book leaves off. Now I'm not saying I'm just lazy (I may well be, but that's not what I'm trying to say). I'm saying this book serves its purpose. It presents the major exploits and issues of ...more
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sonny 1 4 Oct 17, 2013 03:56PM  

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“Jefferson feared that Hamilton had plans radically at odds with the Constitution. As he saw it, Hamilton wanted to warp the federal government out of constitutional shape, converting it into a copy of the British government, built on debt, corruption, and influence. Hamilton's goal, Jefferson charged, was to ally the rich and well born with the government at the people's expense, creating a corrupt aristocracy leagued with the government against the people and destroying the virtue that was the basis of republican government. Only a republic could preserve liberty, Jefferson insisted, and only virtue among the people could preserve a republic.” 8 likes
“As the nation divided into Federalists and Republicans, each group called the other the worst name possible: "party". Most Americans feared the idea of party; believing that a society should unite to achieve the public good, they denounced parties as groups of ambitious men selfishly competing for power. Worse, parties were danger signals for a republic; if parties dominated a republic's politics, its days were numbered.” 8 likes
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