Sara W's Reviews > The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed
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's review
Sep 29, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: read-w-book-club, non-fiction

I just cannot finish this book.

I found parts of this book to be excellent. When the author presented a narrative about what the people did based on primary sources (and some secondary sources), I was hooked. It was well written and incredibly interesting. I would easily have given those parts 4 stars.

The problem is, those parts are less than half of what I managed to read. A good part of the book is just speculation. She even tells the reader when she is departing from the narrative (at one point she mentioned that the next four chapters would be a departure - that was a warning sign to me). The author literally asks a bunch of unanswerable questions (such as what must Sally Hemings have felt doing x, y and z, what must have been going through James Hemings mind while he did a, b and c), and then proceeds to hypothetically answer them. I think her ideas would make for a pretty good novel (which I would read), but I just don't want to read that type of stuff in non-fiction writing (at least to the degree that it is done here). I am well aware that the author probably did not have many sources to work with due to the subject matter, so she may have to fill in some holes. However, the narrative fact-based sections that the author did write probably could have stood on their own without all this excess filler. The book may have been half the length, but I think it would have been much better to cut out the majority of the speculation and use it only when absolutely necessary.

In addition, the author constantly brought up the fact that Sally Hemings and her family were "human chattel", but that they were human beings as worth while as any other human being. Clearly this is true, and mentioning it once or twice wouldn't be a problem, but it came up time and time again. If someone is reading this book, I'm sure they are aware of what Sally Hemings' status was and realize that it was wrong to enslave people. I just don't need to be beaten over the head with it. I finally gave up on the book when the author went off on a lengthy tangent about the perils of teenage girls living virtually alone with heterosexual males - it seemed to go on forever. I managed to finish that chapter, but I decided to just stop reading the book at that point.
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Reading Progress

September 29, 2008 – Shelved
October 6, 2008 – Shelved as: read-w-book-club
October 22, 2008 – Shelved as: non-fiction
Started Reading
October 29, 2008 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Norma Bush The informative parts of the book could have a pamphlet.

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