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

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed
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's review
Mar 22, 2010

it was ok

I have just finished reading this book and have to admit I was throughly disappointed. As an amateur historian (my undergraduate degree is in this field), I feel I have read and studied enough history to have a feel for when an author is taking facts and analyzing them as compared to taking facts and making conjectures based upon them. Ms. Gordon-Reed's book falls into the latter category.

Many of Ms. Gordon-Reed's premises are based upon sheer speculation. For example, she suggests that Sally and Thomas struck a bargain in Paris. There is absolutely no historical proof that this was the case. She even admits herself that this is a mere speculation on her part. However, the remainder of the book she writes about this promise as if it were a cold hard fact, when in reality it is something she has gleaned from one story told by Madison Hemings.

This is quite an ambitious project, to tell the story of the lives of the Hemingses, and unfortunately it falls short. There is simply not enough of a historical record to base Ms. Gordon-Reed's inferences upon.

Further, her continous emphasis on the horrors of slavery was frankly annoying. Anyone having completed at least a high school history course in the Civil War understands the atrocities of slavery and does not need to be reminded of it in nearly every sentence. In fact, I found this to disengage me from the book, almost belitting the reader as if he or she have no knowledge of the history of slavery in the United States.

Overall, this is not a book I would recommend to anyone, casual reader or avid historian. There is far too much speculation, no objective analysis of facts, and a writing style, which I found to ridicule the reader's intelligence.

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Jaline Thank you for so eloquently stating my feelings on this book. I found the author imposed far too much of herself on this story via conjecture and speculation - and stating them as facts. It makes me wonder if the author is a lawyer as I know of no-one else who can take such sparse information and twist it around to make irrelevant points. This story could have had so much more impact and much stronger presence had the author gotten herself out of the way.

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