Customer Reviews for

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

Average Rating 3.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

A Good Book

The best thing about this biography was its intricate detail combined with its conversational tone. As a result of this duo, every topic discussed in the book is easily and thoroughly remembered. Additionaly, the book is broken down in to titled and dated chapters, maki...
The best thing about this biography was its intricate detail combined with its conversational tone. As a result of this duo, every topic discussed in the book is easily and thoroughly remembered. Additionaly, the book is broken down in to titled and dated chapters, making the book useful as a referance for those who don't wish to read cover to cover. If you're going to read only one book on early American history, this should be the one.

posted by Anonymous on May 2, 2001

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Most Helpful Critical Review

7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

American Sprhinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

Before reading this book, I knew very little about Thomas Jefferson. I think that Ellis might have written this book with the idea that readers would already be very familiar with the life and accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson. Although I found some parts of the bo...
Before reading this book, I knew very little about Thomas Jefferson. I think that Ellis might have written this book with the idea that readers would already be very familiar with the life and accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson. Although I found some parts of the book difficult to understand, I overall enjoyed it. This book is not so much as a story of Thomas Jefferson┬┐s life, but a picking-apart of his character. Although it gave information about Thomas Jefferson the historical figure, it mainly focused on Thomas Jefferson the person, revealing that he had strengths and flaws just like any other person. I liked being able to read a biography that didn't simply document the events of Jefferson's life, but gave me a better insight into what type of person he was and how he reacted to the events and accomplishments in his life. For example, when the book talked about Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence, it connected to it the fact that he was chosen as the writer because he was terrified and horrible at public speaking. I alsofound it fascinating to read about famous historical figures and what their relationships with each other were like. One of my favorite parts of the book was how it detailed the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and showed how it changed throughout the years. From this book, I learned that Jefferson was a multitalented, brilliant person. He was a great thinker, writer, architect, and political leader, yet through this book I learned that he had a bit of a dark side as well. The book gave me the idea that Jefferson may have had trouble in social situations, for example, it gave an account of a time as a teenager when he nervously tried to ask a to dance and was let down. This portrayal helped me to picture such a famous figure in American history as a real person. Overall, I enjoyed this book. Although I learned multitudes about Thomas Jefferson by reading it, I don't think I would recommend it to a person that doesn't know very much about Jefferson. If you have a little bit of background about Jefferson and his accomplishments, I think you will also enjoy this book.

posted by Anonymous on December 12, 2005

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2005

    American Sprhinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

    Before reading this book, I knew very little about Thomas Jefferson. I think that Ellis might have written this book with the idea that readers would already be very familiar with the life and accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson. Although I found some parts of the book difficult to understand, I overall enjoyed it. This book is not so much as a story of Thomas Jefferson¿s life, but a picking-apart of his character. Although it gave information about Thomas Jefferson the historical figure, it mainly focused on Thomas Jefferson the person, revealing that he had strengths and flaws just like any other person. I liked being able to read a biography that didn't simply document the events of Jefferson's life, but gave me a better insight into what type of person he was and how he reacted to the events and accomplishments in his life. For example, when the book talked about Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence, it connected to it the fact that he was chosen as the writer because he was terrified and horrible at public speaking. I alsofound it fascinating to read about famous historical figures and what their relationships with each other were like. One of my favorite parts of the book was how it detailed the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and showed how it changed throughout the years. From this book, I learned that Jefferson was a multitalented, brilliant person. He was a great thinker, writer, architect, and political leader, yet through this book I learned that he had a bit of a dark side as well. The book gave me the idea that Jefferson may have had trouble in social situations, for example, it gave an account of a time as a teenager when he nervously tried to ask a to dance and was let down. This portrayal helped me to picture such a famous figure in American history as a real person. Overall, I enjoyed this book. Although I learned multitudes about Thomas Jefferson by reading it, I don't think I would recommend it to a person that doesn't know very much about Jefferson. If you have a little bit of background about Jefferson and his accomplishments, I think you will also enjoy this book.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2001

    A Good Book

    The best thing about this biography was its intricate detail combined with its conversational tone. As a result of this duo, every topic discussed in the book is easily and thoroughly remembered. Additionaly, the book is broken down in to titled and dated chapters, making the book useful as a referance for those who don't wish to read cover to cover. If you're going to read only one book on early American history, this should be the one.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2009

    All Character No History

    A self professed nerd i have begun to read a biography of each president to not only get to know the man but to understand better the history of a country i am proud to call my own. This book while it gives a beautiful description of thomas jefferson as an individual focusing on the duality of the utopia he imagines and the reality of his life as a part of the Virginia Tidewater Elite leaves out years of important history. His second term as president is hardly addressed as are his years spent in Williamsburg learning law and governing the state during the American Revolution. A great resource if you want to know how the man thought, not so good if you want to know the world in which he was thinking.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An exceptional portrait series

    Rather than another Jefferson biography, Ellis delivers an exceptional series of portraits of the man who's thoughts and words are most often thought of when modern Americans consider "the Founder's Intent". These portraits serve to frame those thoughts into the context of time and place in which they originated. Ellis delivers on his intent of exposing the enigma of this complex man. The reader is left with the desire to open a dialog on the subject of 21st century American society and government and the complex relationships between what is often viewed as the governments proper role and the deep differences between what Jefferson intended it to be and what those who still use his name intend.

    Another fine edition to Ellis' contributions to our understanding of our founding, and the remarkable individuals who made it happen.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2011

    Recommend

    Joseph J. Ellis' American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, gives a wonder description of the life and mindset of one of America's founding fathers. Ellis takes the reader from Jefferson's early life as a young man to his writing of the Declaration of Independance, to his death on July 4, 1826. This novel points out the nature of Jefferson's political and personal thoughts and describes how he came to his views. Ellis shows how complicated a man Jefferson was and how his beliefs were not always what his actions portrayed. This is a great book that I highly recommend to the average reader and to those who doing research into the life of America's third president.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An amazing character study

    I've read many books about the men who founded the nation and Jefferson has always been an enigma. The books about the period and the men are often at odds as to who Jefferson really was and the details of his character. No more. This marvelous study by Ellis lay to rest most of my questions about Jefferson. Jefferson's multi-faceted personality is laid out in this fine study. This book is a must for any student of the Revolutionary War period and the politics of early America. Emminently readable, even hard to put down. This is historical writing at its best.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2002

    Clear Focus

    As a college student doing work on Jefferson, it is an honor to read the Professor Ellis book on Thomas Jefferson. In my judgement, it is informative and scholarly. And I enjoyed his constant interpretations of historical facts. But, it is not the easiest read. It is very lecture-like and academic. And, I can understand why Professor Ellis named the book "American Sphinx". It does not bring Jefferson into clear focus. Though I found the book useful, for my needs I had to go elsewhere and find a book that brings Jefferson into clear focus. But, I do recommend this book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2002

    Jefferson as seen from a Federalist...

    The book has the depth of an author who has done his homework. However, the author, who also has written extensively on President Adams, takes a decidedly Federalist approach to Jefferson. Further, the author gives facts surrounding the life and writings of Jefferson but reaches illogical conclusions that are slightly off base if not more from the logic at hand. If one wishes to understand Jefferson as his detractors would like him to be known, then this is a decent book. If on the other hand one would like the details and make up their own mind about America's 3rd President, avoid this book!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2012

    Read it.

    If you are a fan of the author or just want to know more about Thomas Jefferson this is a fine book. Ellis's later books are better.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2003

    Thomas Jefferson: Clash of Titans between Theory and Practice

    Unlike David McCullough in his superb ¿John Adams¿, Joseph J. Ellis has a hard to get into style that does turn Thomas Jefferson into a sphinx. The audience can have a difficult time to understand the similarities and differences existing between Jefferson and John Adams. Jefferson was a study in contradictions. He was often not practicing what he was preaching. For that reason, many people can reasonably claim to be the spiritual heirs of Jefferson.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 27, 2011

    Do not recommend

    My particular order was not very expensive. However, the listing was for Very Good and it arrived with a cut down the entire back of the dust sleeve which nearly makes the dust sleeve cut in two. There was no cut in the packaging which means it was shipped with a known cut. Furthermore, it arrived shrink wrapped in a thin plastic without any padding or protection whatsoever. It was also the last of maybe 6 books ordered at the same time by about 1 week.

    0 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Puts me to sleep

    Unlike other recent bios of early Americans which I've recently read (Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Marshall, Franklin, Team of Rivals, and more) this one isn't capturing my attention. I can only read a few pages before falling asleep. It could be me, but I think Ellis' portrail of Jefferson as a "sphinx", while probably an accurate description of the man, simply makes the book boring.

    To be fair, I'm only about a fourth of the way through it and it may get much more interesting later. But it's not a promising start, I've little desire to pick it up most of the time.

    For me, it's good for something ... insomnia.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 8, 2010

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