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Posted October 10, 2001
Peterson masterfully explores Jefferson's mind
Peterson has written as fine a one-volume biography of Jefferson as is possible, given the complexity and breadth of the subject. Peterson remains mostly fair to Jefferson, even if he always gives Jefferson the benefit of the doubt. In avoiding the fawning lionization of Dumas Malone, Peterson has done the rest of us a real service. Peterson is very readable and the book flows rather well; one never feels the sense that he or she is merely muddling through. The only shortcoming of the biography is that Peterson sometimes sacrifices a discussion of Jefferson's actions for explorations of Jefferson's thoughts when the two should have been combined. For example, Peterson spends more than a dozen pages tracing the origins of Jefferson's revolutionary thought (a fascinating, enlightening dozen pages, mind you) during a chapter dedicated to one of the most intellectually formative of Jefferson's life -- his years in Williamsburg as a law student and then as a member of the House of Burgesses, cutting his revolutionary teeth on the rhetoric of Patrick Henry and the charisma of Richard Henry Lee. Jefferson's involvement in Virginia's Committee of Correspondence and other seminal activities of the Virginia radicals get very little explication from Peterson, who is foremost concerned with how Jefferson reached his broader conclusions rather than his early implementation of those principles.
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Posted January 14, 2012
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