To study Jefferson is to ascend a mountain, its peak awash in veiling mists. He was the embodiment of the enlightenment man, the perfect synthesis of classicist, scientist, and visionary. How can we hope to understand such a towering figure? The Sage of Monticello, deified in American politics, speaks across the ages like a patriotic Moses, or Buddha, or Christ.
Or so his disciples would have us believe.
The real Thomas Jefferson was an ordinary man, with all the usual failings. Molded by the culture of the Virginia planter class, he fought against tyranny while oppressing his own slaves. He institutionalized racist attitudes, bickered with his rivals, lusted after other men's wives, and kept his own mixed-race children in bondage.
Yet his accomplishments are too spectacular to be denied. The Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, he even abolished taxes (for a while). As a Founding Father, his contributions eclipsed all the rest. Without Jefferson, the American experiment might have ended before it began. So how can we make sense of his personal failings in the context of his great works?
Thomas Jefferson: The Failures and Greatness of an Ordinary Man looks at Jefferson from the ground up, finding handholds in his love of Greek literature and fine wine, his affection for friends and family, and the compromises he deemed necessary for the survival of the nation. By exploring his relationships, the listener is invited into Jefferson's sanctum sanctorum, to stare unblinking at his complexity and follow truth where it leads.
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