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Twilight at Monticello

The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson


Alan Pell Crawford (View Bio)
Hardcover: Random House, 2008.

Twilight at Monticello

Much has been written about Thomas Jefferson, with good reason. His life was a great American drama—one of the greatest—played out in compelling acts. He was the architect of our democracy, a visionary chief executive who expanded this nation's physical boundaries to unimagined lengths. But Twilight at Monticello is something entirely new: an unprecedented and engrossing personal look at the intimate Jefferson in his final years that will change the way readers think about this true American icon. It was during these years—from his return to Monticello in 1809 after two terms as president until his death in 1826—that Jefferson's idealism would be most severely, and heartbreakingly, tested. Based on new research and documents culled from the Library of Congress, the Virginia Historical Society, and other special collections, including hitherto unexamined letters from family, friends, and Monticello neighbors, Alan Pell Crawford paints an authoritative and deeply moving portrait of Thomas Jefferson as private citizen—the first original depiction of the man in more than a generation.Here, told with grace and masterly detail, is Jefferson with his family at Monticello, dealing with illness and the indignities wrought by early-nineteenth-century medicine; coping with massive debt and the immense costs associated with running a grand residence; navigating public disputes and mediating family squabbles; receiving dignitaries and corresponding with close friends, including John Adams, the Marquis de Lafayette, and other heroes from the Revolution. Enmeshed as he was in these affairs during his final years, Jefferson was still a viable political force, advising his son-in-law Thomas Randolph during his terms as Virginia governor, helping the administration of his good friend President James Madison during the "internal improvements" controversy, and establishing the first wholly secular American institution of higher learning, the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. We also see Jefferson's views on slavery evolve, along with his awareness of the costs to civil harmony exacted by the Founding Fathers' failure to effectively reconcile slaveholding within a republic dedicated to liberty.Right up until his death on the fiftieth anniversary of America's founding, Thomas Jefferson remained an indispensable man, albeit a supremely human one. And it is precisely that figure Alan Pell Crawford introduces to us in the revelatory Twilight at Monticello.

A Washington Post Best Seller
A Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection

"Alan Crawford’s beautifully written, evocative portrait of the sage of Monticello in his retirement years is a welcome addition to the Jefferson bookshelf. Juxtaposing affecting scenes of Jefferson’s domestic life with fresh and illuminating perspectives on his subject's late-life political, philosophical, and spiritual preoccupations, Crawford's fine book should engage and reward a wide readership. This is a wonderful introduction to one of the most fascinating—and one of the most generally misunderstood—figures in American history." — Peter Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Professor of History, University of Virginia

"His focus on the final two decades of Jefferson's life is so skillfully written and well-researched that the book held my interest until the final page…. Like all people, famous or almost unknown, Jefferson was a mass of contradictions. Crawford explores them masterfully, thus indeed presenting a new Jefferson for a new generation." — Steve Weinberg, Houston Chronicle

"Insightful analysis and lucid prose make this autumnal portrait a rewarding experience." — Kirkus Reviews

"Alan Pell Crawford treats his subject with grace and sympathetic understanding, and with keen penetration as well, showing the great man’s contradictions (and hypocrisies) for what they were. And he brings alive a milieu…. Drawing on new archival sources, Mr. Crawford reconstructs daily life at Monticello and depicts a colorful supporting cast of eminent personages, family members, and retainers." — The Wall Street Journal

"Broader in focus than its title suggests, Twilight at Monticello covers the entirety of Jefferson's life and explores an abundance of subjects, including his stances on religion, slavery, and federalism as well as Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. It's an intimate, well-researched look at Jefferson, and even readers with only a passing interest in our third president should find it fascinating." — Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Intimate and detailed . . . [Crawford] had access to thousands of family letters—some previously unexamined by historians—that he used to create his portrait of the complex idealist.... There are some surprising tidbits to be found." — Associated Press

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