Review: The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed

Source: Purchased
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Edition: Hardcover, 662 pages
Genre: Nonfiction History Biography
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
Rating: 4/5

The Hemingses of Monticello is Annette Gordon-Reed’s “riveting history” of the Hemings family, whose story comes to life in this researched and moving work. Gordon-Reed unearths startling new information about the Hemingses, Jefferson, and his white family. Although the book presents a detailed portrait of Sarah Hemings, who bore seven children by Jefferson over the course of their thirty-eight-year liaison, The Hemingses of Monticello tells more than the story of her life with Jefferson and their children. The Hemingses as a whole take their rightful place in the narrative of the family’s extraordinary engagement with one of history’s most important figures.

Finally finished! It took long enough. Despite my slow going with this book it was fairly good and really interesting.

I personally adore Thomas Jefferson, if you couldn’t tell,  and after a trip to Montecello and Poplar Forest I started this book. It’s a pretty in depth look on both Jefferson’s life as well as the close slave families, though as the titles suggests it does focus on the Hemings family more so then the others. There was a lot interesting facts, stories, letters and even some pictures included that sheds some light on their public and private lives. I enjoyed learning more about Sally Hemings’ family as well as her personal situation within the soical web of Jefferson’s life. There was so much that I didn’t know about her or her family that some of it was entirely new to me. This was also one of those books where every time I learned something remotely interesting that I didn’t know I simply had to tell someone, I found a lot of it fascinating.

My only real complaint about this book is that the author tends to sound…bitter almost. It proved distracting at times and was one of the main reasons I kept putting the book down. As non-fiction I don’t expect a lot of free-thought to be included unless it’s in a separate section, and while she does do that she also includes speculation that comes off as bias during the informative parts as well. It happened enough that I would get irritated and simply stop reading for days. I found it a tad unprofessional on the author’s part to put forth an opinion so rigidly that it overshadows some of the information. Overall it’s a really good book and it’s worth reading if you have an interest in Thomas Jefferson or Sally Hemings but be aware that the author’s personal voice does tend to come through at times.

4 stars


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