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Twilight at Monticello
Cover of Twilight at Monticello
Twilight at Monticello
The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson
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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 audiences 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; and receiving dignitaries and correspondingwith 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 Crawford introduces to us in the revelatory 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 audiences 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; and receiving dignitaries and correspondingwith 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 Crawford introduces to us in the revelatory Twilight at Monticello.

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About the Author-
  • Alan Pell Crawford is the author of Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman-and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America and a regular book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine TWILIGHT AT MONTICELLO is a breath of fresh air in the vast collection of Jeffersonian biographies. Crawford utilizes newly revealed personal letters and documents from the Library of Congress to create a notable picture of Jefferson's life after the presidency. Narrator James Boles convincingly presents the bleak drudgery of life at Monticello: endless weather reports, laborious plans for gardens, and growing debts. Unfortunately, Boles fails to vary his plodding delivery, even through the highlights of Jefferson's last 17 years of life: his triumph in founding the University of Virginia, his architectural endeavors, and his inspiring friendship with John Adams. Crawford's overarching theme is the great visionary's human imperfections, especially the discrepancies between his personal life and his celebrated idealism. N.M.C. (c) AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 22, 2007
    Crawford (Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman) does a thorough if artless job of narrating Thomas Jefferson’s postpresidential years. Crawford’s narrative is a slave to chronology, which works against him. The first 50 pages are a highly condensed account of his life up through his presidency: information which, if it must be included, could have been more elegantly inserted into the main narrative. After this false start, Crawford’s story improves as he delivers an exhaustive account of Jefferson’s tangled dotage: the attempted murder of his much-loved grandson by another relative, his dealings with other descendants both white and black; his de facto bankruptcy; and his late relations with such fellow founders as Adams and Madison. Much of this has been recounted before, though interesting and surprising details abound. For example, a young Edgar Allan Poe was at Jefferson’s funeral. Despite all this diligence, however, Crawford’s narrative regularly stops dead in its tracks, especially when the author crawls inside Jefferson’s head, presuming to know his thoughts at a given moment. Crawford is quite sure, for example, that on the first day of February 1819, Jefferson dwelled upon “the planters’ financial plight, and his own... but this difficulty, Jefferson told himself, was surely temporary.”

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2008
    Crawford ("Thunder on the Right") gives readers more than just a look at Thomas Jefferson's final yearsdrawing on new research and documents, he presents them with extensive information on his youth and his ascension to the presidency. Actor/narrator James Boles's ("Tulia") reading is steady, if a bit pedantic. The subject matter, however, is enough to keep all listeners fascinated. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. [Audio clip available through www.tantor.com.Ed.]Joseph L. Carlson, Vandenberg Air Force Base Lib., Lompoc, CA

    Copyright 2008 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson
Alan Pell Crawford
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