Keeping the tension between the past and the present, foreign and familiar in play, Gordon-Reed and Onuf raise Jefferson in relief, against his times and ours, to examine his attitudes about home, family life, public service, slavery, politics, friendship and education. The Jefferson who emerges in these pages is a dynamic, complex and oftentimes contradictory human being ... Though this sounds like sober historical reading, the writers have smithed an engaging, sterling, prose style, polished to highlight incongruities between Jefferson's philosophy and how he had to live in the world.
To the already bursting Jefferson canon, they add a fresh and layered analysis, one centered more on his interior life than his deeds for posterity ... Gordon-Reed and Onuf are not the first to search for other ways into Jefferson’s private place, nor will they be the last. But they have provided a smart and useful map for those who are certain to follow.
Most Blessed of the Patriarchs cannot entirely avoid compiling the sort of despairing catalogue of the great man’s hypocrisies that the authors set out to transcend ... [the authors'] approach yields a stimulating graduate seminar on topics in Jefferson studies, shedding welcome light on subjects such as Jefferson’s passionate attachment to music and his tenacious insistence that a person’s religious beliefs are nobody else’s business. For a reader coming to Jefferson for the first or even second time, however, the structure might be challenging.