Taylor [is] a terrific writer ... thought-provoking ... One of the strongest impressions to come out of Taylor’s book is the sheer vicious loutishness of the planters’ sons who were the university’s earliest students ... Taylor tells this university story with cool skill and a very discerning eye for personal detail. The standard national hagiography surrounding Jefferson won’t be much troubled by the inept fantasist who comes across in these pages, but readers will be fascinated to make the acquaintance of men like Rice and Cocke in Taylor’s gripping and judicious portraits.
Jefferson’s 'noble aspirations' for the university he cherished as his most significant legacy became, as Taylor forcefully demonstrates, 'entangled' in the inequalities and injustices of his society ... Taylor would have us recognize that we, not our children or grandchildren, bear responsibility for our world. And Taylor has an important message as well for a university community still haunted by Jefferson’s shadow: 'There is more to celebrate,' he insists, 'in what the University has become than in how it began.' Those beginnings, as Thomas Jefferson’s Education makes clear, were in every aspect inseparable from the distorting and poisonous influence of the slave society Jefferson hoped his university would transform. Taylor’s book might well have been titled 'Thomas Jefferson’s Delusions.'
Improving Virginia’s system of education, Jefferson believed, was the foundation upon which progress would be built, and the foundation had to be laid properly ... his main mission was planning for a university that would rival the great universities in the North ... In Thomas Jefferson’s Education, Alan Taylor...probes that ambitious mission in clear prose and with great insight and erudition. He explains why Jefferson found those educational choices so intolerable, what he planned to do about the situation, and how his concerns and plans mapped onto a growing sectional conflict that would eventually lead to the breakup of the Union that Jefferson had helped create.