Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything

Thomas Jefferson:  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything
by Maira Kalman
Penguin, 2014.  Unpaged.  Biography

     In this volume, the inimitable Maira Kalman does for Thomas Jefferson what she has done previously for Lincoln; namely, declared her love for one of the giants of our history, while acknowledging, as well, his considerable faults. Kalman loves that Jefferson loved everything.  "What was he interested in?  EVERYTHING.  I mean it.  EVERYThING." And he was.  He despised idleness, he "could not live without books." He loved his garden, and his favorite vegetable was peas. He was also an inventive architect, designing his own home at Monticello to accommodate his life (his bed was situated between two rooms so he could leap either into action or scholarship, depending on his mood), and his belief in the value of light and fresh air. His beloved wife Martha died before he became president and he promised her on her deathbed that he would not remarry. With that context, Kalman tries with us to understand why a man who said, of slavery, "This abomination must end" owned 150 slaves and worked them hard. Kalman then mentions Sally Hemings and the probability that she bore Jefferson's children. Kalman tells the truth about Jefferson, succinctly and fairly, and her text is matched but not overwhelmed by her unmistakable and antic artwork.  A real treasure for grownup and child to read together.

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