American Sphinx

  • by Joseph J. Ellis
  • Narrated by Susan O’Malley
  • 15 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 1997
For a man who insisted that life on the public stage was not what he had in mind, Thomas Jefferson certainly spent a great deal of time in the spotlight, even in his retirement. In his twilight years, Jefferson was already taking on the luster of a national icon, which was polished off by his auspicious death on July 4, 1826.In American Sphinx, Ellis sifts the facts from the legend to find the heart of the man who, at the grass roots, is no longer liberal or conservative, agrarian or industrialist, pro- or anti-slavery, privileged or populist. A man who sang incessantly under his breath; who spent ten hours a day during his presidency at his writing desk; and who sometimes found his political sensibilities colliding with his domestic agenda; who exhibited great depth and great shallowness, combined massive learning with extraordinary naïveté, and should neither be beatified nor forgotten.


What the Critics Say

"Ellis does not have an agenda to promote; he has a story to tell, and he tells it well. In a book that reads like fiction, he combines exciting plot turns with information." (School Library Journal)
"The richly documented life of Jefferson holds endless fascination....This set should be a lasting favorite in popular biography collections, especially in the South. Warmly recommended." (Library Journal)
"Penetrating Jefferson's placid, elegant facade, this extraordinary biography brings the sage of Monticello down to earth without either condemning or idolizing him." (Publishers Weekly)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

The Jungian Mirror of American Politics

“God was not in the details for Jefferson; he was in the sky and stars.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx

Ellis' biography of Thomas Jefferson's character is a more difficult task than one might imagine at first. Jefferson while brilliant with words is also a founding father of smoke. He was comfortable with ambiguity, but saw things in black and white. He had a great ability to mask his feelings and deceive himself. He was a visionary and prophet in the mountains whose biggest creation was not concrete. Washington created the Great Man of America. Hamilton created America's government. Madison created our Constitution. Adams helped to create the revolution. Jefferson created an idea and an ideal. His vision of personal freedom and liberty floated in a realm of make-believe, but also in a place of dreams. It was an ideal that was clear enough to seduce generations of Americans, but opaque enough to allow that ideal to be held by opposing forces.

Ellis doesn't try to tackle the whole of Jefferson. His biography jumps around and almost completely jumps over his Vice Presidency, his second term as President, etc. Ellis isn't trying to re-travel the well-traveled histories. He wants to figure out the complexities of the man. He wants to put the smoke into a bottle. He does a pretty good job. However, he missed the boat by a couple years on Sally Hemings and gave Jefferson a bit too much credit on that. But he doesn't pull many punches. He captures the paranoia of Jefferson, his ideologies, his contradictions, his issue with slavery, his ability to bend when needed and get around his own hypocrisy. It is a good biography, just not a great one.
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- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"

Badly Scratched Record

Literally hundreds of "skips" throughout the entire recording, usually occurring every 1 or two minutes. I should have paid attention to prior reviews. Based on the fact that this recording is still available after those reviews, there is obviously no quality control from either or Blackstone. Save your credit until this is replaced with an updated version.
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- ks

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-01-2009
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.