Summary and book reviews of The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed

The Hemingses of Monticello

An American Family

By Annette Gordon-Reed

The Hemingses of Monticello
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Sep 2008,
    800 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2009,
    800 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family's dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings's siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson's wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family's compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.

Chapter 1: Young Elizabeth's World

Elizabeth Hemings began life when America was still a colonial possession. She lived through the Revolution in the home of one of the men who helped make it and died during the formative years of the American Republic, an unknown person in the midst of pivotal events in national and world history. Hemings lived at a time when chattel slavery existed in every American colony, but was dramatically expanding and thriving in the Virginia that was her home. She was, by law, an item of property—a nonwhite, female slave, whose life was bounded by eighteenth-century attitudes about how such persons fit into society. Those attitudes, years in the making by the time Hemings was born, fascinate because they are at once utterly familiar and totally alien.

Most Americans today admit the existence of racism and sexism, even as we often disagree about examples of them. When we encounter these practices while studying the eighteenth ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
  • award image

    National Book Awards
    2008

  • award image

    National Book Awards
    2008

  • award image

    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2009

  • award image

    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2009

Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times - Eric Foner

I am glad to hear that Gordon-Reed is at work on a second volume tracing the further history of this remarkable family.

San Diego Union-Tribune - Peter Rowe

Early chapters slog through colonial Virginia, and the narrative halts often for musings about law and love, sexual attraction and family dynamics, freedom and slavery ... The tale gains speed whenever Thomas Jefferson and Sarah “Sally” Hemings appear, but this remains a serious history.

The San Francisco Chronicle - Sanford D. Horwitt

Much of Gordon-Reed's superbly told story takes place at Jefferson's beloved Monticello, where, she writes, "we can find the absolute best, and the absolute worst, that we have been as Americans. ... Gordon-Reed has given us an important story that is ultimately about the timeless quest for justice and human dignity.

The Washington Post - Fergus M. Bordewich

In this magisterial book, she has succeeded not only in recovering the lives of an entire enslaved family, but also in showing them as creative agents intelligently maneuvering to achieve maximum advantage for themselves within the orbit of institutionalized slavery.

The Washington Post - Fergus M. Bordewich

In this magisterial book, she has succeeded not only in recovering the lives of an entire enslaved family, but also in showing them as creative agents intelligently maneuvering to achieve maximum advantage for themselves within the orbit of institutionalized slavery.

Kirkus Reviews

Ponderous but sagacious and ultimately rewarding.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is a scholar's book: serious, thick, complex ....Reed's genius for reading nearly silent records makes this an extraordinary work.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This is a masterpiece brimming with decades of dedicated research and dexterous writing. It is essential for any collection on U.S. history, Colonial America, Virginia, slavery, or miscegenation.

Author Blurb Edmund S. Morgan, author of American Slavery.
Annette Gordon-Reed has broken a path into territory that has hitherto eluded historians: what happens to intimate human relations, those between lover and loved, parent and child, brother and sister, when one among them is enslaved to another. In a richly detailed narrative of events, public and private, she reconstructs the feelings of the participants: Thomas Jefferson, his slave mistress, and her blood relatives. The result is not simply a fascinating story in itself, but a new perspective on how the humanity of slaves and a slave owner could adjust and survive in circumstances designed to obliterate it. We have had other studies of master-slave relationships, but none that has penetrated to the depth of this one.

Author Blurb Joseph J. Ellis, author of American Sphinx.
Thomas Jefferson often described his slaves at Monticello as 'my family.' Annette Gordon-Reed has taken that description seriously. Surely more seriously than Jefferson ever intended! The result, the story of the Hemings family, is the most comprehensive account of one slave family ever written. It is not a pretty story, but it is poignant beyond belief. And it demonstrates conclusively that we must put aside Gone With the Wind forever and begin to study Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom."

Reader Reviews
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Hemingses of Monticello, try these:

  • Abigail Adams jacket

    Abigail Adams

    by Woody Holton

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Winner of BookBrowse's 2009 Nonfiction Book Award. In this vivid new biography of Abigail Adams, the most illustrious woman of America's founding era, prize-winning historian Woody Holton offers a sweeping reinterpretation of Adams's life story and of women's roles in the creation of the republic.

  • Passing Strange jacket

    Passing Strange

    by Martha A. Sandweiss

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    The secret double life of the man who mapped the American West and the woman he loved

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Take This Man
    Take This Man
    by Brando Skyhorse
    "A chorus of six men calling me Son might sound ludicrous to you, but to me it's the sound of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  132Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.