AMERICAN SPHINX (THE BOOK)
>A few days ago, Gordon Liddy (?) had a man >on his radio program that has written a new >book on President Jefferson entitled: >"American Sphinx." > >The author accussed Jefferson of "not understanding >anything" that Hamilton said about finance. The >author also dismissed Jefferson as being irrelevant >to the issues of today, because, according to the >author, Jefferson understood only aggrarian >economies and not industrial ones. All the while >this abomination was being aired, Mr. Liddy (?) >was apparently agreeing with the author. Liddy(?) >admitted that he had worked for the Treasury >department. While creating my website of Jefferson Quotes, I deliberately avoided reading the works of historians writing ABOUT Jefferson, in order to prevent my understanding from being corrupted by their personal viewpoints. I wanted the quotes to reflect what Jefferson said, not what others said about him. And that sums of my general view of most historical analysis. It all too often tells you more about the historian than it does about their subject. I began reading "American Sphinx" some time ago, but I stopped after a few pages, because I realized that, while it was interesting, it presented a distorted view which I did not want to influence me while selecting quotes from Jefferson's writings. To say that Jefferson is irrelevant to the issues of today is laughable, in my opinion. One only need read through my Jefferson Quotes website to see how very relevant his writings are. >If you can point me to any critique(s) of >"American Sphinx," I will be appreciative. I'm sorry, but I do not know of a good critique of that book, however I am sure there is probably an adequate review in the NYTimes archives. That is easily accessible through their Sunday book review. http://www.nytimes.com/books/ The book referred to above is available in most good libraries. To purchase American Sphinx at a 20% discount (paperback), click on the following: American Sphinx, by Joseph Ellis To purchase the hardback edition of American Sphinx at a 30% discount, click on the following: American Sphinx, by Joseph Ellis These links are offered in association with Amazon.com
> I was just browsing in my local Crown book store, and bought > "American Sphinx." > Undoubtedly you have views on the book, which I would be interested in > reading, and also other reviews of the book. > I know that you feel books about Jefferson represent the author's views > rather than Jefferson's. True. I feel that books about Jefferson USUALLY have more of the author's views, than they have of Jefferson's. I have not gotten around to reading American Sphinx. I started it, when I was working on my quotation collection, but I had to stop after reading only a small portion. It was so full of the author's "interpretations" that I felt it would "poison" my own mind, and I wanted my views and my organization of the Jefferson quotes website to arise from Jefferson's own writings, and not from what someone else had to say about them. Just the term "American Sphinx" itself is a dead giveaway, to me. Ellis is saying Jefferson cannot be understood. He is not saying that he does not understand Jefferson, even though that is probably closer to the truth. I think what happens is this: historians begin their study with a theory, and when most of what they come upon contradicts that theory, rather than abandon the theory, they transfer the contradiction to the subject. Jefferson then becomes a mass of contradictions and inconsistencies. For the most part, I think interpretive studies are more misleading than they are helpful. I think we are in need of a new historical paradigm, in which ALL the evidence is made available, together with ALL the probable theories, enabling the reader to view the subject from the broadest possible viewpoint, and make up his own mind. Anything less than that is little more than some form of indoctrination.
> I love your quotation selections, as well as you do, and that is a bias too. > so keeping your words in mind, I thought I would look at another man's bias, Mr. > Ellis's bias, or take, on Jefferson. Mr. Ellis's book is an INTERPRETATION, and not at all an attempt to present everything Jefferson wrote on any topic. Therefore, his book and my collection are not comparable. > You and he are both scholars of Jefferson, and I am really not, and your points > are well regarded by me. > Anyway, Ellis is a gifted scholar and writer, his book is a book I have > difficulty putting down. Jefferson is so much loved by so many different kinds > of people, with so many divergent political views, you know, both the North and > the South, libertarians and socialists, so this is a bit of a mystery, a Sphinx. > I would think that is ok to read Ellis knowing you are reading Ellis and not > Jefferson. Ellis is indeed a gifted writer, and the little I read of his book was indeed fascinating. The only problem was, it was not reflective of the Jefferson that comes through in his writings, or the Jefferson that has been captured by other writers which I think reflects that same Jefferson, in my opinion. > The other interesting thing about human nature is that we write things, say > things, to make us look good to ourselves and to others, but they are not > necessarily accurate reflections of how we actually feel, which we may or may > not be aware of ourselves. So Jefferson taken literally, word for word, probably > is not an entirely accurate measure of Jefferson either. not to say that Ellis > is better at Jefferson than Jefferson was himself, but I am the blind man trying > to feel different parts of the elephant to see what kind of animal it is. There is the Jefferson found in his writings, and there is the Jefferson found in his actions as interpreted by historians. Both can be distorted, and can be made to disagree with one another. For example, Jefferson's strict adherence to the Constitution, and his purchase of Louisiana are often cited as examples of his duplicity. But the fact is, Jefferson's writings contain a perfectly reasonable and satisfactory explanation of his purchase of Louisiana. What many interpretive historians overlook is that Jefferson's principles existed in a heirarchy. To save the republic, for example, is a principle that prevails over such niceties as strict construction. But for pedantic minds, this is difficult to comprehend or to accept. Someone disposed to show Jefferson as duplicitous has an easy time finding material. But the dishonesty, whether conscious or unconscious, generally resides in the historian, not in Jefferson.
> by the way, as a result of the interest stimulated by your site, I am now half > way through American Sphinx. I think that the author paints Jefferson as human, > and I think a very great man. although I haven't gotten to his summary chapter > yet. If you ever were to read that book, I would love to hear your critique of > it. I hope to read it someday. I think a book like that could be read most profitably, however, if the reader remains always aware of the statements the author is making that are his opinions and judgments. That can often be a very uncomfortable way to read a book, but if you don't read it like that, you are being indoctrinated.
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