Master of the Mountain by Henry Wiencek
Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 4 Critic Reviews

...surely, political pundits and Jeffersonians will be wrestling over Wiencek's explosive interpretations of the historical evidence — some of it newly discovered — for years to come.
-NPR

Synopsis

Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery? The answer is a resounding yes. Master of the Mountain, Henry Wiencek's eloquent, persuasive book—based on new information coming from archaeological work at Monticello and on hitherto overlooked or disregarded evidence in Jefferson's papers—opens up a huge, poorly understood dimension of Jefferson's world. We must, Wiencek suggests, follow the money.

So far, historians have offered only easy irony or paradox to explain this extraordinary Founding Father who was an emancipationist in his youth and then recoiled from his own inspiring rhetoric and equivocated about slavery; who enjoyed his renown as a revolutionary leader yet kept some of his own children as slaves. But Wiencek's Jefferson is a man of business and public affairs who makes a success of his debt-ridden plantation thanks to what he calls the "silent profits" gained from his slaves—and thanks to a skewed moral universe that he and thousands of others readily inhabited. We see Jefferson taking out a slave-equity line of credit with a Dutch bank to finance the building of Monticello and deftly creating smoke screens when visitors are dismayed by his apparent endorsement of a system they thought he'd vowed to overturn. It is not a pretty story. Slave boys are whipped to make them work in the nail factory at Monticello that pays Jefferson's grocery bills. Parents are divided from children—in his ledgers they are recast as money—while he composes theories that obscure the dynamics of what some of his friends call "a vile commerce."

Many people of Jefferson's time saw a catastrophe coming and tried to stop it, but not Jefferson. The pursuit of happiness had been badly distorted, and an oligarchy was getting very rich. Is this the quintessential American story?

 

About Henry Wiencek

See more books from this Author
Henry Wiencek, a nationally prominent historian and writer, is the author of several books, including The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1999, and An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (FSG, 2003). He lives with his wife and son in Charlottesville, Virginia.
 
Published October 16, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 352 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, War. Non-fiction
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for Master of the Mountain
All: 4 | Positive: 4 | Negative: 0

NY Journal of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by J. W. Nicklaus on Aug 04 2014

To say Master of the Mountain is compelling would be to understate the value of Henry Wiencek’s scholarship—to say it is imperative reading would be the most befitting, most legitimate clarion call to any student of Jefferson or of American history.

Read Full Review of Master of the Mountain: Thoma... | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

WSJ online

Excellent
Reviewed by Fergus M Bordewich on Nov 01 2012

This book will change forever the way that we think about the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Read Full Review of Master of the Mountain: Thoma... | See more reviews from WSJ online

NPR

Excellent
Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan on Oct 18 2012

...surely, political pundits and Jeffersonians will be wrestling over Wiencek's explosive interpretations of the historical evidence — some of it newly discovered — for years to come.

Read Full Review of Master of the Mountain: Thoma... | See more reviews from NPR

NY Journal of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by J. W. Nicklaus on Oct 16 2012

To say Master of the Mountain is compelling would be to understate the value of Henry Wiencek’s scholarship—to say it is imperative reading would be the most befitting, most legitimate clarion call to any student of Jefferson or of American history.

Read Full Review of Master of the Mountain: Thoma... | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

Reader Rating for Master of the Mountain
81%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 134 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review
×