The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Monday, March 2, 2015

In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson By Noble Cunningham, Jr

Publisher:  Ballantine Books
Publication Date:  1988
Pages:  432
Genre:  American History
Reviewed by WC
5 Stars⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Book Description: 
"A major contribution." Washington Post
The authoritative single-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the most significant figure in American history. He was a complex and compelling man: a fervent advocate of democracy who enjoyed the life of a southern aristocrat and owned slaves, a revolutionary who became president, a believer in states' rights who did much to further the power of the federal government. Drawing on the recent explosion of Jeffersonian scholarship and fresh readings of original sources, IN PURSUIT OF REASON is a monument to Jefferson that will endure for generations.


WC's Review:  Some historians say that Thomas Jefferson was the greatest of America's founding fathers. Noble E Cunningham makes a splendid effort to support this assertion in this highly detailed account of Jefferson's pursuit of reason.

That Jefferson was a man of firm convictions has been recorded in numerous accounts of his life. What needs to be addressed in addition to his accomplishments, which Cunningham to a large extent has done, is Jefferson's fervor to ensure man's rightful place in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Pundits love to proclaim that Jefferson was a spoiled and haughty gentleman of privilege, that he did not truly give a damn about common folk, that he was merely a deist in his relationship with God, and that the horrors of manumission bothered him little.

Jefferson loved the Declaration of Independence, his Notes on the State of Virginia, and was most proud of his success in building the University of Virginia. A man of many talents, Jefferson loved Monticello, farming, architecture, his books, and his friendships with fellow founders Washington and Madison, most of all John Adams, and even with the sometimes recalcitrant Alexander Hamilton. Maria Cosway proved to be a delight as well.

Pay attention when reading this book, for there are many unknown revelations about Jefferson's character and his relationships with friends and foes alike. 

About the Author: 
Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., one of the foremost scholars of the life and thought of Thomas Jefferson, was born in 1926 in Evans Landing, Indiana, he served with the U.S. Army, 1944-1946, and received a B.A. from the University of Louisville in 1948. He earned his M.A. (1949) and Ph.D., with honors, from Duke University (1952). He taught at Wake Forest College and the University of Richmond before joining the history department of the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1964. There he served as associate professor, full professor, the Byler Distinguished Professor (1980-1981), the Frederick A. Middlebush Professor (1986-1988), and the Curators’ Professor of History (1988-1997). In 1997 he became Curators’ Professor of History Emeritus.

Cunningham was the recipient of several major awards and fellowships during his career. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and received fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Historical Publications Commission, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was a recipient of the University of Missouri Thomas Jefferson Award, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Medal, and the Missouri Conference of History Award. In 1994 he was selected to attend a formal dinner at the White House with other Jefferson scholars and President Clinton.

Cunningham’s exhaustive research in the Library of Congress and the National Archives underlay his pathbreaking explorations of early nineteenth-century American politics. His insights provided the foundation for the work of today’s historians of Jefferson and politics. Cunningham’s prolific scholarship has shaped our understanding not just of Jefferson but of the very nature and development of party politics in the early Republic. Cunningham’s first book, The Jeffersonian Republicans: The Formation of Party Organization, 1789-1801, was published exactly a half century ago. He proceeded to follow the Jeffersonian Republicans as they became the majority party in Congress and took control of the presidency in 1801. The Jeffersonian Republicans in Power: Party Operations, 1801-1809 (1963) examined issues of patronage (both the formation of a policy and the difficulties of putting it into practice), party machinery on the national and regional levels, and the broader subject of the party and the press, a topic that is significant for early American politics. The Process of Government Under Jefferson (1978) remains the cornerstone for any analysis of Jefferson’s presidency and indeed teaches us much about the evolution of the institution of the American presidency. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Over the course of his work, which included more than a dozen books and numerous articles, Cunningham developed a profound respect for the third president’s abilities to build a political party and a consensus. His biography of Jefferson, In Pursuit of Reason (1987), was translated into several languages, including Chinese.

—Barbara Oberg
Princeton University