Review of “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson” by Joseph Ellis

A must read for Jefferson buffs

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson” by Joseph J. Ellis was published in 1996 and won the 1997 National Book Award in Nonfiction.  Ellis is a well-known author and history professor focusing on the revolutionary era. He is probably best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning book “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” and has written about Presidents Washington and Adams as well.

“American Sphinx” has been described by some as a “psychological history” of Jefferson, but it is really much more than that: it is part character analysis, part personality profile and part history book.  What it is not is a traditional biography or even an abbreviated narrative of Jefferson’s entire life – but as I have discovered by now, this is par for the course for a Joseph Ellis book on a revolutionary-era president.

Instead of following the story of Jefferson’s life in a single, continuous arc…

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