1002 The Journal of American History March 2018 the adjustment to world economy (as traced ing the Public Right to the Beach of the Missisipi in a conclusion by Tutino and Langer) to be a . . . (1812), which, though ninety-one pages, useful way to rethink American exceptionalism Boles dismisses as a mere pamphlet (p. 442). and to think comparatively about the political Insisting that either a written work had to and social effects of the global economy. be published during the author’s lifetime to qualify as a book or that the writing of books Stuart B. Schwartz define an author’s life reveals an ignorance of Yale University early American book culture. Though unpub - New Haven, Connecticut lished in Jefferson’s lifetime, The Life and Mor - doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax443 als of Jesus of Nazareth also qualifies as a book, regardless that he constructed it with scissors and paste instead of pen and ink. Jefferson nei - Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty. By ther finished nor published his autobiography, John B. Boles. (New York: Basic, 2017. xii, but Boles’s characterization of it as a halfhear - t 626 pp. $35.00.) ed attempt seems unfair. Benjamin Franklin neither finished nor published his autobiogra - In Jefferson, John B. Boles ambitiously at - phy but, to my knowledge, no one has denied tempts a general biography of his subject- . Oth its status as a book or called it halfhearted. er recent biographers have specialized in one Specialists in other fields might do what particular aspect of Thomas Jefferson’s life. To I have done with literary history to see how write a general biography of someone who was Boles’s biography stacks up. I suspect they so accomplished in so many different fields— will find similar inadequacies. But perhaps agriculture, art, bibliography, diplomat-ic his the quibbles of specialists are beside the point. tory, education, law, literary history, music, political theory, science—is a task fraugh Though long, Boles t ’s biography does not at - tempt to be exhaustive. This general biogra - with danger. Slighting any one of these fields phy has been written for general readers, and of inquiry, the general biographer runs the risk they will find much to enjoy. Boles may of - of painting an incomplete portrait. fer little new information, but Jefferson is an Consider literary history, the present - re honest, earnest biography. In a time when the viewer’s specialty, for example. Before finish - presidency is under erosion by a leader with ing the introduction, Boles reveals his spotty no sense of history, Boles’s biography, like ev - knowledge of the field: “As learned and book - ery honest, earnest presidential biography, is a ish a man as any other of his era, [Jefferson] welcome sight. himself only wrote one book (accidentally) and merely attempted, halfheartedly, to write Kevin J. Hayes, Emeritus an autobiography” (p. 1). The assertion that University of Central Oklahoma Jefferson only wrote one book— Notes on the Edmond, Oklahoma State of Virginia (1785)—is the single biggest doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax444 cliché of Jefferson’s literary life. Boles’s asser - tion assumes a narrow definition of a “book” and an anachronistic understanding of what Boston’s Massacre. By Eric A. Hinderaker. being a writer means. Boles implies that a book (Cambridge: Belknap, 2017. xx, 358 pp. is a separately published, printed work longer $29.95.) than a pamphlet. Even with this narrow defi - nition, Jefferson wrote three books, not one. Over two hundred eyewitness accounts survive Besides Notes on the State of Virginia, he wrote of the melee on King Street in Boston on March A Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1801), 5, 1770, yet historians still struggle to -under which Boles acknowledges as “the indispens - stand exactly what transpired that night - . In re able guide for much of the nineteenth centu - visiting this flash point of the American Re- volu ry and, for the Senate, at least, into the mid- tion, Eric A. Hinderaker shows why “Boston’s twentieth” (p. 308), and The Proceedings of the massacre” matterd s e spite—even because of— Government of the United States, in Maintain- the particulars that remain uncertain. Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jah/article-abstract/104/4/1002/4932621 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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