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A new and more complex portrait of Thomas Jefferson, as told by Jefferson himself. Not trusting biographers with his story and frustrated by his friends’ failure to justify his role in the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson wrote his autobiography on his own terms at the age of seventy-seven. The resulting book ends, well before his death, with his return from France at the age of forty-six. Asked for additional details concerning his life, Jefferson often claimed to have a “decayed memory.” Fortunately, this shrewd politician, philosopher, architect, inventor, farmer, and scientist penned nearly eighteen thousand letters in his lifetime, saving almost every scrap he wrote.

In Jefferson on Jefferson, Paul Zall returns to original manuscripts and correspondence for a new view of the statesman’s life. He extends the story where Jefferson left off, weaving excerpts from other writings—notes, rough drafts, and private correspondence—with passages from the original autobiography. Jefferson reveals his grief over the death of his daughter, details his hotly contested election against John Adams (decided by the House of Representatives), expresses his thoughts on religion, and tells of life at Monticello.

"A really innovative and helpful kind of book for the public—a compilation of a major historical figure’s most significant autobiographical writings gleamed from letters, documents, notes and other sources."—Appalachian Heritage

"Rather than offering a standard biography of the third President of the United States, Zall prefers to let Jefferson tell his own story."—Bowling Green Daily News

"A concise and colorful summary of the life of one of the nation’s leading founders. Readers of every variety will enjoy the eloquent prose of a gifted man, whose vast knowledge and varied interests uniquely qualify him for the title of ‘Renaissance Man.’"—Journal of Southern History

"For general readers who want to ‘hear’ Jefferson talk about himself."—Journal of the Early Republic

"Interpolates excerpts from other Jefferson writings that provide the reader fresh insight into the political thought processes of the ‘Sage of Monticello.’"—Maryland Historical Magazine

"Zall provides scholars of the Revolution and early American politics with another lens through which to comprehend the events and dynamics of this fascinating time period."—Rhetoric and Public Affairs

"There is probably no better eyewitness account of the American Revolution in Virginia than Jefferson’s, and his brief recitation of his life in Paris at the outbreak of the French Revolution and his defense of his public conduct as Secretary of State and Vice President are important historical documents in their own right."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Here are the private thoughts of a public man. He grieves over the deaths that saddened his years, asserts sole authorship of the Declaration of Independence, enjoys table talk with French revolutionaries in Paris, disingenuously complains that he is talking about himself, quarrels with Adams, Washington, Hamilton and other of that notable band and always seeks to stake out his place in history."—Roanoke Times

"The book delves into Jefferson's complexity."—The Waterline

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Thomas Jefferson, United States presidents, United States politics


United States History

Jefferson on Jefferson
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