cover image Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson

Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson

Alan Pell Crawford, . . Random, $26.95 (322pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6079-5

Crawford (Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman) does a thorough if artless job of narrating Thomas Jefferson’s postpresidential years. Crawford’s narrative is a slave to chronology, which works against him. The first 50 pages are a highly condensed account of his life up through his presidency: information which, if it must be included, could have been more elegantly inserted into the main narrative. After this false start, Crawford’s story improves as he delivers an exhaustive account of Jefferson’s tangled dotage: the attempted murder of his much-loved grandson by another relative, his dealings with other descendants both white and black; his de facto bankruptcy; and his late relations with such fellow founders as Adams and Madison. Much of this has been recounted before, though interesting and surprising details abound. For example, a young Edgar Allan Poe was at Jefferson’s funeral. Despite all this diligence, however, Crawford’s narrative regularly stops dead in its tracks, especially when the author crawls inside Jefferson’s head, presuming to know his thoughts at a given moment. Crawford is quite sure, for example, that on the first day of February 1819, Jefferson dwelled upon “the planters’ financial plight, and his own... but this difficulty, Jefferson told himself, was surely temporary.” (Jan.)