21 books directly related to Thomas Jefferson 📚

All 21 Thomas Jefferson books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Thomas Jefferson's European Travel Diaries

Thomas Jefferson's European Travel Diaries

By Thomas Jefferson, Persephone Weene, James McGrath Morris

Why this book?

This book is based on notes made by Thomas Jefferson when he was US ambassador to France. For me, their highlight is his account of a journey south to examine the operation of the Canal du Midi which links Toulouse to the Mediterranean. Jefferson travelled down from Paris in his own carriage and when he reached the mouth of the canal near Agde he saw no reason to abandon it. He hired a barge to take him to Toulouse and loaded his carriage on deck.

During his eight-day journey, he recorded his impressions in notes and letters written while he…

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Book cover of Those Rebels, John & Tom

Those Rebels, John & Tom

By Barbara Kerley, Edwin Fotheringham (illustrator),

Why this book?

Here’s another take on America’s relationship with King George III. The story shows the differences between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson but despite their differences, they have a love of country and a hate for King George. They unite their strengths - John’s power of persuasion and Tom’s mighty pen - to formulate the Declaration of Independence. The endnotes are just as fascinating, talking about how their relationship continued - and almost ended. They both died on the same day, on July 4th.

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Book cover of Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

By Garry Wills,

Why this book?

I’m torn between recommending this book and Lincoln at Gettysburg by the same author. Wills combines brilliant analysis of language (the meaning and feeling of words and phrases; the syncopation of sentences) with a scholarly understanding of the cultural and intellectual context within which these seminal texts are written. As he unpacks the Declaration, Wills connects the document to Jefferson's own reading and learning. "To understand any text remote from us in time," he writes "we must reassemble a world around that text. The preconceptions of the original audience, its tastes, its range of reference, must be recovered, so far…

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Book cover of Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Men and Women in the Early American Republic

Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Men and Women in the Early American Republic

By Cassandra A. Good,

Why this book?

“I am always yours” was not George Washington’s usual signoff. It was reserved for Elizabeth Willing Powel, a dear friend who often gets short shrift in Washington biographies. Cassandra Good’s book isn’t devoted to the General, but what's there can't be found anywhere else.

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Book cover of Notes on the State of Virginia

Notes on the State of Virginia

By Thomas Jefferson,

Why this book?

Notes can feel unwelcoming to modern readers. There are jarring tangents and, more troublingly, dehumanizing descriptions of black people. But if you page around, you’ll learn a lot about Jefferson and his new nation. Notes also made a stunning impact, elevating America’s international standing and becoming a big controversy during Jefferson's presidential bids (the first campaign book!). It’s still a fascinating book to browse, and as a bonus, the Library of America edition also includes Jefferson’s brief attempt at writing an autobiography.
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Book cover of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

By Annette Gordon-Reed,

Why this book?

Not a biography in the strict sense, this book is an investigation into “an American controversy” by a legal scholar that demonstrates the value of historical research and analysis by showing how Jefferson’s grandchildren, and white scholars and biographers following their lead, effectively conspired to hide the truth of Jefferson’s 30+ relationship with a woman he owned. And Gordon-Reed published this book a full year before the DNA-based analysis showed that Jefferson was overwhelmingly likely to have been the only father to Hemings’s four children.
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Book cover of My Monticello: Fiction

My Monticello: Fiction

By Jocelyn Nicole Johnson,

Why this book?

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s My Monticello is a title to be treasured. Through a series of masterfully woven stories, Johnson brings forth and highlights the deep-rooted racial inequalities in our country. Having my debut novel published later in life, I feel a special connection because Johnson’s recent release is about resilience and passion for the arts – and it proves that ageism has no place in the art world. This is another fiction title I would highly recommend. There’s a lesson to be learned from every character and every story penned in My Monticello.  

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Book cover of America's First Daughter

America's First Daughter

By Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie,

Why this book?

This novel traces the life of Patsy Jefferson Randolph, Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, and highlights the disparity between status and power for women. Though a member of one of the nation’s most illustrious families, Patsy’s life alternates between glittering and nightmarish. She is tethered to her fragile and flawed father throughout her life, enemies with his mistress, Sally Hemings, who is technically Patsy’s aunt. Readers will admire her strength as she faces one tragedy after another, and mourn for the lost happiness she should have enjoyed. 

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Book cover of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

By Ibram X. Kendi,

Why this book?

Everyone ought to read this book. It’s beautifully written and it’s a detailed history of the US and its relationship to racism. Kendi makes a convincing case that racism is about policy—what we do—more than it is about attitudes—what we feel and think. In focusing on the institutional and historical aspects of racism, he both offers a necessary corrective to many histories of the US, but also does so in a way that shows how the national history is deeply influenced by its political economy. 

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Book cover of Jefferson's Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

Jefferson's Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

By Catherine Kerrison,

Why this book?

Kerrison’s triple biography of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters is a brilliant evocation of life in post-Revolutionary America—its exciting possibilities as well as the limitations that still bound most women, free as well as enslaved. The three women here stand for the lives of millions of women in early America as mothers, mortal beings, and mysterious absences in the historical record: Maria (Polly), like her mother Martha Wayles Jefferson, was doomed by fragile health to an early death; Martha (Patsy), who strongly resembled her father physically and temperamentally, had a large family as the matriarch of Monticello, but endured a vexatious marriage…
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Book cover of The Journals of Lewis and Clark

The Journals of Lewis and Clark

By John Bakeless,

Why this book?

Arguably, people and dogs—initially in the guise of wolves—have been wandering the world together since they first met on the trail of the big game they were both hunting. Dogs were generally more amicable, low-maintenance traveling companions, serving as camp guards, hunters, bed warmers, social secretaries, and occasional sneak thieves.  

A prototype for traveling dog in American letters is Seaman, a young Newfoundland Meriwether Lewis obtained to accompany the corps of discovery on its westward explorations. Seaman and his exploits dot the pages of The Journals of Lewis and Clark (1814), a great resource and compelling read for anyone hoping…

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Book cover of Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

By Stephen E. Ambrose,

Why this book?

Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage is the only non-fiction book on my list, but it is as readable as a novel, and it is foundational for anyone interested in the history of the American West. In 2014, HBO announced plans to produce a six-part mini-series with Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Edward Norton as executive producers. I was really looking forward to that; however, filming was halted in 2016.  

Undaunted Courage is a biography of President Thomas Jefferson’s personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis. In 1803, Jefferson asks Lewis to lead an expedition up the Missouri River to the Rockies, through the mountains, down…

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Book cover of George Washington: A Life in Books

George Washington: A Life in Books

By Kevin J. Hayes,

Why this book?

In Kevin J. Hayes's book, we learn what Washington's reading habits were. For instance, it is known that he read the classic Gulliver’s Travels. How could that be known you might ask? Hayes got access to the original books in Washington’s library. He found a pattern. Looking through the books page by page he found editorial marks and corrections. Washington was a natural editor. Looking through Gulliver’s Travels Hayes found the tell-tale editorial marks, therefor he knew Washington had read it.

It is known from Washington’s writings that he owned many military textbooks. During the Revolution he asked the…

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Book cover of To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders

To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders

By Bernard Bailyn,

Why this book?

Enormous insight from one of the great scholars of America’s Revolutionary Era, especially as to the complex ruminations and motivations of the nation’s founders as they set out to invent a new society. At the core of their inspiration, ironically resulting from their very provincialism, being separated from European society by an ocean, was their ability to combine a deep sense of pragmatic realism with “a pervasive air of utopian idealism.” From this was formed a nation consistently looking to a better future. A sensibility perhaps best expressed by Thomas Jefferson: “I like the dreams of the future better than…

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Book cover of Washington: A Life

Washington: A Life

By Ron Chernow,

Why this book?

I find Ron Chernow’s biography to be the most informative and comprehensive. It is quite a tome at over 800 pages, but worth the read. Chernow has fascinating insights into his character. Washington had a temper that he sought to control. Even in that, he made an impression on people. From the introduction of the book, “His contemporaries admired him not because he was a plaster saint or an empty uniform but because they sensed his unseen power.”

We see Washington develop over his life from early childhood. The loss of his father at age eleven brought him closer to…

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The most transformative history books with a fresh look into the past

Book cover of Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government

Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government

By Catherine Allgor,

Why this book?

So much of the early presidency took place out of “office hours.” Social events where women were present were considered apolitical and non-partisan, but of course, women had just as many opinions about politics back in the Early Republic as they do today! Instead, these events served as helpful venues for brokering deals, arranging political marriages, and securing appointments for friends and family members. Wives were also essential partners in campaigns and coalition-building once politicians were in office. You can’t understand the early presidents without understanding the broader social context as well.

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Book cover of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Why this book?

While The Swerve is not exactly a book about posterity, it nonetheless provides a wonderful case study of a text that remained on the verge of destruction for centuries, before going on to play a tremendously influential role in shaping our modern world. This book is none other than On The Nature of Things by Lucretius –one of the foundational texts of Western culture, whose impact was postponed to the fifteenth century, as it would not have seen the light of day without its serendipitous rediscovery in a German monastery by Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459). This gripping work offers a fascinating…

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Book cover of Haunted Virginia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Old Dominion

Haunted Virginia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Old Dominion

By Jr. Taylor, L. B.,

Why this book?

Before other authors (including me) published books on Virginia’s ghosts and legends, it was L. B. Taylor who’d written many spooky tales that haunted the Old Dominion in a long span of books, including this one. Not just Virginians, but as someone who moved here in 1985, I learned about the state’s many ghosts, monsters, and legends that taught me a new view of the state. No one needs to live in Virginia to enjoy reading this book.

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Book cover of Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic

Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic

By Joanne B. Freeman,

Why this book?

Affairs of Honor was instrumental in shaping my understanding of political culture in the Early Republic. Freeman’s book vividly depicts the contentious social world of the Founding era and the logic behind colorful insults, duels, and political battles. Fans of Hamilton: The Musical will especially enjoy this book, as one of the chapters inspired the song “Ten Duel Commandments!” 

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Book cover of Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans

Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans

By Anthony F. C. Wallace,

Why this book?

What Calloway does for Washington, Wallace does for Jefferson. Even more than Washington, Jefferson talked one game and played another. He could be splendidly eloquent on how much he wanted the Indian nations to become Americans, yet that could only happen, in Jefferson’s mind, if they surrendered their identity as Indians. If anything, the situation was even worse than Wallace suggests, as I point out in detail in my book on William Wells. While there is much to admire about Jefferson, his Indian policy shows how idealism can serve as a front for blatant exploitation and near genocide.  

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