Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Thomas Jefferson: Author of America

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Thomas Jefferson: Author of America

Article excerpt

THOMAS JEFFERSON: AUTHOR OF AMERICA by CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS HarperCollins, 188pages, $19.95

Christopher Hitchens-the same Christopher Hitchens who provided a rather unorthodox view of Mother Teresa in Missionary Position-has now given a similarly unorthodox take on America's third president. His Thomas Jefferson depicts the author of the Declaration of Independence as a pragmatic idealist. Hitchens' underlying thesis is that Jefferson in fact created the model for a conflicted America which seeks to do good but is not beyond compromising her lofty principles when convenient. The book borders on psycho-history. Hitchens posits early insecurity and low self-esteem in the young Jefferson. He believes them to be rooted in a poor relation with his mother and an awkward encounter with a Rebecca Burwell on whom he had a youthful crush. Hitchens states that these traumas were overcome by study, the practice of law, and a good marriagebut his portrayal of Jefferson's duplicity throughout his life makes the reader wonder whether he really believes that Jefferson ever overcame his early psychological damage. …

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