Drawing of Thomas Jefferson sitting next to books

11 Best Thomas Jefferson Books to Read Next

If you’re looking to learn more about the life and times of one of America’s most important Founding Fathers, then you’ll want to to read the best Thomas Jefferson biography? But which one to choose?

The books in this post will give you a comprehensive understanding of Jefferson’s complicated life and legacy. From Thomas Jefferson’s genius to his political career to his reprehensible actions as a slaveowner, these books will give you a comprehensive understanding of everything Jeffersonian.

1. Thomas Jefferson’s Education

Cover image of "Thomas Jefferson's Education"

In one of the greatest and latest Thomas Jefferon books out there, Alan Taylor delivers a captivating tale of Jefferson’s journey to build the University of Virginia. In Thomas Jefferson’s Education, this Pulitzer Prize winning author explores Jefferson’s early days at William and Mary, the only university in his home colony of Virginia, and how it influenced his intellectual development. Originally a rowdy teen, who had internalized the despotism taught to him as a while child on a plantation, Jefferson acted out. He seems to have gotten that out of his system rather quickly, however, and became the studious, philosophical Jefferson we remember while studying in Williamsburg. 

Throughout the rest of his life Jefferson would content that education was the only way for Virginia to keep pace with the growing he north. After decades of fighting for tax-based funding to create a public university for the elite of Virginia, Jefferson’s late-in-life dream finally came true in 1817 with the establishment of the University of Virginia. Jefferson hoped this new university would plant the enlightened seeds that would keep religion out of politics, destroy the institution of slavery, and carry Virginia foward into the future. 

Unfortunately, none of that happened. Students reared to believe they had dominion over all black people abused the slaves employed to build the school and keep it running. They also frequently got into fights with themselves. Later in history, the first generations of these students would play pivotal roles in the formation of the Confederacy. 

Taylor weaves all of these narratives together beautifully, creating a compelling, must read candidate for best Thomas Jefferson biography.

2. The Hemingses of Monticello

Cover image. of "The Hemingses of Monticello"

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed is one of the most important Thomas Jefferson books, even if he is more a background player in the story. It tells the story of the Hemingeses, from their earliest days in the British colonies to their time on Thomas Jefferson’s estate.

While a good portion of the book focuses on the relationship between Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemings, and their children, Gordon-Reed explores also looks at the life of Sally’s mother, Elizabeth, older brother James, and others.

The Hemingses were a large and important part of Jefferson’s life, and the book provides a detailed and nuanced picture of their lives. Gordon-Reed is a skilled historian, and her book is an important contribution to our understanding of Jefferson and the Hemingses. It is essential reading for anyone interested in American history or the history of slavery.

3. Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

Cover image of "Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson," one of the best Thomas Jefferson biographies

Most people are familiar with the story of the Founding Fathers, but few know the details of the personal relationships between these men. In his book Friends Divided, Gordon S. Wood tells the story of the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of America’s most important founding fathers. The two men met at the beginning of the American Revolution in 1776, when they were both serving on the Continental Congress. They quickly became friends, despite their different political beliefs.

Regardless of their political differences, the two men maintained a close friendship for many years. However, their friendship began to unravel during the presidential election of 1800. The men did not speak again until 1812, when the began to exchange letter. As pen pals, they rekindled their friendship lat in life. And, eerily enough, both died on the same day: July 4, 1826.

Wood’s book is a fascinating look at the personal relationship between two of America’s most important founders. This brilliant historian does an excellent job of bring the two men to life, illustrating their strengths and weaknesses. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the lives of these two important figures in American history.

4. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Cover image of "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power," one of the best Thomas Jefferson biographies

In his book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Jon Meacham paints a detailed and nuanced portrait of one of America’s most complex and controversial Founding Fathers. Meacham does an impressive job of humanizing Jefferson, showing him to be a man of many contradictions.

On the one hand, Jefferson was a deep thinker and passionate advocate for liberty. On the other hand, he was a slaveholder who believed that Black people were naturally inferior.

Despite these flaws, Meacham argues that Jefferson was one of the most influential and important figures in American history. Through his writings and actions, like chartering the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jefferson helped to shape the nation’s identity and set it on the path to becoming a world power.

This is one of the most well-researched and readable Thomas Jefferson books and it provides valuable insights into the mind of one of our country’s most revered leaders.

5. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

Cover image of "American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson," one of the best Thomas Jefferson biographies

Of all the Founding Fathers, none is more enigmatic than Thomas Jefferson. In American Sphinx, Joseph J. Ellis offers a fascinating portrait of the man who was both hero and villain.

Jefferson was a passionate advocate for American liberty, but he also owned slaves. He wrote eloquently about the rights of man, but he denied women the right to vote. He was a visionary statesman, but he was also a flawed and sometimes contradictory human being.

To explore these contradictions in Jefferson’s character, Ellis draws upon a wealth of primary sources, including Jefferson’s own letters and writings. From this mountain of papers, Ellis brings forward a nuanced portrait of the third president and hero of the American Revolution.

With American Sphinx, Ellis has created perhaps the best Thomas Jefferson biography that makes this complex man come alive.

6. Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders

Cover image of Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Island and the Founders

Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders by Denise A. Spellberg is a fascinating book that explores Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Islam.

While Jefferson lived in a time when American Protestantism had a heavy dose of skepticism about other faiths, like Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam, he was actually quite knowledgeable about Islamic culture and even owned a copy of the Qur’an.

In Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an, Denise A. Spellberg tells the story of how Jefferson came to acquire a copy of the Qur’an, and how his study of Islam influenced his thinking on religious freedom.

Many of Jefferson’s contemporaries would ultimately vilify him for his views on Islam. But the liberality of his thought shows interesting attempts by the founders to understand and widen the concept of religious toleration and freedom.

While Jefferson’s views on Islam may seem shocking to modern readers, they offer a revealing glimpse into his complex and nuanced thought process.

7. Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée

Cover image of "Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee," one of the best Thomas Jefferson biographies

Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulée by Thomas J. Craughwell is a book that explores the history and legacy of one of America’s most iconic Founding Fathers. In addition to chronicling Jefferson’s many accomplishments, the book also delves into the unique relationship between Jefferson and one of his slaves, James Hemings.

When Jefferson traveled to France in 1784 he brought along Hemings. Why? Jefferson wanted the man to learn French cooking. A francophile, Jefferson told Hemings that if he could master the French culinary arts and bring them back to Monticello, Jefferson would grant his freedom.

Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulée explores the time these two men spent in Paris together, James learning to cook French food and Thomas learning to grow French crops. Craughwell masterfully explores this complex relationship, while taking the reader on a fun culinary tour. Plus, he even includes a few recipes!

Whether you’re a history buff or a foodie, this is one of the best Thomas Jefferson books for you.

8. Twilight at Monticello

Cover image of "The Twilight at Monticello," one of the best Thomas Jefferson biographies

Alan Pell Crawford’s Twilight at Monticello is a fascinating look at the life of Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s most iconic Founding Fathers. Crawford paints a detailed portrait of Jefferson as a man who was constantly exploring new ideas and technologies, even as he grew older and became more set in his ways.

Set in the final 16 years of Jefferson’s life, Crawford paints an intimate picture of the man. While he discusses his continued involvement in politics and his work on the University of Virginia, Crawford offers a more private vision of Jefferson as he struggled with his health, tried to mitigate familial disputes, and corresponding with fellow heroes of the Revolution.

If you want to really get to know Jefferson, do yourself a favor and read Twilight at Monticello.

9. Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals

Cover image of "Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals"

As anyone who has been to Monticello can attest, Thomas Jefferson was a gifted architect. In her book, Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals, Mabel O. Wilson takes a closer look at Jefferson’s architectural legacy.

Wilson argues that Jefferson’s use of Palladian models reflected his belief in democracy and the need for citizens to be able to participate in the public sphere. However, Wilson also notes that Jefferson’s ideal of democratic participation was often at odds with his more private, aristocratic impulses. This tension is evident in Jefferson’s architecture, which sometimes incorporates classic Palladian features and sometimes departs from them in favor of more vernacular designs.

Ultimately, Wilson’s entry into the canon of Thomas Jefferson books provides a nuanced and fascinating portrait of an American icon.

10. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

Cover image  of "Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings: An American Controversy," one of the best Thomas Jefferson biographies

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy is a book by Annette Gordon-Reed that explores the controversy surrounding the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

Gorden-Reed uses DNA evidence, historical documents, and interviews with Hemings’ descendants to argue that Jefferson was likely the father of Hemings’ children. On one hand, Gordon-Reed writes to prove once and for all that the liaison between Hemings and Jefferson took place.

On the other, she was writing to finally give the story a fair hearing. For over a century, historians and authors bent over backwards to ‘prove’ the Jefferson-Hemings relationship didn’t happen. Gordon-Reed put this to rest once and for all.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings remains an important work on an American controversy

11. The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson

Cover image of "The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson"

The Road to Monticello is one of the most comprehensive and insightful Thomas Jefferson books ever written and a true front runner for best Thomas Jefferson biography.

Author Kevin J. Hayes covers every aspect of Jefferson’s life, from his early childhood to his days as President of the United States, and how his love of books followed him all the way. By exploring Jefferson’s literary fascinations, Hayes details how he formed his thoughts on government, philosophy, and more.

With possibly the largest library in colonial America, Jefferson’s love of books and knowledge led to pioneer many fields. He was an architect, philosopher, statesman, and scientist. In The Road to Monticello, we get to see how Jefferson became the thinker he was.

For anyone interested in learning more about one of the most important figures in American history, The Road to Monticello is essential reading.

Why Read a Thomas Jefferson Biography?

Thomas Jefferson is a seminal figure in American history. As a founding father he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, an envoy to France, and wartime governor of Virignia. Following the Revolutionary War, he served as the Secretary of State under George Washington, then the vice president under John Adams, before becoming the third president. From the vaunted office, he continued to shape American history with the Louisiana Purchase.

But Jefferson was no saint. He was a lifelong slave owner and, as the work of many historians has made clear, he frequently abused and sexually assaulted the enslaved persons at Monticello.

For me, this is why reading about the man and his legacy are so important. Jefferson’s actions highlight the best and worst of the United States, from 1776 to today. One the one hand, you have the enlightened philosopher who wrote the words “All men are created equal.” On the other, you had a slave owner, committed to the inequitable status quo.

This is one of the legacies of America, one that can be overcome with knowledge of our multifaceted history.

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