After Christopher Hitchens’ death, I promised myself I would read something by him. I’d heard how eloquent he was and I’ve always been fascinated with his outlook on life. Even though I disagree with much of his politics (he’s a communist and atheist), I figured a portrait on a Jefferson would be a safe read. This tiny book is well worth the time. Hitchens, always unique, sometimes loquacious (I’m picking up his big words), provides unique insights into the life and thought of Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson was quite independent as a Founding Father and Hitchens is quick to point this out. His love of France and their Revolution is probably surpassed in America only by Thomas Paine’s. Going beyond pure facts, Hitchens explains his intellectual development over time, through two revolutions and three presidencies. He also portrays a President who was more complex than the modern libertarian admirers would like to admit. The whole chapter on the triumphs of his presidency (and they were impressive feats) was an explanation of things Jeffersonian purest would fear. Nevertheless, Hitchens is quick to use the benefit of 200 years of history to his advantage and support these moves, e.g. Louisiana Purchase.
The main problem I have, which I should have expected from Hitchens, is his constant insistence on describing how Jefferson was basically an atheist. I get it Christopher, you hated God. I don’t need to hear it on over and over again vicariously through Jefferson. The interjections splattered throughout the book add little to the flow of the book or understand of the man.
But since I wanted to learn more about Jefferson and read one of the great writers of the last 50 years, the book was a success for me. 3 of 5 stars.