1 September 2021 Susannah

Meet A Book Addict – Thomas Jefferson

An exhibit featuring Thomas Jefferson's library

Some Presidents of the USA have written books, others have been keen readers and posted blogs about their favourite books, and others have probably rarely read a book at all (I doubt that Donald Trump ever spent much time turning the pages of any book). However, one of them was an amazing book collector – President Thomas Jefferson, who once stated, “I cannot live without books”. Books were his education and his well-being. During the American Revolution, and then his time in France as a United States Minister, he acquired thousands of books for his home, Monticello.

Jefferson built up such a huge collection that, after the Library of Congress’s collection was destroyed in the War of 1814, he sold his own collection in 1815. Congress had to pay $23,950 for it, and then Jefferson immediately began collecting again, but that second collection had to be sold at auction in 1827 to help pay his debts.

Sadly, another fire in 1851 destroyed about two thirds of the 6,487 volumes that had belonged to Jefferson. However, his collection helped to shape and make America.

He collected books on a great variety of topics, from beekeeping, whist, philosophy, history, the classical world, inventions, law, architecture, trade, dictionaries, mathematics, even a copy of the Koran.

In 2008 Jefferson’s library was recreated for an exhibit that was intended to be temporary, but it proved so popular with the public that the Library of Congress made it permanent. Rare book experts scoured shops to source the books that Jefferson once owned (there are still about 300 books missing, and these may never be found). And of course, some of his books are on display at Monticello today.

I would have loved to discuss books with Thomas Jefferson, he sounds like a man of diverse interests. What do you think? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- An exhibit featuring Thomas Jefferson’s library in the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, public domain by Smash the Iron Cage, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39802961
Body image credit- Portrait of Thomas Jefferson in his late 50s, by Rembrandt Peale, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72792044

Comments (2)

  1. John Power

    Personally, I prefer Benjamin Franklin, who is also well worth study in regard to writing. I am not keen on Jefferson’s relationship with slavery, even in death, and several of his ideas seem superficial to me. Franklin was fun.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I don’t know a lot about Benjamin Franklin, but he does sound like a real character. Yes, Jefferson’s record on slavery and getting his slave mistress pregnant is not good! But the love of books is a somewhat redeeming feature.

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