Mouldering on the Shelves

These are capsules of books I read in 1999. Comments? Mail me.

Mouldering on the Shelves:

Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom

I wouldn't have read Tuesdays with Morrie based on its press. I had avoided the book after seeing so many blurbs from the self-help gurus on advertisements for it. I thought it would be another touchy-feely, New Age, look-at-all-we've-learned-about-life hugfest. Chicken Soup for the Dying Soul. Bleah.

Fortunately for me, a friend bought it for me for Christmas, and once I own it, I basically have to read it. The plot's very simple: a young man visits an old professor who's dying of Lou Gerhig's disease every week and describes their conversations.

I'm much the richer for having read it. Albom isn't preaching to some New Age choir here; he's telling the simple, honest story of his last few weeks with a professor who touched him in college. Albom isn't a wise man from the mountain, he's a real human being who's made some good and bad choices in his life, and had the good sense to listen when someone he respected had a few more things to tell him. Better than that, he's gifted the rest of us with this simple, sincere memoir.

Albom writes simply and with feeling. He's also brutally honest about everything. In fact, if I were only allowed one adjective to describe the book, "honest" is the one I would use. Albom doesn't pretend he's better than he is. He doesn't pretend that Morrie is better than he is (although admittedly he's an inspiring person). He doesn't pretend that his friend's death has unlocked the keys to the universe. He tells the real human story of their reunion with sensitivity and honesty.

I'm afraid that this review sounds too sappy, too. If it does, ignore it. The book is excellent; read it even if you normally wouldn't.

A must.

Peanuts: A Golden Celebration, Charles Schultz

There is some information about the legendary comic strip in here, most of which can be found in more depth elsewhere. Mostly this is a great sampling of 50 years of Charles Schultz's incredible comic strip. If you've somehow missed Peanuts, read this sampler and you'll need to read more. Otherwise, enjoy beautiful reproductions of all your friends.

Highly Recommended.

A Trip Down the Graphics Pipeline and Dirty Pixels, Jim Blinn

If you've ever been wowed by the NASA animations of the 80's you're already a fan of Jim Blinn's work. He's one of the most respected computer graphicists in the world, and helped create the fascinating applied science that it is. These books are collections of his columns that appeared in IEEE Graphics and Applications.

They're technical. Delightfully so. There are derivations and matrices and all sorts of delightful stuff. More importantly there's Blinn's rational, hackerish, voice to guide you through the work.

I've only skimmed them - that is to say read them through once without a pencil in hand. I'm sure I'll return to them when I take some time to play with more graphics. They're a delight. But, they're something of a specialized delight. To really enjoy them you need to take an understand a Computer Graphics class - or at least do a little 3d rendering on your own. But if you do, and enjoy it, you must own these books.

Recommended (after you take the prerequisites).

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace

Burrows and Wallace's sprawling history of the liveliest city in America was an excellent read. Chock full of facts and tales about how NYC became so much larger than life, it's also kind of a disturbing cautionary tale in these times. When I read recent history, and let's face it, for this discussion all American history is recent, I'm amazed how little has changed.

The story of New York is largely the story of Wall Street (or the city's merchants in the absence of the actual street). Sure there's culture, ethics, art, and politics but mostly they follow the cues of prosperity. And reading about the many dips in the Wall Street cycle caused by over-speculation doesn't fill me with faith for the current boom.

However if there's one lesson to be drawn, it's that people survive, so I suppose the outlook's ultimately hopeful.

I didn't say much about the book: it's a well written account of the city that for the times in question, embodied a lot of America.

Highly Recommended.

Drink A Social History of America, Andrew Barr

Barr's discussion of drinking in American life is as much a pro-wine polemic as it is a discussion of the historical role of drinking. He touches on topics ranging from the role of women in the temperance movement to the culture of victimhood and alcoholism as a disease.

The book is well written and interesting. He presents a lot of topics to think about, and you're a calm person if you don't want to hurl it across the room once.


Amsterdam, Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan has written a technically strong novel that did not engage me emotionally at all. Amsterdam is a perfect example of how intangibles make or break a novel. Looking at the structure and execution of the work, I can't find any faults. The shape is sound, the writing is excellent, there's even a twist ending. But ultimately, I just never care about McEwan's characters, and because of that all of his skill at manipulating them leaves me unmoved.

Amsterdam never started me moving.

Just Checking scenes from the life of an obsessive-compulsive, Emily Colas

So what does it mean if you read an obsessive-compulsive's memoir in (basically) one sitting? In this case it means that Emily Colas has written an excellent book. It's structured as a series of connected, very short scenes (the whole book is only 37400 words) describing her life as an OCD sufferer and her eventual decision to go on medication. Along the way she confronts issues about honesty and responsibility and family life, but always under the shadow of OCD. The fact that her problems didn't disappear when her obsessions waned is particularly honest.

She writes simply, conversationally, and well. The short episodes make it hard to put down. You keep thinking that you can have just one more chip and then put it down. If it weren't for the frontispieces between parts, I really would have read it in one sitting.


A Widow for One Year, John Irving

A Widow for One Year is a novel about writers. It's also a John Irving novel, so Widow never becomes an exercise in navel-gazing, either. The narrative is crisp and the characters enjoyable, and, as the dedication indicates, it's a love story.

Like all Irving novels, what strikes me is how extraordinarily well crafted it is. Themes grow and twine effortlessly, symbols appear and gain weight, characters reveal new aspects. And the plot even moves.

Widow is the kind of book that is enjoyable while you're reading it, and that I'll keep thinking about over time. His small community of writers who speak to each other more through their work than face to face, the enduring nature of sexual habits and how to change them, and the proper proportions of experience and imagination in the recipe for a novel are fun concepts to play with. Irving has a good time exploring them, and it's fun to follow him.

Irving is one of my favorite novelists, and Widow is a worthy addition to his works.


The Jefferson Bible, Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson, never a man to dream small dreams, produced an edited version of the Bible, titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. It's very much an Enlightenment thinker's version of the Bible, celebrating the teachings of Jesus the man while avoiding any indication that he was more than an inspired man.

The idea is an interesting one, but as a narrative, it isn't exactly gripping. It is a novel experience to consider Christ as a teacher rather than as infallible, but because I'm pretty much an Atheist, not that shocking. Still, there is good advice in here.

Evening, Susan Minot

A novel set on the protagonist's deathbed does not suggest a page turner, but Minot puts together a book which never loses this reader's interest. About half the book is spent in flashback, the most vivid of which is the retelling of an intense weekend love affair that impressed itself into the psyche of our heroine, Ann, even when she had driven it from her memory. Although the weekend is full of excitement, the reader's interest is not captured by its plot as much as by Ann's surprisingly strong voice. The outcome of the affair, like the deathbed, is not in doubt, but Ann's thoughts and reactions during both are captivating.

The work is well structured, with themes in the flashback reinforced unobtrusively by occurrences in the present. By the end of the book, Minot has given the reader both an interesting read and many deeper things to contemplate.

It's a languid book that keeps you in the present of the narrative, even as it reminds you that the concept of the present is tenuous. After all, the present that the reader becomes rooted in is a flashback in a dying woman's mind. Many themes related to the reality of memory and time are deftly handled. The relativity of memory and love are given equal treatment.


Six Not-So-Easy Pieces, Richard Feynman

This, like Six Easy Pieces, is a collection from the Feyman Lectures on Physics, this time aimed at explaining Einstein's Special and General Relativity. Unsurprisingly, the collection is very illuminating.

More than Six Easy Pieces, Six Not-So-Easy Pieces gave me an insight into what made Feyman such a good teacher: he has a knack for showing the student familiar concepts in a new light, which then can help one understand new concepts. I'm very familiar with vector notation, and was tempted to skip the first lecture on them. I'm glad I didn't, because Feyman brought out ideas behind vectors that were instrumental in understanding the later more difficult topics. He showed me a new way to use a hammer.

I won't say that these lectures have given me a perfect understanding of Relativity, but I will say that I understand more than I did before I read them, and I think I would understand still more after rereading them.

Recommended, with a caveat: there is some math in here, and even if you don't have to solve the equations to get something out of the text, mathematical intuition helps a great deal.

The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage

Standage tells the story of the telegraph system clearly and sharply, and it's quite an interesting tale. He makes the case that the revolution caused by the introduction of the telegraph was larger than that created by the recent popularization of the Internet. He's actually got a good case. The Internet vastly increases accessibility of information, but the telegraph was the first mechanism that allowed information to outstrip physical transfer methods. The changes to society were enormous, and the further changes wrought by the Internet can almost be seen as extrapolations.

Standage starts with a description of the invention of the French optical telegraph, which is optical in the sense of humans observing semaphores, not fiber optics. He continues with the invention and popularization of the electric telegraph in England and America, tracing the similar but distinct paths there. Along the way he touches on the effects on operators, lovers, and con men. It's a fascinating book, and although there are aspects of the Internet that are not perfect parallels to the telegraph system, the number of similarities is striking.

The book is a delightful discussion of the ways the beginnings of the telecommunications revolution changed society 150 years ago, and is worth reading even if you have no interest in the Internet. If you're an Internet geek like me, it's also interesting in its cautionary tales. And, hey, Vint Cerf has a blurb on the back.

Strongly Recommended.

Prize Stories 1998 The O. Henry Awards, edited by Larry Dark

Any collection of stories are going to produce some that resonate with the reader and some that don't. This collection of prize winners has a high hit ratio. The top three were certainly strong, and all worth reading, but some of the others paid unexpected dividends. Thom Jones's Tarantula shows the dangers of fighting City Hall, or at least high school custodians. Peter Ho Davies's Relief meditates on courage and maturity as a result of a prosaic and inspired incident. Anne Proulx's Brokeback Mountain explores rough territory that's only peripherally related to the Wild West.

Those were my favorites, and if you like short stories at all, you'll find a couple that you like in here, too.


Surfacing, Margaret Atwood

Reading Margaret Atwood immediately after reading Jane Austen is jarring to say the least. Where I find Austen tied to a period I can't appreciate, I find Atwood's work timeless. I excuse Austen's tortured structure as a product of her times, but I find Atwood's prose poetic and rich. Austen writes books for 18th century women, Atwood write books for all humans.

Reading Surfacing is like solving a jigsaw puzzle of the Rosetta stone. It's beautiful and interesting to watch the pieces click into place to make the picture. You have to admire the skill with which the offhand image created in the early pages is reinforced seamlessly in chapters until it's grown into a theme by the book's end. More remarkable, however, is that when the last piece has dropped into place, the interlocking metaphors and images illuminate the human experience.

Surfacing uses the tight plotting of a mystery to generate tension that pulls the reader into the story until the themes of gender, childhood, authority, language, and nature begin interacting so tightly that the resulting chain reaction makes the book impossible to put down.

Even if it weren't profound, it's beautifully written. Atwood uses some unusual grammatical styling to draw the reader into the consciousness of the narrator. Her skills with the language are spectacular to behold. She captures moments in succinct phrases that few writers can equal, and her skills are particularly sharp in recreating childhood memory.

Surfacing is a great book. A must.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Before I read Pride and Prejudice, I'd only encountered Jane Austen's work in reflection, that is, in film adaptions or in the commentaries of Mark Twain. That reflected image was that the work was the literary equivalent of a chick flick, but to satisfy my curiosity about the source material, and to give my rants some kind of basis I decided I'd better actually read one.

For me, reading Pride and Prejudice was a lot like I imagine reading a Sweet Valley High romance set in Japan would be. The plot revolves largely around scheming about marriages and betrayal, and the plot turns many times on society preventing the characters from telling one another about their true feelings. To me these feel like petty issues in an alien environment.

Still, for all the impediments to my enjoyment of the story, I found myself wrapped up in the plot, and several times surprised by the twists. Although the characters were somewhat one-sided, they were memorable and interesting enough.

Ultimately, I find the work to be limited by its genre. 19th century comedies of manners aren't for me. It's difficult for me to care about whether someone is well-married or not. A whole plot arranged around that issue, or around a standard of morality that is so tightly bound to a given time period, has little chance of capturing my attention. If they have a shot at capturing yours, Pride and Prejudice is a strong work in that genre.

The Signet Classic Book of Mark Twain's Short Stories, Mark Twain, edited by Justin Kaplan

I'm a big fan of Mark Twain. I have to be. He's buried in my home town, so we're all forced to love him early on. Surprisingly, I find I enjoy his writing even after such a forced diet.

As with most of the great authors, a capsule isn't going to cover the work in any real way. Kaplan has picked a well-rounded set of stories, some of which are wildly humorous, some heartbreakingly sad. They give a feel for how Twain's work changed through his life, and a good taste of why he's worth reading. Especially check out "Political Economy," and "The Belated Russian Passport."

Recommended if you're willing to read late 1800's writing.

Eat the Rich, P. J. O'Rourke

My favorite conservative writer sets out to figure out why some nations are rich, and some are poor. Economics always sounds like a dry subject until you start arguing about it, and with a writer as entertaining and outspoken as P. J., the arguing starts quickly.

It is a P. J. O'Rourke book, so much of the content consists of case studies, meaning that P. J. flew to the country in question, poked around, did a little research, and summarizes humorously. What's less expected is that he's done some of his economics homework, and is an excellent instructor on the topic. I think he's finally convinced me that the multiplier effect is not just some mathematical sleight of hand. (I shouldn't be surprised, I know he's a good writer and a smart fellow, but I didn't plan to come away with new ideas about economics from the book. That'll teach me.)

Eat the Rich is fun to read, and informative as well.


Phantoms in the Brain, V. S. Ramachandran, M.D., Ph.D and Sandra Blakeslee

Ramachandran's book discusses some of the most interesting ideas in modern neurology. He believes that most philosophical questions about perception can eventually be answered by empirical study on the brain, based on some of his experiences with patients. Much neurological research consists of working with such patients, because in them doctors have a chance to identify functional parts of the brain by their absence and tie them to the damaged tissue.

The book is pretty speculative, but I think that people working in the field have to be. By it's nature, it's hard to do experiments with large numbers; you can't identically disable thousands of people's visual cortexes to experiment on them. Still some of the leaps seem to carry further than I'd take them. But again, I'm neither a neurologist nor a visionary, and Ramachandran is careful to say when he's speculating.

The style is accessible, but you can occasionally see the strings of collaboration. Some of the metaphors don't sound like the ones that the clinician would use. None of them are wrong or difficult to follow, but they seem somewhat disconnected. Also several arguments and analogies are represented as new in different chapters. None of this disturbs the flow of the book, really, but the inconsistencies are a little distracting. Importantly, the book can be read and understood by non-neurologists.

Ultimately the book leaves you with some marvelous facts, and some thorny issues to ponder. Because Ramachandran is careful to note the speculative nature of his study, the reader can consider the techniques used to arrive at the book as well as the ideas on the brain presented therein.


The Man Who Loved Only Numbers The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth, Paul Hoffman

Hoffman's biography of Erdos does a fine job of illuminating a unique man in a field that summons the unusual. Erdos was one of the greatest mathematicians of the age, and quite an entertaining character to boot.

As fascinating as Erdos was, and as well as Hoffman captures him, that's only half the reason to read this book. Like Erdos, Hoffman proves to be quite a cheerleader for mathematics itself, capturing the beauty and challenges that led Erdos to dedicate his life monomaniacally to it. It's a remarkable achievement to include Cantor's proof that the cardinality of the Reals is larger than the cardinality of the Integers so that the the proof is comprehensible and more importantly the reader is interested in why it is true and what it means. Hoffman claims he's not a mathematician, but this work does a great service both to the field, and to Erdos who spent his life serving the same mistress.

Strongly Recommended.

The Professor and the Madman A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, Simon Winchester

The creation of the OED, one of the great undertakings of the last 200 years in any field, is really the star of Winchester's accessible work. Any project as monumental as this one, with thousands of volunteers working for decades in painstaking research, great stories are inevitable. Winchester has picked one of the greatest ones and illuminated the project by telling it.

His slightly stuffy tone might be adopted by one of the Oxford Delegates that he obviously respects. It helps draw the reader into the text, though, like Santa Claus narrating a Christmas story. His vocabulary seems to stretch a bit in an apparent bid to send the reader to the OED occasionally. Still, the work is very approachable and interesting. It would definitely be ideal to curl up with before a fire on a cool night.


Courtesans And Fishcakes The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens, James Davidson

This was a real find. I bought it from my book club on a whim, half convinced that it would be a cute version of history so dumbed down as to be inaccessible, like Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Davidson is a first-rate scholar who has researched the earthy side of ancient Athens's culture meticulously. Equally refreshing is his serious tone. Athenians' drinking and sexual habits are not repeated for lurid effect or titillation, but studied with a learned, unflinching eye. The resulting work illuminates not only the life of Athens, but our own society's attitudes on the topics gentlemen don't discuss, but should.

Unfortunately, Davidson assumes that the reader has a certain familiarity with Greek culture and history that, frankly, I don't have. I'm certain that I would have gotten even more out of the work if my background in Greek history were better. However, the book is valuable, if a bit dense, even without the background.

Thought-provoking and interesting, but consider an Ancient Grecian warm-up first.

Why Not Me? Al Franken

Franken's chronology of his fictional campaign for the Presidency and his short tenure in the job is a fun, quick read. Franken balances the humor between the broad shenanigans of his amoral campaign team and political asides and in-jokes that Washington insiders will particularly enjoy. I'm not enough of a wonk to fully appreciate all the bits, but the satire is broad enough to be enjoyed by anyone who can tell George Bush from Bill Clinton.

Good Stuff.

Sherman A Soldier's Passion for Order, John F. Marszalek

Marszalek does a good job with a difficult case in his biography of Sherman. I picked this up primarily because I found Sherman to be one of the more interesting characters in the epic Civil War, and I was curious what happened to him before and after it. Marszalek's enjoyable and well-researched book fills in all the holes.

Sherman was certainly a product of his times, and a knot of contradictions that not even a hundred years of hindsight can fully untie. The man who came to be known as the destroyer of the South actually had close ties there before and after the war. He fought a long but tender engagement with his wife for most of his life, disagreeing with her on most particulars of their shared life, and yet sharing it completely. He freed thousands of Blacks from bondage, and yet was firmly convinced of the race's inferiority. He was a charismatic man who eschewed politics.

Marszalek shows all these sides of a complex and very human being who became a symbol of the power of the Union's might. I think he works a little too hard at trying to explain all of Sherman's actions in terms of motivations from being orphaned at an early age, but the work remains interesting and informative throughout. It's certainly part of the historian's work to try to place lives in perspective, but I think he ties things up a bit too neatly.

Good stuff if you care about Sherman.

Reconstruction America's Unfinished Revolution, Eric Foner

Foner's study of the Reconstruction is a balanced account of a tumultuous time in American history. Most Civil War histories end with a cheer for emancipation and a wistful longing for how Lincoln might have handled Reconstruction. It was edifying to read an account of the events that did occur.

To say Foner is balanced is not to say he's unbiased. The work is a revision of historical perspective on the Reconstruction, and Foner clearly thinks the nation let down its Black constituency by bungling the effort. It is balanced in that he is unwilling to blame any single person or faction for missing that opportunity. His version seems more plausible than the caricatures of Carpetbaggers and Redeemers that one often encounters.

The book is not a rollicking narrative, but more a considered academic appraisal. It is also copiously noted and well indexed. The preface makes his aforementioned biases explicit, and skimming it before you decide to buy the book is probably a wise move.

Recommended as a careful appraisal of a difficult time.

The Bible According To Mark Twain, Mark Twain, edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCulloch

I thought I could rant until I read this collection of Twain's lesser known works on biblical topics. Most have Twain's characteristic mix of charm and cynicism, and all are interesting and fun to read. Letters From The Earth, his last serious work, is a full-on rant. Letters is unfinished, and if Twain ever intended to publish it, he would certainly have needed to soften it up considerably. As it stands, it is an eloquent condemnation of a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, and of many aspects of western civilization in general. For example, It is delightful to hear Twain justify harems of men on the basis of men's biological inability to have intercourse as often or as enjoyably as women. It's not what one would expect from "America's best-loved humorist."

Baetzhold and McCulloch are scholars and their presentation includes interesting introductions to each work, including an anecdote about Mark Twain trying to get a statue of Adam erected in Elmira, NY, my home town. Elmira aside, their introductions are informative and enhance the work. For the serious scholar, planning notes, alternate versions and other unpublished bits are also includes as appendices.

Recommended if you don't mind challenging your assumptions on religion or Mark Twain.

Filth, Irvine Welsh

The first half of Welsh's Filth seems like a headlong pointless rush into depravity. If you're going to take such a slide, Welsh is the man to follow in. He writes with a razor sharp intensity, and with the touches that make you feel that he's not making it all up. He's no stranger to the seedy side of Edinburgh, and quite the verbal tour guide.

Filth is more than just a True Detective shock piece. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that this isn't a mystery, because the lead investigator and one narrator of the book, Bruce Patterson (the other narrator is a tapeworm in Bruce's intestine), isn't searching for clues regarding the murder that starts the book. It isn't a static character piece, either, because cracks are beginning to show in that character. It is both a puzzle and a character piece in which the very point of the exercise is unclear until near the end.

Once it all came together, I wondered how I'd missed so many clues. I also saw Irvine's keen eye for satire and symbolism ran deeper than I had thought. Between the difficulty of picking through the Scots dialect and the perversity of its protagonist, Filth can be a difficult read. It pays off in the end.

Recommended, if you have the ear and the stomach for it.

Naked, David Sedaris

Naked isn't strictly a memoir, but has the feel of one. This collection of David Sedaris's essays consists primarily of personal essays about incidents in his youth. They are all in the first person giving us a veiled look at Sedaris himself, a self-professed wise-ass, who at least writes as if he understands and cares about the human condition.

The essays themselves are lively, comical, and affecting. Sedaris turns a phrase beautifully and has keen timing and descriptive prowess. He has led a life full of exciting moments, and describes them unflinchingly and wittily.

Particularly moving are "I Like Guys," about growing up homosexual among boys, "Dinah, The Christmas Whore," an oddly engaging Christmas story, and "Ashes" about his mother's illness. All of the essays are worth a read, but I'll remember those.

Strongly recommended.

A Monk Swimming, Malachy McCourt

This memoir is spectacular. Malachy takes an unflinching look at his life in the late 50's and early 60's when he was very much the talk of New York City, while simultaneously failing as a father and husband due to his alcoholism. That synopsis sounds trite and boring, but this book is anything but.

McCourt spins a tale like the classic Irish Bards he so reveres, while remaining unflinchingly honest about himself. The result is a work rich with laughter and pathos. It is a brilliant depiction of a defining period of a remarkable life.

A must.

The Civil War An Illustrated History, Geoffrey C. Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns

The Ward and Burns treatment of the Civil War is an excellent excursion. They do a great job of capturing the scale of the seminal event in American history without bogging themselves down in details.

The work was obviously developed simultaneously with their critically-acclaimed documentary on the same topic. The result is plenty of sidebars and pictures to round out the text. This allows them to touch on intriguing aspects of the conflict that are difficult to place into the direct narrative. The text is relatively short, but the pictures are often worth a couple chapters apiece.

This work is obviously not as deep an investigation as Shelby Foote's, but Ward, Burns, and Burns do an excellent job of portraying both the mythic scale of events and the effect on the everyday citizens and soldiers. If your knowledge of the Civil War is spotty, this short, engaging history is a great way to explore it.

Strongly Recommended.

Blind Man's Bluff The Untold Story of Submarine Espionage, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew with Annette Lawrence Drew

Sontag and the Drew's Blind Man's Bluff is an engaging exploration of in interesting topic: submarine espionage in the Cold War. Their descriptions of the exploits of the legitimately daring captains and crews of these vessels are riveting and are told with the lively style of fiction. With their credentials as investigative reporters, we also have some assurances that they've got their facts straight as well. The book is written so well that even people who read little history will enjoy it.

Importantly, they don't ignore the moral ambiguity of their protagonists exploits. Although the questions of right and wrong don't have center stage for long, they certainly aren't disregarded.


In Pursuit of Reason The Life of Thomas Jefferson, Noble E. Cunningham, Jr.

Back to history. This biography of Jefferson was a Christmas gift that I'm quite enjoying. Unlike American Sphinx, this is a true biography, tracing Jefferson's life in toto, rather than concentrating on a few key periods. For me, the result is a new appreciation for how full a life Jefferson had.

Jefferson's a man of contradictions, and a good object lesson in the toll that public service can take on one's principles. He's a good example of how to keep the most important of those principles intact while facing real obstacles.

Cunningham's work is a solid overview of Jefferson's life. Good Stuff.

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