Jefferson's Shadow


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The Story of His Science

Keith Thomson

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A unique account of Thomas Jefferson's passion for science, the influence of science on his vision for America, and the amazing extent of his scientific contributions

In the voluminous literature on Thomas Jefferson, little has been written about his passionate interest in science. This new and original study of Jefferson presents him as a consummate intellectual whose view of science was central to both his public and his private life. Keith Thomson reintroduces us in this remarkable book to Jefferson's eighteenth-century world and reveals the extent to which Jefferson used science, thought about it, and contributed to it, becoming in his time a leading American scientific intellectual.

With a storyteller's gift, Thomson shows us a new side of Jefferson. He answers an intriguing series of questions—How was Jefferson's view of the sciences reflected in his political philosophy and his vision of America's future? How did science intersect with his religion? Did he make any original contributions to scientific knowledge?—and illuminates the particulars of Jefferson's scientific endeavors. Thomson discusses Jefferson's theories that have withstood the test of time, his interest in the practical applications of science to societal problems, his leadership in the use of scientific methods in agriculture, and his contributions toward launching at least four sciences in America: geography, paleontology, climatology, and scientific archaeology. A set of delightful illustrations, including some of Jefferson's own sketches and inventions, completes this impressively researched book.

Keith Thomson is executive officer at the American Philosophical Society and professor emeritus of natural history at the University of Oxford.

“Thomson is most effective at explaining what is different or the same about eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century scientific knowledge and what we know now. He is able to make the present-day reader understand what was commonly known and what was novel about the conversations in which Jefferson took part."—Susan Kern, author of The Jeffersons at Shadwell

"...An excellent book on a neglected topic, a fine addition to the existing literature, and a credit to Yale's excellent eighteenth-century list."—Frank Cogliano, University of Edinburgh

“This is the most authoritative book published to date on the subject of Jefferson and Science. It is comprehensive in its treatment of his wide range of scientific interests.  It importantly demonstrates the depth of his knowledge and investigation, which were not amateurish or dilettantish.”—Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, author of An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean and The Men Who Lost America

"Keith Thomson's engrossing, learned, and beautifully written new book offers a fresh portrait of the Sage of Monticello, showing how Jefferson found happiness in his scientific pursuits. Thomson illuminates the flaws and limits of Jefferson's science, but the sympathetic image that emerges from Jefferson's Shadow is one Jefferson himself would recognize."—Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia

“A bright, brisk assessment of the scientific interests and contributions of the Sage of Monticello . . . lucid and concise.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Architect, philosopher, critic of slavery, slave-owner; the contradictions of American ‘founding father’ Thomas Jefferson are well known. That he was a scientist is not. Natural historian Keith Thomson redresses the balance in this finely wrought biography."—Nature

“A refreshing, wise, far-ranging inquiry”—Peter M. Gianotti, Newsday

“Comprehensive [and] readable.”—A. Sidney Barritt, Roanoke Times 
ISBN: 9780300205930
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
336 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
12 b/w illus.
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