Biography views Jefferson through written word
ALUMNI | Many books have been written about the events in the life of Thomas Jefferson, as the author of the Declaration of Independence and a Founding Father and president of the United States, but Kevin J. Hayes, AS ’91PhD, has taken a different approach in his book, The Road to Monticello, The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson, published by the Oxford University Press.
Hayes, a professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma, writes that his purpose is to “study what Thomas Jefferson read and what he wrote to show how the written word shaped his life.” He views Jefferson through his literary and intellectual interests, which in turn had a profound effect on his thinking and writing. According to Hayes, “though there have been dozens of Jefferson biographies, remarkably, there has never been a literary biography until now.”
The late J.A. Leo Lemay, Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Professor of English at UD, wrote about The Road to Monticello, “The world’s leading expert on the book culture of early America, Kevin J. Hayes, brings an unsurpassed knowledge and sensitivity to the story of Thomas Jefferson’s life of the mind. Incorporating much exciting new information, Hayes’s biography makes a major contribution to scholarship, but it also appeals to general readers. The Road to Monticello is intellectual biography in the grand manner.”
The reviewer in Publishers Weekly wrote, “Hayes...takes us through Jefferson’s hugely wide and eclectic reading with an ease and lightness often missing from a subject central to American history.”
Jefferson’s love of books was paramount in his life, according to Hayes. When he was American minister to France, one of his chief pleasures was exploring the bookstalls and bookshops in Paris. When he left the presidency, Jefferson sent four trunks of books, which with other packages of books weighed two and a half tons, to Monticello.
In his summation, Hayes writes, “What Jefferson wrote more than 200 years ago lives on today....The powerful words of Thomas Jefferson created a nation and pointed the world toward democracy.”
Hayes also is the author of A Colonial Woman’s Bookshelf, Melville’s Folk Roots, An American Cycling Odyssey, 1887 and Poe and the Printed Word.