3 out of 4 stars
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Kemmer Anderson is a poet devoted to the study of Milton, Galileo, and Thucydides. In his book Milton at Monticello: Thomas Jefferson's Reading of John Milton, he explores how Milton's poetry and prose impacted Thomas Jefferson. Anderson uses works like Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes to explore Jefferson's personality and politics. Anderson also relates Milton's works to issues in modern America and Lyndon Johnson.
The best aspect of Anderson's book is how developed his points are. Rather than writing solely about what connections he has found between Milton and Jefferson, Anderson references other historians and philosophers like Hannah Arendt, Aristotle, and Michel Foucault. Arendt's definition of tyranny brings new layers to Milton's Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and to Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. I liked seeing what connections between Milton and Jefferson other academics found and how Anderson's approach differed.
Another great aspect of this book is Anderson's reference to the works of Homer and Virgil. A chapter on the relationship between Thomas and Martha Jefferson describes Odysseus's descent into the underworld and Aeneas's memories of his wife Creusa. These details almost transform Jefferson himself into a mythical figure. I enjoyed reading about the relationship between the marriages in Virgil's Aeneid, Jefferson's life, and Milton's Paradise Lost. Though the rest of Jefferson's romantic life was uncomfortable to read about, I am glad Anderson includes these facts.
The only part of the book I didn't enjoy was Anderson's use of equations and mathematical objects as metaphors. He begins the second chapter by proposing that if "the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and the Declaration of Independence were an equation, then certain elements in this political word problem would have to be factored out. The variable elements of this hypothetical calculus depend on the time and distance of these human events as well as the purpose of each document" (Anderson 14%). Factoring out terms in an equation is not a form of calculus. These metaphors distract from his point and confuse the audience.
Ultimately, I would give Anderson's Milton at Monticello: Thomas Jefferson's Reading of John Milton 3 out of 4 stars. Anderson proposes very interesting ideas about poetry and politics, though there are some errors with his book. There are some typos, grammatical issues, and phrasing problems. I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in American history or English literature. Those who haven't read anything by Homer, Virgil, or Milton should probably skip this one. There is some borderline profanity, as Milton writes about where Satan fell. Anderson glosses over Jefferson's liaison with Sally Hemings, so there is very light sexual content.
Milton at Monticello: Thomas Jefferson's Reading of John Milton
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