When asked to look back on some of the most well-known and famous presidents of the United States, the third president Thomas Jefferson is often one of the first to come to mind. Thomas Jefferson served as president between the years 1801 to 1809, and before that, served a term as the Vice President. While he was known for this, he holds even higher esteem in history books as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
What are the Best Thomas Jefferson Books to read?
There are some common facts known about Thomas Jefferson in this way, but much like any renowned historical figure, there are little details about his life, work and strategies that remain unknown. Books about Thomas Jefferson have been printed again and again, each with its own bits of knowledge to take away. When it comes to finding the book on Thomas Jefferson that will interest you most, there are a few things to take into consideration.
No matter what sort of issues surrounding Jefferson pique your interests, there is a book out there for you, and this Thomas Jefferson buying guide will help you find it. With these books, you can uncover the truth in the myths surrounding him and understand some of the most important facts about the Founding Father himself.
Best Books on Thomas Jefferson: Our Top 20 Picks
Here are some of the best Thomas Jefferson books that you can consider to expand your knowledge on the subject:
1. Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History
During the time that Thomas Jefferson started his presidency in the year 1801, the brand new nation of America was already in deep debt and was in need of a swiftly growing economy. To make matters worse, its merchant ships were constantly under siege by pirate ships from North Africa that regularly kidnapped American sailors and took them as slaves and hostages, demanding ransoms higher than what the budding nation could afford to pay.
Because Jefferson found it next to impossible to negotiate with these pirates who showed little mercy for religious reasons, he moved past diplomacy, sending warships to fend off the Tripoli pirates and ultimately taking the first strides of America’s journey toward becoming a future superpower.
All of this is detailed in the book through exciting chapters that document events like cannon battles on the sea, night raids of enemy harbors and General Eaton’s 500-mile journey to the port of Derna from Egypt where, after a surprise attack, the American flag stood victorious on foreign land for the very first time.
- Authors: Brian Kilmeade (Author), Don Yaeger (Author)
- Publisher: Sentinel; Illustrated Edition (October 24, 2017)
- Pages: 304 pages
2. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
From Pulitzer prize winning author Jon Meacham comes Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, an in-depth biography of Thomas Jefferson that deals with the man’s time on Earth in vivid detail, chronicling him through his extraordinary life and all of the feats that came with him. The book shows Thomas Jefferson as a complex and compelling man who spend his life engaged in wars, blending his philosophical mind with the skill of a politician to help get America off on the right foot to becoming what it is today.
This biography takes a deeper look at Jefferson as we know him today, showing the inner workings of his mind and his understanding of human nature and humanity as a whole, approaching the difficult tasks of the president of a fledgling nation while touching on his passions that included books, family, architecture, gardens, Paris and even women, painting a wholly human picture of the Founding Father.
- Authors: Jon Meacham (Author)
- Publisher: Random House; Illustrated Edition (November 13, 2012)
- Pages: 800 pages
3. The Jefferson Bible
Thomas Jefferson was famous for and talked about for many reasons, and perhaps one of the most peculiar was the fact that he essentially rewrote the Christian bible. In the book, you can see for yourself the man’s take on the bible itself, as even though he was not a devout Christian, still found himself inspired by some of the passages and uncomfortable with some of the others and sought to make it his own.
The Jefferson Bible is full of the words, passages and ideas that Jefferson believed to be the most important, writing in bits that resonated with him and leaving out things that didn’t. This is the original Government Printing Office 1904 edition of his version of the bible, the same one presented to members of Congress with its original Cyrus Adler introduction intact.
- Authors: Thomas Jefferson (Author), Cyrus Adler (Introduction)
- Publisher: Digireads.com (December 3, 2009)
- Pages: 72 pages
4. The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson
Perhaps the most controversial book about Thomas Jefferson, the book is a highly argued-over book that underwent campaigns to stop its publication. Thought of as perhaps the very first history book to ever make history, this book tackled all of the various misconceptions about what had once been the beloved Founding Father and sought to shine light on the truths of his character. Cutting through the struggle of having the pages pulled from shelves, the book tears through the layers of political correctness that sought to change the image of the former president, deconstructing all of the myths surrounding the man and leaving in its wake information given through Jefferson’s own words and accounts from his close contemporaries at the time.
The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths answers questions about the rumors of his fathering a slave’s child, as well as potential racist ideologies and the idea that he even rewrote the bible to suit his beliefs.
- Authors: David Barton (Author)
- Publisher: WND Books; Reprint Edition (January 12, 2016)
- Pages: 416 pages
5. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives)
Social critic and journalist Christopher Hitchens authors Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, a book that offers a provocative and brand new take on one of the most famous of the Founding Fathers of the United States. This biography takes a look at the author of the formative Declaration of Independence, given immense power through the creation of the document and as the ambassador to France when, really, all he wanted was a smaller, quieter place in the Virginia legislature.
The book explores the contrast present between Jefferson being an awkward public speaker but a masterful writer, showing his personality in a new light. The contrast continues in the way that he opposed slavery but still owned his own slaves. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America will surely give you an insight into the life and times of Jefferson in a way you’ve never before seen.
- Authors: Christopher Hitchens (Author)
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Illustrated Edition (May 5, 2009)
- Pages: 206 pages
6. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
Anyone who has taken a few basic history classes knows the basics of Thomas Jefferson, including his role as a Founding Father and President of the United States; however, much like every human being, his life extended well past what he did for a living. Even for a man who did not want to live his life on the public stage, much of what he did was ultimately turned into a public affair. With so much information surrounding the life and times of Thomas Jefferson, the author of American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson delves into the rumors, facts, accounts and tales of him to give an insight into the mind of Thomas Jefferson himself.
In this book, you can learn little-known facts about him, like the fact that he only delivered two public speeches in his eight years serving, to smaller facts like he liked to constantly sing under his breath.
- Authors: Joseph J. Ellis (Author)
- Publisher: Vintage Books (April 7, 1998)
- Pages: 440 pages
7. Thomas Jefferson Reprint Edition
Taking cues from the concise and straightforward epitaph on Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone, the Thomas Jefferson biography by R. B. Bernstein is just as straightforward and short, giving you an unbiased view of the Founding Father in a way that seeks to educate in a simple way. Between the covers of Thomas Jefferson, you will find all of Jefferson’s failings, triumphs and many contradictions spelled out that leave him as one of the most discussed people in history.
The book explores everything from his passionate belief in and desire to uphold democracy while also arguing toward reasons why slavery should still be permitted to his complicated relationship with Sally Hemings. More than just a Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson was an inventor, diplomat, architect, writer and more, and you’ll learn about all of his many roles in this biography.
- Authors: R. B. Bernstein (Author)
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Illustrated Edition (September 15, 2005)
- Pages: 253 pages
8. Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson
A principle author of the Declaration of Independence and one of America’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson is known as a main proponent of democracy and republicanism that drives the nation today. In Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, you will learn about his passion for individual rights and his efforts toward helping the fledgling nation continue to break away from Great Britain to become their own entity.
The book explores his brief time practicing law and defending slaves to his representation in the American Revolution and his anonymous publications that sought to embolden those looking to strengthen states’ rights as he was so passionate about doing. Follow along with Jefferson’s timeline where he organized the Louisiana Purchase and fought off pirates while trying to work out the British trade policies and see why he is one of the most talked about historical figures to this day.
- Authors: Thomas Jefferson (Author)
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 6, 2017)
- Pages: 98 pages
9. The Real Thomas Jefferson (American Classic Series)
One of the most central and important actors in America’s history and democracy, it would stand to reason that Thomas Jefferson is one of the most heavily discussed and debated historical figures in American history. In The Real Thomas Jefferson, you can get a clear and concise look at who Thomas Jefferson was as a person outside of just his political career.
Over the years, he has been both deified and vilified by authors and historians with different motivations. Author Andrew M. Allison takes an unbiased, facts-based look at the former president, using Jefferson’s own words to describe his life to allow his own spirit to shine through history instead of the biases of historians so you can form your own understanding of who the Founding Father as was a person, according to him.
- Authors: Andrew M. Allison (Author)
- Publisher: National Center for Constitutional Studies; 2nd Edition (June 1, 1983)
- Pages: 709 pages
10. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy
One of the most controversial and debated topics surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s life is the rumor that he was involved with Sally Hemings, one of his own slaves. In Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, you can learn about all of the compelling arguments toward this purported relationship as well as the many inconsistencies within the stories, leaving you the ability to come to your own conclusions about this heavily debated topic.
The story begins in the early 1800’s and debunks the story from there with historians and scholars having their ideas challenged by biographers who heavily studied Jefferson’s character, beliefs and overall life long enough to give them substantial evidence against the claim. This telling and personal book takes a peek into the controversial topic in a way you’ve never read about it before.
- Authors: Annette Gordon-Reed (Author)
- Publisher: University of Virginia Press; Updated ed. Edition (March 29, 1998)
- Pages: 320 pages
11. A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century
For educators in a professional and homeschooling environment alike, A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century is a book that will help you learn how to best teach your students through tried and true methods that have been proven to work.
The book takes a new approach to education thought to be the Thomas Jefferson approach that will help you craft an individualized leadership-based education plan by showing you the way that the greatest thinkers and leaders in history were taught to get your students in the right state of mind as they take in new information. Also detailed is the manner in which these men and women were educated and able to produce lasting impacts and effects on the country that are still felt today.
- Authors: Oliver DeMille (Author)
- Publisher: TJEdOnline.com; First Paperback Edition (September 1, 2009)
- Pages: 198 pages
12. Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson compares and contrasts two of the prominent Founding Fathers and showcases all of the ways that they were different, both in their upbringing and in their differences in temperaments and ideals. Jefferson, a southern slave owner, has been painted as an optimist that had plenty of faith in the goodness present in people which could fuel their democracy, while Adam was a New England-born overachiever from the middle class that was skeptic about most people and held a rather elitist style review about government as a whole.
Though they worked closely together during the difficult times, their differences were too profound to ever truly come together, leaving them to hold interesting arguments against one another’s beliefs while at the same time rising to the top as figureheads for the budding political parties in America.
- Authors: Gordon S. Wood (Author)
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint Edition (October 23, 2018)
- Pages: 512 pages
13. The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams
Take a peek into the minds of two prominent founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, in The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams. In this compilation are numerous back and forth letters that show the high-minded, intellectual conversations between the two men spanning over half a century that offer insight into the type of thought processes that helped build the nation.
Between the pages are conversations of religion, government, philosophy and even deeply human and personal topics such as griefs and joys surrounding their respective families. The book features letters that were previously unpublished in other similar compilations, helping fill in the gaps and give you a clearer look at the exchanges between these two influential leaders up until the days of their deaths.
- Authors: Lester J. Cappon (Editor)
- Publisher: University of North Carolina Press; 1st Edition (September 30, 1988)
- Pages: 690 pages
14. Thomas Jefferson : Writings : Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters (Library of America
One of the best ways to get to know historical figures is through the terms of their own words and ideas, written out by the men and women themselves, and in Thomas Jefferson : Writings : Autobiography/Notes on the State of Virginia/Public and Private Papers/Addresses/Letters, you get a firsthand look at the inner workings of Thomas Jefferson, one of the most famous Founding Fathers of America.
In between the pages of this book, you are given access to more than 287 letters as well as addresses to the public and both the original and the revised drafts of the Declaration of Independence—giving you plenty of insight into the way this great leader once thought and seeing how his various thought processes culminated in the ultimate success of his goals that are still felt today.
- Authors: Thomas Jefferson (Author), Merrill D. Peterson (Editor)
- Publisher: Library of America (August 15, 1984)
- Pages: 1600 pages
15. Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty
In Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty, John B. Boles has taken on the ambitious endeavor of creating the most comprehensive biography of one of the nation’s most complex and hotly debated Founding Fathers. In the book, the author explores every available access to Thomas Jefferson’s life, taking note of even the smallest details all while keeping him appropriately situated against the remarkable levels of chaos and upheaval in his times to keep everything in perspective.
Through this book, you’ll meet Thomas Jefferson in his various forms, including Jefferson the scientist, architect, musician, gourmet chef and bibliophile to the more famous parts of him such as his status as the author of the Declaration of Independence, his part in the Louisiana Purchase and the way he worked hard for states’ rights.
- Authors: John B. Boles (Author)
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1st Edition (April 25, 2017)
- Pages: 640 pages
16. Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History
Through the educated eyes of a novelist who has been studying Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History is a biography that tackles the many issues and thought processes that will help you understand the Founding Father through an unbiased scholarly lens. This book highlights different parts of his life, including the more famous aspects such as the writing of the Declaration of Independence, his ideas on revolution, race, love, religion and power, giving a comprehensive look at who he was as a person, not just as a political, revolutionary figurehead.
This novel also features a new introduction by the Pulitzer-Prize winning author Annette Gordo-Reed who talks about the impact of this book and why it is one of the most accurate and powerful accounts of what is arguably one of the greatest presidents of this country.
- Authors: Fawn M. Brodie (Author), Annette Gordon-Reed (Introduction)
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated Edition (September 6, 2010)
- Pages: 624 pages
17. Notes on the State of Virginia (Penguin Classics)
Understand the history of Thomas Jefferson through his own eyes in Notes on the State of Virginia authored by the man himself. In this book, you will learn about the time period through the words of Thomas Jefferson as he chronicles the social, political and natural history, giving you a look into the past from his perspective. Notes on the State of Virginia offers a unique look at what defines America as well as the Founding Father’s examination of what it really means to have freedom.
It is published by Penguin Classics, a renowned publisher with integrity and a history of publishing English-speaking classic literature. They work once again to provide you with authoritative texts that censor nothing and offer you notes and introductions that will help you further understand what you’re reading without interrupting the author.
- Authors: Thomas Jefferson (Author), Frank Shuffelton (Editor)
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Annotated Edition (December 1, 1998)
- Pages: 384 pages
18. Thomas Jefferson’s Education
While Thomas Jefferson was a famously complex man, there are usually only a select few themes that are explored when it comes to his life. In Thomas Jefferson’s Education, you can read directly about the historical events that led up to the eventual creation of his historic university and what sort of social climate this institution was built in.
While following the path to its creation, the book keeps you enveloped in the planters experiencing a decline in their business, the trials and tragedies of enslaved black families that were ripped apart by their sales, and the interesting intricacies of male honor. It includes the way he advocated for overall emancipation of slaves while being reluctant to give up his own and the way that he hypocritically supported education for white children but eventually just worked toward building this rather elite university.
- Authors: Alan Taylor (Author)
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated Edition (October 15, 2019)
- Pages: 448 pages
19. Thomas Jefferson: The American Presidents Series: The 3rd President, 1801-1809
It is believed that very few presidents have been as impactful as Thomas Jefferson both during the times he was alive and in the decades following. In Thomas Jefferson: The American Presidents Series, you can explore all of the reasons that he is considered to have been one of the greatest embodiments of the American spirit.
Being the originator of various principles that were crucial to the founding of American democracy, his ideals are ones that still ripple through time and reach us in the modern age, making them an important point of study for anyone interested in modern politics, such as his introduction of bills that mandated free public education and the separation of church and state. Follow along with the compelling words of historian Joyce Appleby as she examines all of the aspects of Jefferson’s character and life in an impactful new way.
- Authors: Joyce Appleby (Author), Arthur M. Schlesinger (Editor)
- Publisher: Times Books; First Edition (February 1, 2003)
- Pages: 184 pages
20. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson Library Edition – Vol. 6 (of 20)
Commonly believed to be one of the finest, most compelling thinkers and activists in history, Thomas Jefferson, one of the most prominent founding fathers, is a topic of limitless interest, debate, and controversy. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson Library Edition is the sixth volume in a 20 volume continuation that breaks down all of the interesting aspects of his life for you to digest and ponder.
In this particular volume, you can learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s inner workings through the thoughts and ideas of the man himself delivered on a firsthand account through various mediums such as many of his letters and addresses that were written in the mid 1780s, as well as two biographical essays that will give you a third-party view on the firsthand information you’ve read.
- Authors: Thomas Jefferson (Author), Taylor Anderson (Editor)
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 13, 2017)
- Pages: 184 pages
Choosing the Best Thomas Jefferson Books
Thomas Jefferson was a wildly complex man with inner workings every bit as interesting and compelling as the feats he performed on the public stage as the third President of the United States. Throughout the books listed here, you will learn remarkable tidbits and facts about one of the Founding Fathers, allowing you to see him in a new light not previously shone before. Each of these books presents new information on the president that will change your view of this famous president and allow you to see him for what he really was at the end of the day—a passionate human being.