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Published two months ago, “The Jeffersonians: The Visionary Presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe” is Kevin Gutzman’s most recent book. Gutzman is a professor of history at Western Connecticut State University. He has written several books including two on the U.S. Constitution and biographies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Given its title (and the publisher’s marketing materials) I expected this book would adroitly review the executive tenures of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe and demonstrate how each of their presidencies were…visionary.

But rather than providing a perspective on how their six consecutive terms were uncommonly ambitious or forward-thinking, the dense 510 page narrative was surprisingly unrevealing and disappointingly dry. In addition, the book’s natural audience is a mystery; the narrative presumes too much background knowledge for the general reader but fails to provide the provocative propositions that would tempt someone with significant presidential proficiency.

The narrative begins abruptly as Jefferson is informed of his election to the presidency and ends just after Monroe’s second term is completed. Each of the three main characters receives nearly equal attention but none of the three are meaningfully introduced to the reader and their relationships with each other are largely unexplored. And other than a brief blurb on the dust-jacket cover, it is never clear why Gutzman has chosen to focus on these three presidents…or how he perceives they are uniquely connected.

“The Jeffersonians” is organized into three “Parts” – one for each presidency. But the seventy chapters that comprise the book are untitled and include neither introductions nor conclusions to highlight important themes or messages. Context and an appreciation for the “big picture” are notably missing. And if there is an overarching thesis the author intends to convey, it proves remarkably elusive.

Rather than treating readers to a captivating review of three “visionary” presidencies this book exudes the literary warmth of a collection of transcripts from a graduate level history course. And although it does contain moments of insight and wisdom, the book’s narrative requires far more fortitude and perseverance than many readers will find they possess.

Overall, Kevin Gutzman’s “The Jeffersonians: The Visionary Presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe” falls far short of its full potential. It is a fact-dense but often tedious summary of three presidencies with almost none of the interesting texture or connective tissue that would bring its characters to life or support the premise its title seems to promise.

Overall Rating: “Unrated” as Biography