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Commonwealth Books of Virginia
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Where History, Philosophy And Art Meet
Where History, Philosophy And Art Meet

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A reader of James Thompson's newest book says, "I like the way James Thompson handles Jefferson without diminishing him. He makes the point that his level of political thinking was not as deep as France's philosophes. But, hey, American were "rustics" by comparison."

Commonwealth Books of Virginia will release the paperback edition of "Thomas Jefferson's Enlightenment - Background Notes", on November 20. Ebook editions will follow.

In seventeen crisp essays, James Thomson introduces readers to 18th century France and its capital city. He describes the idea men who enlightened France and initiated the reform movement Thomas Jefferson joined in 1787. He explains how Pierre Cabanis enlightened the aspiring American diplomat, the contributions Jefferson made to reforming France, and what went wrong in Jefferson’s famous attempt to reason philosophically.

In a closing essay, the author reconstructs the two hundred year process in which Jefferson's admirers and scholarly Jeffersonians have transformed an historically important person into a monumental symbol. Mr. Thompson argues that the time has come for Thomas Jefferson to become a real person again and for histories to explain what people in the past thought they were doing, not what commentators today think they should have been doing. 

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The following is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of “Thomas Jefferson's Enlightenment Background Note.” The title of the chapter is "Jefferson's Paris". In it, author James Thompson describes the city Jefferson as it had developed when Jefferson lived there (from August 1784 through September 1789) and notable places Jefferson visited during his residence in the city. The excerpt reads as follows: “Two years before Jefferson arrived in France, Louis XVI authorized the directors of his tax agency to erect yet another barrier. Unlike its predecessors, the Wall of the Farmers-General was not intended as a system of defense. It was meant to facilitate the collection of public revenue. Construction of this cloture began shortly after Jefferson took up residence at the Hôtel Landron in October of 1784. What Jefferson referred to as a “wall of circumvallation” was to consist of sixteen elegant toll-collection stations situated between the city’s forty-seven “gates”. Had it been completed, this barrier would have doubled the size of the city to approximately 3440 hectares, thirteen square English miles. Viewed on a map, the Wall of the Farmers-General looks something like an egg. This egg was bisected on its North-South axis by two conjoining avenues—rue Saint Martin meets rue Saint Jacques at the Seine. It was bisected on its East-West axis by a sequence of three avenues: rue de Roule on the west, rue Saint-Honoré in the center, and rue Saint Antoine on the right. The oldest part of Paris lies near the intersection of the two axes. When Jefferson arrived, Ile de la Cite was home to the city’s court system and its Bureau of Police. Le Palais de Justice occupied the western end of the island. “The mother of the church of France” occupied its eastern end. Adjacent to the Cathedral of Notre Dame was the Hôtel Dieu, the city’s oldest hospital. In 1702, Louis XIV divided his capital into twenty quartiers. This plan was not amended until the eve of the Revolution when it was updated to facilitate the nomination and election of deputies to the Estates-General. The city was then repartitioned into sixty districts. (The year after Jefferson’s departure, the city was redistricted into forty-eight sections. In 1795, these sections were consolidated into the first twelve of the city’s current arrondissements.) Le Quartier Ile de la Cite was the first of Louis XIV’s twenty quartiers. During Jefferson’s time, it was ringed by eleven faubourgs. The word “faubourg” is derived from the Latin words foris burgem, which means "outside the city”. Eight of these faubourgs lay on the north side of the Seine. The remaining three were its south side. The city’s northwestern quadrant included Faubourg de Saint Honoré, Faubourg de Le Roule, Faubourg de Montmartre, Faubourg de Poinsoniere, and Faubourg de Saint Denis. Its northeastern quadrant included Faubourg de Saint Martin, Faubourg de Temple, and Faubourg de Saint Antoine. Its southeastern quadrant contained Faubourg de Saint Jacques and Faubourg de Saint Marcel. Its southwestern quadrant consisted of Faubourg de Saint Germain. Like most other high-ranking government officials and foreign dignitaries, Jefferson chose to live in the city’s northwestern sector. During the two decades preceding Jefferson’s arrival, much of the open ground in the northern tier of this sector was developed—both of Jefferson’s Parisian residences were built during this period. Hôtel Landron on cul de sac Taitbout was built on the northern edge of what had been Louis XIII’s wall. Hôtel Langeac on the Champs Elysees was built on the western edge of this barrier. Construction on Hôtel Langeac began in 1768 and was completed around 1780. Jefferson relocated there on 17 October 1785. He maintained his residence there until departing for home in August 1789.” The book will be in available in paperback and popular ebook formats. Both editions should be available in early November.

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Author Helen Roberts Thomas's recently published memoir, "In the Valley of the Yangtze - Stories from an American Childhood in China," has received a very favorable review. Midwest Book Review says: In the Valley of the Yangtze Helen Roberts Thomas with Katherine P. Granfield Commonwealth Books 9780985486327 $17.95 http://omkt.co/AABrk5 "In the Valley of the Yangtze is the memoir of author Helen Roberts Thomas, born on Chinese soil to American Episcopal missionaries. In the first part of the 20th century, she grew up amid a Yangtze Valley community of educators, missionaries, doctors, and technical and military advisors to the Chinese government. Black-and-white photographs on nearly every page illustrate this fascinating story of life between two cultures, as well as the rigors of family rivalry and coming of age. In the Valley of the Yangtze is also an expression of love for China itself; Helen Thomas carries the deepest respect and admiration for the land and its people. As enrapturing as it is enlightening, In the Valley of the Yangtze is highly recommended." Paperback and ebook editions are available at Commonwealth Books of Virginia and through most popular online booksellers.

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Author James Thompson thinks there is a better way to become acquainted with history. He thinks we should participate in. In his recent book, "Thomas Jefferson's Enlightenment - Paris 1785," he put his readers in the company of jefferson and his friend, Pierre Cabanis, as they tour the French capital in the summer of 1785. In this short tape, the author explains the importance of being there. People who lived in earlier centuries, Thompson explains, did not think like we do today. If we want to understand them - the things they did - we have to become familiar with their optics. Take five and listen to this -

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Commonwealth Books of Virginia....Where History, Philosophy and Art Meet. See all book descriptions at http://www.commonwealthbooks.org/collections/all
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2014-10-08
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Commonwealth Books of Virginia Author Evelyn Swensson spoke at Walnut St. Labs about her book "Notes, My Life with Music"

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Author James Thompson, speaking at the Virginia Historical Society on September 11th, comments on the men who led the French Enlightenment and the enlightened French men and women who helped Thomas Jefferson transform into a progressive political activist. Thompson's full presentation can be seen on UTube. 

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Commonwealth Books of Virginia is pleased to announce the forthcoming release of an e-book edition of "The Birth of Virginia's Aristocracy" by James C. Thompson.

In his revised electronic text of his 2010 paperback, James Thompson examines the Jamestown “adventure” and discerns two fundamental principles of society: 1) economic factors determine the fate of a society, and 2) when civil societies grow, they divide into political factions and fall into conflict. Thompson views the society that formed in 17th century Virginia as a paradigm, which illustrates how diversifying personal and economic interests generate social conflict.
In this famous instance, Thompson explains, how a few scoundrels made themselves into a social upper crust that ruled the Old Dominion for over two centuries.

The author notes in his introduction that he is a philosopher, not an historian. The significance of his training becomes apparent in his analysis, which contrasts the ingenious vision of society framed by the Virginia Company's London director, Sir Edwin Sandys, with the social theories of political philosophers Thomas Hobbs and John Locke. Sandys' "commonwealth", Thompson contents, was more realistic and therefore more useful than his successors' social contracts. The commonwealth created in colonial Virginia was a dynamic economic system. Hobbes and Locke's contractarian systems were static theoretical organisms that individuals created to preserve themselves.

James Thompson has applied the laws of society from his first book in subsequent discussions of Man in Society. "The Dubious Achievement of the 1st Continental Congress" was published by Commonwealth Books of Virginia in 2011. " Thomas Jefferson's Enlightenment - Paris 1785", also published by Commonwealth Books of Virginia, was released earlier this year. "Thomas Jefferson’s Enlightenment – Background Notes" will be released this fall. "The First Revolutions in the Minds of the People" is being prepared for publication this winter. Information about these books and other Commonwealth Books titles can be found http://omkt.co/AABmUP.

Mr. Thompson holds degrees in Philosophy from the University of Virginia. He completed his research on "The Birth of Virginia's Aristocracy" as a Battin Fellow at Monticello.

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