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THURSDAY

“What happened at Monticello from 1826 to 1923 has been one of the best-kept secrets in the history of American preservation,” writes Marc Leepson in Saving Monticello. “Until now.” In his plodding history of Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece, Leepson sticks to a formulaic storyline that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a restoration rag such as Preservation: Architectural wonder gets built, falls into disrepair, and is saved by a dashing preservationist. Too bad the story of Monticello lacks a compelling bad guy. There is no nouveau riche developer plotting to turn Monticello into, say, a casino or a nudie camp. There is only Jefferson’s exorbitant debt, which, combined with a seemingly universal underappreciation of the property at the time, nearly damned the mansion to an insufferably boring demise. Luckily for Leepson and his readers, Monticello’s rescuers turn out to be a quirky lot. Leepson focuses his work on two Jewish Americans who became Monticello’s improbable saviors—Uriah Phillips Levy, “a colorful, brash, controversial man who was an ardent Jefferson admirer,” and his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy, “a big-time New York City lawyer, flamboyant stock speculator, real estate wheeler-dealer, and three-term U.S. congressman.” Throughout, Leepson creates a mountain of Monticello minutiae, high and dry. By the end, you’ll find yourself pining for a developer to ride in on a bulldozer and save the day. Leepson reads at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 30, at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. $8. (202) 777-3254. (Felix Gillette)