Product Added : December 31st, 2012
Category : Books
"This Best Selling Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power Tends to SELL OUT VERY FAST! If this is a MUST HAVE product, be sure to Order Now to avoid disappointment!"
In this magnificent biography, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston brings vividly to life an extraordinary man and his remarkable times. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power gives us Jefferson the politician and president, a great and complex human being forever engaged in the wars of his era. Philosophers think; politicians maneuver. Jefferson’s genius was that he was both and could do both, often simultaneously. Such is the art of power.
Thomas Jefferson hated confrontation, and yet his understanding of power and of human nature enabled him to move men and to marshal ideas, to learn from his mistakes, and to prevail. Passionate about many things—women, his family, books, science, architecture, gardens, friends, Monticello, and Paris—Jefferson loved America most, and he strove over and over again, despite fierce opposition, to realize his vision: the creation, survival, and success of popular government in America. Jon Meacham lets us see Jefferson’s world as Jefferson himself saw it, and to appreciate how Jefferson found the means to endure and win in the face of rife partisan division, economic uncertainty, and external threat. Drawing on archives in the United States, England, and France, as well as unpublished Jefferson presidential papers, Meacham presents Jefferson as the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American history.
The father of the ideal of individual liberty, of the Louisiana Purchase, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and of the settling of the West, Jefferson recognized that the genius of humanity—and the genius of the new nation—lay in the possibility of progress, of discovering the undiscovered and seeking the unknown. From the writing of the Declaration of Independence to elegant dinners in Paris and in the President’s House; from political maneuverings in the boardinghouses and legislative halls of Philadelphia and New York to the infant capital on the Potomac; from his complicated life at Monticello, his breathtaking house and plantation in Virginia, to the creation of the University of Virginia, Jefferson was central to the age. Here too is the personal Jefferson, a man of appetite, sensuality, and passion.
The Jefferson story resonates today not least because he led his nation through ferocious partisanship and cultural warfare amid economic change and external threats, and also because he embodies an eternal drama, the struggle of the leadership of a nation to achieve greatness in a difficult and confounding world.
Advance praise for Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“Jon Meacham resolves the bundle of contradictions that was Thomas Jefferson by probing his love of progress and thirst for power. This is a thrilling and affecting portrait of our first philosopher-politician.”—Stacy Schiff
“This terrific book allows us to see the political genius of Thomas Jefferson better than we have ever seen it before. In these endlessly fascinating pages, Jefferson emerges with such vitality that it seems as if he might still be alive today.”—Doris Kearns Goodwin
I’ve read a couple books on Thomas Jefferson in the past. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History to name a couple. Up until this newest book by Jon Meacham, I though that the essential character of Jefferson was essentially unknowable, a man of contradictions and hiddenness. Yet, Meacham manages, in his large but fascinating and quick read, to illuminate Jefferson through a new pair of eyes: that of his leadership. In doing so, we meet a new Jefferson, sometimes wily, always intelligent, always forward thinking.
Jon Meacham wrote one of my favorite books, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, which I’ve read at least twice and listened to on my iPod while running each summer. Meacham has a way of writing his history that manages to avoid the endless onslaught of names and trivial facts, and truly centers on the person. By doing so, he creates a momentum in his writing that’s compelling and hard to put down.
Meacham’s unique spin on Jefferson (if spin is the right word …. more of a focus) is how he developed his leadership and vision for America. This focus causes Meacham to rush in his writing through Jefferson’s early years (before you know it, he’s attending the second Continental Congress) and getting him to the national stage as quickly as possible, which was refreshening and never abrupt. He paints some familiar portraits of Jefferson, that of a hard working student in Williamsburg, a devoted husband (before being a bit of a scalawag in the wooing of women), and that of a slave owner who knew his status was wrong and failed to do anything about it.
Because of this, Jefferson comes alive in his pages. While not overtly revelatory, the book manages to be revelatory because you feel, after reading it, that you know better this sphinx of a man. The challenge of any historian is trying to make a subject that many people have written about new; authors of Washington and Lincoln biographies suffer the same fate. Because of the strength of Meacham’s writing style, though, and the speed in which you can devour the pages, Jefferson is illuminated.
If you haven’t read any book on Jefferson, this should be your initial entry into his world. It will be a journey, much like that of Jefferson and his wife as they traveled up the steep mountain of Monticello after they were married, which promises to bring much joy and excitement as you discover this man. And for those of you, like myself, who know a little of his story, it’s still well worth your time.
I’ll admit to being a Jefferson fan. His vision is what led me to UVa, and his depth and breadth of knowledge and experience still astounds me. Truly a renaissance man who seemed to master most of what he attempted – languages, science, music, politics, and a man of stark contradictions. A man who owned slaves and yet campaigned to free them. A man who enjoyed political power but despised face to face confrontations. This book captures this man, and I think does an excellent job developing a focal point to use to understand Jefferson, his contributions and his flaws.
Meacham uses one “prism” to evaluate Jefferson’s life – the acquisition and use of power to achieve Jefferson’s vision and aims. While this is nominally a biography, the depth of the book lies in examining how and when Jefferson acquired and used power to achieve his aims. While I had hoped to read more about the University of Virginia, I knew the book wouldn’t spend much time on it, and it didn’t. The vast majority of the book is spent examining the unfolding disagreement between the Federalists, primarily in New England, who sought closer relationship with England and rule by the privileged and the few, and the Democrats, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic and South, who worked for individual democracy. It came as a surprise to me to learn that several times the Northeastern states contemplated secession over the style of government. This is little reported in US history.
Jefferson felt that the Revolution was fought to free the Americans to pursue individual freedoms, individual liberty which could only result from participative democracy. Many of the Federalists believed that the average citizen could not participate in government effectively and wanted a privileged ruling class. The battles fought during the end of Washington’s presidency and John Adam’s presidency were over this issue. When Jefferson won the presidency he used “Hamiltonian means to Jeffersonian ends” to quote the author. Jefferson actually strengthened the office of the presidency through the acquisition of Louisiana and many other actions that true “democrats” of his time felt left more power in the state than necessary. But, of the two visions – Federalist or Democratic – Jefferson clearly won and influenced the politics of the country for another half century. Many of his counterparts or followers became president (Madison, Monroe, Jackson) and this democratic vision defined the country at least until the Civil War.
Other reviewers have written about the gaps in the biography – not enough about Jefferson’s slave holdings, not enough about his education and early childhood, not enough about his development of UVa. But those are incidental to the book Meacham set out to write. While they are part of Jefferson’s life, they are not necessarily about his acquisition and use of political power to achieve his vision. When looked at in this context, the book is well-researched and very complete.
The one item that’s missing for me is the “why” – why Jefferson, a relatively wealthy man, a slave holder, an admirer of French and the aristocracy over the English – would come to champion individual liberty and democracy. Yes, he was influenced by Hume, Locke and others, but that still doesn’t explain the flash of insight that became such a compelling cause. Jefferson was surrounded by people who constantly failed – several sons and sons-in-law who were drunkards, bankrupts. He himself was a terrible manager of money. Yet he felt certain that the best government was the one that allows everyone, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, to participate in and to choose their leaders. What did he see, what did he believe about individual rights, freedom and the common good that led him to believe this English “rabble” could form a better government? Where those beliefs come from is still a bit of a mystery. Just as well, because he’s been called a Sphinx, and often held contradictory beliefs. Perhaps we’ll never really know what drove him, but The Art of Power goes a long way to explaining what he did and why he did what he did in the interest of his vision and the use of power.
Thomas Jefferson has been historically well served by biographers. Dumas Malone’s classic 6 volume biography Jefferson the Virginian, vol. 1 (Jefferson & His Time (University of Virginia Press)), which won the Pulitzer Prize, is the towering achievement to which all subsequent biographies have been compared. Malone’s expansive exegesis of Jefferson’s career and thought is definitely a product of a more innocent time. There is no mention of his relationship with Sally Hemings, Malone having dismissed even the possibility of such a relationship given the “lofty” persona of his subject. America’s recent political history has injected a significant dose of cynicism into our view of political leaders, making Malone’s denial of the relationship seem quaint if not utterly myopic. But in matters of Jefferson’s political and intellectual growth, the Malone biography is unsurpassed in its depth and analysis. If you are interested in Jefferson the political philosopher and revolutionary child of the Enlightenment, the 6 volume Malone biography is indispensable.
Jon Meacham, an editor at Time magazine, has written a one volume biography of Jefferson that in its language and point of view is representative of the writing that appears in that magazine. It is essentially a popular biography: relatively light on in-depth analysis but clear and well written in a gripping narrative style. Meacham focuses on Jefferson’s political maturation and the important external events that swirled around Jefferson as he navigated the difficult shoals of a turbulent era. Meacham considers Jefferson’s hunger for the acquisition of power, and his single-minded pursuit of learning the skills necessary for successfully mastering the exigencies of its use, to be his defining characteristics. He organizes his biography accordingly, and one can follow Jefferson’s growth as a political leader while being only dimly aware of the nature of his intellectual maturation.
Meacham’s assumptions about Jefferson’s motivations for seeking power are the major factor in the biography’s point of view. He focuses on the life and death political struggle between Jefferson, the finest exponent of a smaller, agrarian American nation, and the Federalists led by Hamilton. The Hamiltonians fought to lay the foundation for a potent Capitalist economic engine as elucidated in 1776 by Adam Smith in his seminal Wealth of Nations. In essence, the young American nation was asked to choose between competing visions: Hamilton’s dream of an economic empire vs. Jefferson’s “Empire of Freedom”. These visions retain their relevance for today’s difficult political choices. Meacham sacrifices some analytic depth in order to infuse his narrative with a novelistic intensity. When the material turns to Jefferson’s personal affairs, Meacham provides the three dimensional life and honesty that eluded Malone. It is obvious that the two biographies are complementary and make fascinating concurrent reading.
This is a fine popular biography that explores those aspects of Jefferson’s personality which have often been described as enigmatic. The idealist who penned the stirring credo “All men are created equal” was a large slave-holder who never saw fit to free his slaves. As a result of promising his dying wife that he would never remarry, Jefferson placed her slave half-sister Sally Hemings in a role whose sexual nature can only be described as a disturbing abuse of power, yet on his deathbed kept his promise to free her and their putative children. It was a promise that Jefferson made in order to entice Hemings to forgo the freedom of Paris and return with him to slave-holding Virginia, with its mandatory return of Hemings to that status. One senses a profound ambivalence towards the entire slavery issue in the breast of this quintessential 18th Century man of the Enlightenment. Meacham successfully creates a flesh and blood portrait of Jefferson that always holds one’s interest, while simultaneously planting the seeds for a desire to learn more. That is not an insignificant achievement. You will enjoy this excellent biography while hungering for ever more information about America’s most fascinating founding father.
Though history interests me, I am no historian. Most of the reviews about Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, are written by students of the period. It’s enlightening to read them. They see faults in the book, which I could not detect.
What a pleasure it was to read this book! It feels like a well-written novel. The sentence structure is readable and the characterization is excellent. Topics of many biographies interest me. But inevitably I bog down in the terrible writing that seems endemic to them and fail to finish them.
Like most educated Americans, I know quite a bit about the American Revolution and a little about the struggles to create a government afterward. This book revealed to me how much I didn’t know! I read it just after the 2012 Presidential election. I am amazed that the reasons for the struggles between Hamilton and Jefferson still cause dissension among us.
Jefferson was clearly a genius. His breadth and depth of thought are staggering. I have been privileged to know a few geniuses. Usually they find it hard to relate to ordinary people. Most settle into a difficult, obscure field where they work happily among other very bright people and make important discoveries. In contrast, Jefferson used his genius to learn how to relate to all kinds of people and to influence politicians to solve their problems. In hindsight, Jefferson’s vision of a United States shaped by all the people seems almost trite. In the 21st century people in every country in the world seem to want some version of this. But in Jefferson’s time, no country in the world had such a system. So Jefferson can be credited, not only for inspiring our present form of government, but also to be a continuing influence on governmental change throughout the world!
Jefferson’s relationship to slavery should make us examine ourselves. His intellect told him it should be abolished. But his self-interest warred with that. This is not unusual. I imagine most people have experienced such conflicts regarding other issues. For example, older people, like me, know that educating the young is important. But we live on fixed incomes. When deciding whether to vote for increased taxes for education, we face a difficult choice. We know we should vote for the increase but we often act in our own self-interest. Meacham tells us that Jefferson twice tried to free slaves. But, when there was no political will to do it, he retreated to his self-interest.
The technical details of whether Sally Hemmings (3/4 white) was or was not Jefferson’s mistress are beyond me. But, if Jefferson did have such a relationship, it was because he was honorable. When his beloved wife was dying, he promised he would never remarry. Sally was present when he made the promise. His brief affair in France seemed almost to violate that promise. It may have forced him to realize he was not a monk and needed a sexual outlet. Sally would have understood why that couldn’t be a wife. For her the relationship had advantages for both her and her children.
I highly recommend this book for people like me – those who need good writing in order to stick with a long, erudite book, want to learn more about the intellectual foundations of our country, and are interested in learning about a brilliant, amazing man.
*This review is part of an ongoing series for the Presidents Project found in its entirety at [...]
1. Date published- Released in late 2012, Meacham’s book is the most recent biography on Jefferson and maybe the most recent substantial work on any president to date. If one is attempting to emphasize recent works this is ideal. The result is an updated perspective on the life of Jefferson. The most important aspect is that Meacham’s book updates the way we view Jefferson. For example, an overwhelming amount of Jefferson scholars throughout the 20th century slanted toward a southern narrative that seemed to downplay and, in Randall’s case, discount the reality of Jefferson’s slavery life. He did indeed have children with Sally Hemmings and Meacham deftly puts that fact into perspective despite centuries of perspective. Meacham gives an updated take on the Jefferson Presidency especially the 1807 Embargo which has largely escaped criticism in other Jefferson works. There will come a time when Meacham and/or his characterization of Jefferson itself becomes dated but for now it is as fresh and as fair of a perspective as this project can get.
2. Scope- The scope of the work is a quickened yet comprehensive life of Jefferson. It would be exceedingly splitting hairs to point out spots of his life that Meacham did not cover. As compared to the less recent work from Randall, the pre-presidency is given a solid look and recanted at a complete but brisk pace. Perhaps one cannot have a perfect scope of Jefferson as his accomplishments in every aspect of his life could in itself become a thrilling narrative about early America. For a work of slightly over 500 pages, a fifth is dedicated to his presidency, a solid portion of a full life of public service. Particularly interesting is that the two Jefferson biographies in this project lack the scope when it comes to his retirement. Any University of Virginia student could inform you that a biography of Jefferson must include the fitting capstone in his career. In Meacham’s book it tarnishes an otherwise solid scope.
3. Author-Jon Meacham is a well decorated writer who has multiple credits such as Newsweek, Time Magazine, and Executive Vice President of Random House. He is also a Pulitzer Prize winning author for his biography on Andrew Jackson in 2008. This book characteristically does not show signs of a journalist. This is only his second biography after the well received work on Jackson which will appear later in this project. Meacham has shown again that he can rapidly and thoroughly cover his subject. His admiration for Jefferson is abundantly clear but his overt approval of his actions at times distracts from the objectivity.
4. Length-At over 500 pages, there is no mistaking that this should be taken as a short biography. There is no aspect of Jefferson’s life that is left uncovered. The length may be deceptive to a reader eager to delve deeply and completely into the rapid events covered in the book. For most US Presidents this work could have been covered in 250-300 pages but Meacham wisely goes the complete route by covering it all. The work never drags and is a quick read for any interested party and never shifts into a wonky extreme or gets too personal. However, you are reminded that the contradictions and seemingly irreconcilable faults of such a great man are not discussed at length.
5. Mission- For most of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, Jefferson was the mind and philosophical saint of the American Revolution. Despite being a slaveholder, womanizer (relatively) and otherwise flawed man, Jefferson emerged from history on Mount Rushmore. In the past generation, Jefferson has taken an awful beating and Meacham interestingly blames recent lauding of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton at the inevitable expense of Jefferson. Meacham’s mission then emerges as almost too simple. It is a steering of the ship back to the accomplishments of Jefferson. It is told through the ways he wielded and attained power and how his whole life simmered down to that ideal. The result is a focused and at times narrowed mission to right the ship, admit faults and attempt to pick up a tarnished Jefferson back to greatness. Meacham comes close but the cat is already out of the bag. Adams always feared that history would sweep him under the rug. Now that he is re-emerging it is only works such as Meacham’s that can keep Jefferson on the pedestal.