But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
A masterful presidential biography of a dynamo of force and energy and an absolute iconoclast of American politics. Morris is one of the rare breed of modern, well-published historians (Caro, Bushman, Donald, etc) who is able to easily combine the narrative grace and vivid details of popluar historians (Foote, Goodwin, Ambrose) with the scholarly analysis and weight of academia; and then does it again and again and again.
With this biography, Meacham appears to continue to float in that narrative sphere between popular journalist-historians (Alter,Woolfe) and popular academic-historians (Ellis, Kearns Goodwin, Morris). His writing most closely resembles (in many, many ways) Walter Isaacson and David McCullough. They write similar types of biographies and seem to inhabit a similar clumped intellectual range.
That said, while Meacham's style will never perfectly thrill academic historians, this biography is interesting and paced-well and shouldn't trouble too many presidential history buffs. Meacham has never had a real boat-tipping agenda with his biographies. He certainly wants to make Jefferson's life, times and experiences (told largely through secondary sources, anecdotes and at times brilliant story-telling) relevant to our current political and social setting. He did this wonderfully with FDR and Jackson and has continued his record with this excellent bio of Jefferson.
As far as narration goes, Hermann seems to have a talent for reading big books. He was blessed with one of those voices that don't make you want to drive your car off the road after listening for a couple hours straight. This quality makes him perfect for long narrative histories and biographies. He reads with clarity, but also manages to largely float behind the text. Also, his voice works well for Audible's 1.5 & 2x speed, but 3x speed was just a little much.
Not as good as Everitt's biography of Augustus, but better than his biography of Hadrian. Everitt is clearly passionate and good at classical narratives. His biographies are quick, easy, and summarize the subjects well. He doesn't add much new to the history. He isn't challenging or overthrowing assumptions about Cicero or the other major players, but he weaves a nice story and makes Classical history approachable.
Everitt does a fine job of balancing the different aspects of Cicero. His skill as an orator, his hits and misses as a politician, his defense of the Republic, his rationality all get their time and moment. Everitt also blends in Cicero's weaknesses: his vanity, his missteps/vacillation in politics, his zeal in persecuting Mark Anthony, and his cowardice.
The weakness of this biography is while Everitt might be aiming at a form of mild historical rehabilitation, I'm not sure Cicero was ever really in need of rehabilitation. While he was often unlucky during his life (unlike Julius Caesar the birds never seemed to be on Cicero's side) after his 'good death' Cicero seems to have flourished.
The volume and quality of Cicero's writings that survived the fall of Rome have made Cicero into one of the hero/gods of the Roman Republic. His genius survives. Cicero will always be known more now for what he wrote and thought than for what he did. Caesar may have been deified by decree of the Roman Senate on 1 January 42 BC, but Cicero's own writings have made him immortal. He lives on in Machiavelli, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill. As Emperor Augustus observed to one of his grandsons upon seeing him reading a book by Cicero: "An eloquent man, my child, an eloquent man, and a patriot." Not a bad epitaph from the Caesar who had you killed.