I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
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.
Our fascination with Jefferson, the "sphinx" President, is obvious in the seemingly never-ending volumes of Jefferson biographies published. D. Malone's ambitious PP winning Jefferson and His Times, (all 6 volumes) - never mentions Sally Hemings; Gordon-Reed's single volume The Hemingses of Monticello is all about Jefferon's child with Hemings - his wife's half white, slave, and half-sister; W. H. Adam writes exstensibly on Jefferson's years in Paris; R. B. Bernstein biography covers the whole man, including some of Jefferson's "ambiguous legacies". Meacham has now written what I think is one of the more readable biographies on Jefferson available, or at least the pragmatic side of this multifaceted man, with a good narrative style and an easy to listen to reading by Edward Herrmann. (*"more readable"...in so far as I have NOT read Malone's volumes, but have read the other books mentioned).
T. S. Eliot wrote, "Between conception and creation, there falls the shadow," Meacham focuses on Jefferson in that shadow -- his quest for power and discipline, and the struggle to use that power to unify a divided country and create a course for that new nation. This focus doesn't restrict Meacham, and he has adeptly editted massive amounts of information about this enigmatic man into a book that still has some new revelations, but the author does take advantage of this focus to pussy-foot around some of the more contradictory elements associated with Jefferson. There is either little written about Jefferson's philosophies and his personal conflicts, or Meacham takes the half-full approach, allowing that it takes great power to do that which is better for the whole than for oneself.
Jefferson seems to get more enigmatic with each biography published, but each adds a dimension. The Art of Power presents Jefferson in the light of our modern day; a "flawed giant" balancing politics, science and art. A very impressive and timely listen that should appeal even to those of you that have conquered Malone's 6 volumes.
I love espionage, legal, and detective thrillers but listen to most genres. Very frequent reviews. No plot spoilers! Please excuse my typos!
Let's start with narration. Edward Hermann is an outstanding narrator of both biographies and fiction. Like all narrators, he is best when the content of the book is interesting. I did not down rate his narration due to the awful writing of the book.
I really must stop purchasing books written by second-rate historian Jon Meacham. My issue is much more with his dry and boring writing style than with the contents of his biographies of historical figures. His Andrew Jackson biography was even worse than this boring tome. A great biography reads like a great story rather than a dry tome. Meacham would do well to hire a ghost writer to at least clean up the boring style of his transcripts. Or he could read and attempt to emulate David McCullough biographies of Samuel Adams, Harry Truman, and the young Theodore Roosevelt. Several months ago I read Ron Chernow's brilliant Hamilton. Chernow's biographies of historical figures, like McCullough's, are consistently great biographies told as wonderful stories.
My other issue with this book is that based on the title, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, I was expecting it to deal more fully with Jefferson's use of power as president. Instead this book is a biography of Jefferson's full life with no special attention paid to his use of the power of his offices. Frankly, I learned more about Jefferson the politician from McCullough's Samuel Adams and Chernow's Hamilton than from Meacham's book.
The bottom like on Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is that Meacham does not do justice to one of the great founders of our country by writing a dry, boring biography.
After winning the Pulitzer Prize for his masterful biography of Andrew Jackson, Jon Meacham turned his considerable skills to the most enigmatic man in American History: Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson ranks at the top of any list of most important men in the history of the United States.
Born to the planter class in Virginia he never knew anything other than a life of luxury. That did not shield him from the troubles of life. Loss was something that Jefferson knew quite well. He lost his father at a young age. His beloved wife died from complications of childbirth. He outlived all but one of his children. He was also a man who loved liberty. His vision of a nation of liberty would come to dominate the debate in the formative years of the United States. Here we encounter the enigma. Jefferson was a believer in freedom who owned slaves. The story of Jefferson's slaves are very much wrapped up in his own story. Meacham comes back to this topic over and over again. The subject of Sally Hemmings is never far away and it makes for an interesting topic.
Jefferson was a man of many accomplishments. He served in the Virginia legislature, the Continental Congress, as governor of Virginia, as ambassador to France, As the first secretary of state, as the second vice-president of the United States, and as the third president. He wrote letters, books, and legislation. Of course he is famous as the author of the Declaration of Independence. On his tombstone he only asked that three items be remembered. Those accomplishments are the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statutes of Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia. In some ways this sums up his life quite nicely.
Any biography of Thomas Jefferson is a daunting task. There is a wealth of primary source material and an avalanche of secondary material. Huge multi-volume biographies are out of style in our time and that may not be a bad thing. Instead of trying to cover every aspect of Jefferson's life in detail he gives an overview of Jefferson's story, but the focus of the book can be found in the title. Jefferson was a man who craved the power to make the world a better place. This is part of the contradiction. In the thought of the time no leader of a free society was supposed to desire power. Jefferson actively desired power, but had to cultivate an image of indifference. A vocal enemy of political parties he helped to create and lead the first political party in the United States. In a usual Jeffersonian twist this party was an opposition party that he led as Washington's secretary of state and Adams' vice-president.
Meacham has given a wonderful start to Jefferson studies for this generation. His prose is always delightful to read. The book is well researched, but is accessible to the general reader. It is doubtful that we will ever truly be able to understand Thomas Jefferson, but this volume will help to gain insight into fascinating person.
I've read over forty plus books on Jefferson over the years and his life still fascinates me as a revelation of genius and humanity in all its aspects. Meacham continues the story with additional information on the Hemmings issue as well as other revelations from his research. I appreciate Meacham's shared assessments of Jefferson from Jefferson's own time as well as his fair and humane contemporary view. After heroic presentations and adulations of Jefferson by devotees over so many years, perhaps from the recent scholarship of Meacham and others concerning the darker side of his humanity, we actually see Jefferson in more chiaroscuro renderings, who still towers above so many in history despite the human failings, contradictions not uncommon to many of men of his time or now.
His descriptions of the reconciliation of Adams and Jefferson as well as his moving depictions of Jefferson's final hours.
I liked the insights into Jefferson's personal thoughts about his own life and also the insights ino his political strategies.
This book takes a deeper look at Jefferson's early life than any other that I've read.
The entire book was absorbing.
Edward Herrmann is simply the best book narrator there is.
The death of Jefferson's wife
If you love history, especially American history, you don't want to miss this book. Herrmann has a way of making you feel you are there.
I've been in the mood for a little Revolutionary history lately. I read The First American and really enjoyed it. It whetted my appetite for more founding fathers bios.
This was not as good as The First American but it was a good historical look at an amazing man. I found the story to diverge at times and then have to back up to pick up the main thread which made keeping up with where we were on a timeline a little difficult but it's all in there.
The author shows a definite slant toward Jeffersonian politics and you get a distinct dislike for some of the other major players of the time. If you read other books, that will become more evident. I've started Founding Brothers and I feel I am getting a more balanced view of certain political movements. However, this is a bio of Jefferson so I think it's fair to taint it toward his views. Just be aware that the other side isn't as evil as you come away thinking it is.
Hermann did a masterful job with the narration. I would definitely listen to him again.
I recommend this book to all history buffs who really want to get to know Jefferson.
I really enjoyed this biography of Thomas Jefferson. After a recent visit to Monticello, I wanted to know more about Jefferson. This book was well researched and well written. It succeeded most in capturing the politics of the times, and Jefferson's role in them. This book dealt forthrightly with Jefferson's relationship with a slave, with whom he fathered many children. After listening to and reading this, I feel I understand much more about the early days of my country. My one criticism - this overemphasizes the politics, and does not capture the man as personally. It falls short of McCullough's John Adams, which succeeds in both. That said, in the final part of the book, after Jefferson retires to Monticello, I finally did feel the emotional connection to the man I had been looking for. I found the parallels of politics in the age of Jefferson and now to be powerful. While the author did not spell that out, I saw so many issues of Jefferson's day to be still big issues now. That was very cool. Overall, I strongly recommend that 4.5 star bio.
Jon Meecham tells the story of Thomas Jefferson in a compelling, logical and very readable manner. When I finished this book I felt as though I knew Jefferson; with all his brilliance and foibles.
This book made me smile, frown and most importantly, think.
It struck me how few things have changed in American politics. The age of the American Revolution is so often romanticised, covering over all the partisan disputes, arguments and even duels. But there they are.
Jefferson lived in such a remarkable time and had such a remarkable influence on that time . . . and the time that followed. I'm not a great reader of biographies, but this book may change that.
Mr. Hermann did a wonderful job of narration.