Jon Meacham has penned an enjoyable biography of the third president, who also (save, possibly, for Benjamin Franklin) was the most talented man of his day -- and perhaps who ever lived. It starts with Jefferson's birth in Shadwell, Virginia, and ends 83 years later not far away at Monticello, which among all of the homes of the Founders most completely reflects its occupant. Of course, Jefferson also designed the structure, and as Meacham notes, spent most of the years until his retirement tinkering with it -- at one point demolishing much of the original building to (eventually) more than double its size.
In between, we have Jefferson the young student; the young lawyer; the delegate to the Continental Congress where he became the primary author of the Declaration of Independence; the Governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War (one of his least noteworthy roles); a representative to the Confederation Congress; minister to France in the 1780s; Secretary of State during Washington's first term; then leader of the opposition to the Federalists, including his old friend John Adams; and, finally, President. And then he became the Sage of Monticello for his last two decades, managing to found (and design many of the buildings for) the University of Virginia.
Just listing those posts that Jefferson held is itself somewhat exhausting . . . and in addition to his vibrant political contributions to his country, Jefferson was a lawyer, surveyor, naturalist, author, inventor, and architect. Yet his reputation has diminished somewhat in recent years, as popular biographies have exalted his rival John Adams at Jefferson's expense -- and as revelations about his relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, have become newsworthy, with DNA tests confirming that he indeed fathered many of her children. Meacham does not gloss over this relationship, and instead presents a kind of warts-and-all portrait: a man who thought slavery should be abolished, yet owned as many as 600 slaves himself; who thought there was nothing wrong with evicting Native tribes to make way for white settlement; who served one Federalist president yet came to resist him and his successor; and who opposed the concentration of power in the national government, yet was sanguine about its use when he became chief executive himself.
The Jefferson that emerges here, then, is a complex and contradictory figure -- very much a man of his time, with prejudices that would make him politically incorrect today. Yet he was also one of the most pivotal of the Founders, probably their most eloquent writer, and a man who learned how to use power to achieve what he thought best for his nation -- perpetuating his views through four of the next five presidential administrations.
He is also perhaps the most accessible of the Founders. As Meacham says, while it's hard to imagine having a glass of wine and dinner conversation at Mount Vernon with George Washington, it's easy to imagine doing so at Monticello with Jefferson. Meacham's biography reminds us that, for all his flaws, Jefferson's extraordinary talents, his political contributions to the young republic, and his unceasing opposition to monarchy, lift Jefferson far above his human failings. The book is brought enjoyably to life by Edward Herrmann, who though nearly 70 has a voice that is still strong and clear, and one of the best narrators working today.
I got to know this man who was one of the founders of the country in a much deeper way.
Haven't read the book.
The Mind of Jefferson
yes - this is a well balanced synopsis of the complex life of Thomas Jefferson, which helps to not only explain the Federalist - Anti-Federalist debates, but also paints a picture of the talented man who played a key role in nurturing and protecting the otherwise fragile Democratic Republic experiment which we and the rest of the world all take for granted.
Jefferson's love of his fellow man and his talent for keeping the peace through respect and empathy, extending to all walks of life, including even his slaves. Jefferson's early [failed] attempts to win support for emancipation, his relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings, who was also his dead wife's half sister - their children, all of whom eventually won their freedom - all add an interesting element to what might on the surface otherwise seem to be simply a shameful slave owning southern plantation story.
I recall visualizing the scenes of the younger Jefferson, reciting prose and playing music with his older sister Jane, his failed attempts at love, followed by a classic life love, and more (don't want to say too much here). Jefferson's on again, off again relationships with his political rivals, and his eventual burying of the hatchett with John Adams resulting in a series of over a hundred letters in their old age.
Not quite extreme. In classic Jeffersonian style, this book avoids too much extremeism and unnecessary drama - just like Jefferson lived his life.
I want more - I would like more details on Jefferson's life and the lives of those around him.
enlightening and riveting
Jefferson...no need to explain why
there's way more to the Thomas Jefferson you learned about in 8th grade!
The objective review of Thomas Jefferson as a complex man.
Thomas Jefferson, a man who was concerned with liberties while being pragmatic.
Both were excellent and kept you involved throughout the lengthy reading.
The same as the Title.
The audio version makes the experience of Jefferson personal
The contrast of the individual person, the intellectual and the practical
The personal and reflective approach
The very end-the summing up of a lfe
What we learned about Thomas Jefferson when we were younger is cursory at best. Here, in detail, and clearly written is the story of one of our most important Americans. Whatever political party you favor you can support Jefferson because he touched on all aspects of American life in a way that made this country stronger. Meacham makes clear that Jefferson always had the country in mind in all decisions and that puts him above "politicians" of today.
Edward Hermann's narration adds a great deal to a well researched and well written book.
Someone that didn't care about discovering the truth and wanted to discredit a great man.
If the author had done a little research instead of passing on and promoting every undocumented lie concerning Jefferson.
When I turned off the book was the best moment. Unfortunately the book was well read so I kept hoping a few true facts would surface. I was continually disappointed.
I would have cut the entire book.
At least with a paper book I could have thrown it away and felt like I had given this book what it deserved . Just deleting the book from my computer seems insufficient.
Husband, father, building contractor, inventor and audio book lover.
Jon Meacham does an excellent job of fleshing out this most improbable of men. Jefferson, an amalgamation of conflicting desires and motives, that sometimes left him on the wrong side of history, was that man. This we can see now, as we have clear hindsight to guide us. Our third president, as with all makers of history, had no such guiding light. They had to deal with those inscrutable issues with only their current knowledge and life experience. It is easy for us to make judgements about behaviors, that today, seem unconscionable, but were not then even noticeable. Although, it was clear that Jefferson knew, even then, that slavery was a blot on our nation. Still, he could not muster the will do anything substantive about it.
The author takes pains to give us the context, as well as concurrent examples of the community expectations of the day in which Jefferson lived.
This is an excellent look at the founding of our country and the men that formed these United States, and to a great extent, the wider world, that we have evolved into.
As always, Ed Herrmann is a comfortable and familiar voice that makes listening to this book a pleasure.