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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power | [Jon Meacham]

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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 Drawing on archives in the United States, England, and France, as well as unpublished Jefferson presidential papers, Meacham presents Jefferson as the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American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.

©2012 Jon Meacham (P)2012 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"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)

"Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is a true triumph, a brilliant biography. Jon Meacham shows how Jefferson's deft ability to compromise and improvise made him a transformational leader. We think of Jefferson as the embodiment of noble ideals, as he was, but Meacham shows that he was a practical politician more than a moral theorist. The result is a fascinating look at how Jefferson wielded his driving desire for power and control." (Walter Isaacson)

What Members Say

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  •  
    J. M. Walker Harrisburg, PA 02-07-14
    J. M. Walker Harrisburg, PA 02-07-14 Listener Since 2008
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    "Not so much about the art of power"
    What did you like best about Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power? What did you like least?

    This is a pretty good biography of Jefferson, but while the author assures us repeatedly that Jefferson was a shrewd politician, he doesn't show us what he means.
    Given his successes, it makes sense that Jefferson was a shrewd politician, but either he hid his machinations or it will take another author to reveal them.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    Herrmann wasn't given much to work with. The writing is not compelling or memorable.


    Was Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power worth the listening time?

    No. I gave up about a third of the way through.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jessica Edina, MN, United States 09-19-13
    Jessica Edina, MN, United States 09-19-13 Member Since 2012

    Closet librarian with diminishing space & time.

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    "A flawed hero"
    What made the experience of listening to Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power the most enjoyable?

    Examining the pragmatic brilliance of Jefferson, I enjoyed the examination of his ideals & the compromises he made in order to achieve the foundation of our democracy. Protecting the country from the recurring pressure of monarchists, he had to maneuver at the expense of what he believed. But his confidence that ours is a country in which we can & always will improve gives me hope. He did not deliver the ideal; he expected us to keep working toward it. This work can't possibly address every detail. It offers perspective.
    Engaging writing, well read. (Caveat: I listen at 1.25 speed.)


    What did you like best about this story?

    Examination of the contradictions that recurred throughout his life.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Too long for that, although I found myself listening at every opportunity until finished.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Frank Ukiah, CA, United States 04-07-13
    Frank Ukiah, CA, United States 04-07-13 Member Since 2009
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    "Good General History of Jefferson's Life"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jack Baton Rouge, LA, United States 04-01-13
    Jack Baton Rouge, LA, United States 04-01-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Great Insight"
    What did you love best about Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power?

    I got to know this man who was one of the founders of the country in a much deeper way.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Jefferson


    What does Edward Herrmann and Jon Meacham bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Haven't read the book.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    The Mind of Jefferson


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David McLure 03-27-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Really helps to figure out the US and the World"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    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.


    What did you like best about this story?

    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.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    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.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Not quite extreme. In classic Jeffersonian style, this book avoids too much extremeism and unnecessary drama - just like Jefferson lived his life.


    Any additional comments?

    I want more - I would like more details on Jefferson's life and the lives of those around him.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    tommy adams houston,tx 03-21-13
    tommy adams houston,tx 03-21-13
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    "very much worth 18 hours of your life"
    If you could sum up Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power in three words, what would they be?

    enlightening and riveting


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Jefferson...no need to explain why


    Have you listened to any of Edward Herrmann and Jon Meacham ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    no


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    there's way more to the Thomas Jefferson you learned about in 8th grade!


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Vicki Dennington Austin, Tx 03-19-13
    Vicki Dennington Austin, Tx 03-19-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Quite Enjoyable"
    What did you love best about Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power?

    The objective review of Thomas Jefferson as a complex man.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Thomas Jefferson, a man who was concerned with liberties while being pragmatic.


    What about Edward Herrmann and Jon Meacham ’s performance did you like?

    Both were excellent and kept you involved throughout the lengthy reading.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    The same as the Title.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Albuquerque, NM, United States 03-18-13
    William Albuquerque, NM, United States 03-18-13 Member Since 2011

    bookman

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    "Awe inspiring. The book enlivens American history"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power to be better than the print version?

    The audio version makes the experience of Jefferson personal


    What did you like best about this story?

    The contrast of the individual person, the intellectual and the practical


    What does Edward Herrmann and Jon Meacham bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The personal and reflective approach


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The very end-the summing up of a lfe


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steven 03-12-13
    Steven 03-12-13 Member Since 2015
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    "You Know Him But You Don't Know him"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Al San Francisco, CA 03-05-13
    Al San Francisco, CA 03-05-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fabulous work on Leadership"

    Shows how Jefferson was able to use his leadership skills by taking a moderate approach in life

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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