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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 Drawing on archives in the United States, England, and France, as well as unpublished Jefferson presidential papers, Meacham presents Jefferson as the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American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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  •  
    alan 02-17-13
    alan 02-17-13
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    "Great Story"
    Would you listen to Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power again? Why?

    I was very impressed by this audiobook. It was very detailed and I learnt great deal about the private and public life of Thomas Jefferson.

    Being an Australian citizen, we don’t grow up with stories of the past American Presidents like I am sure American children do, so it was refreshing to hear how much of a great man Thomas Jefferson was and how much he loved liberty.

    He truly was a man who believed in limited Government and giving the power to the people. Sadly his vision of the American Republic has greatly been lost now when you see the control that President Obama is taking over the people's rights today and what is happening in Congress.

    The story about Jefferson creating his own bible ( he created two ) was accurate but it was not explained why he decided to remove certain parts - it was simply because he wanted to capture the words of Christ wisdom to outreach to the Red Indian and not because he didn’t believe in Christs divine nature which the book proposes. A serious twisting of the truth that I think Jefferson himself would not appreciate. I have heard there is a question about the accuracy of the DNA testing and the Sally Heming’s affair – (this may require greater research.)

    But overall this is an excellent book and well worth listening to and purchasing.

    Alan - Australia


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Samuel S. Holmes Montana 02-12-13
    Samuel S. Holmes Montana 02-12-13 Member Since 2014
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    "A Great Book About Our Greatest Architect!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power to be better than the print version?

    Yes. With Meacham still living, Herrman has all the guidance he might need, should he have varied from the author's intent.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The insight into Jefferson's life to better understand the forces which effected him.


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

    Author's intent.


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

    Awe.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    N. T. Staal DC 02-09-13
    N. T. Staal DC 02-09-13 Member Since 2013

    "It is so unsatisfactory to read a noble passage and have no one you love at hand to share the happiness with you." ~Clara Clemens (daughter of Mark Twain)

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    "A thorough account of a complicated man"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I absolutely loved a lot of things about this book, and it makes dozens of points - some minor and some quite comprehensive - about our history and how our country works that I think are well-worth considering.

    I think in the context of modern, global political developments it is worth highlighting just how long the American experiment took the founding fathers to create. These days we look at South Sudan's independence, Burma's transformation, or the Arab Spring and we hope for quick fixes. We want to use these dramatic events as a political win for one party or politician before the next election cycle, and we start to get nervous if four or six months have passed without demonstrable progress. Modern communication technology does allow us to do some things faster, discussions can be had face to face across huge distances instead of having to wait weeks for letters to go back and forth. But some ideas still take years to built, take root, and come to fruition. One thing I think this book does incredibly well is fold in the fact that July 4, 1776 was neither the beginning nor the end of the struggle to create a more free and equal society. I think it is fair to judge trajectories and debate what the American founding fathers did right (and wrong) to get us where we are today, and what they can teach leaders in other countries about the trajectory they need to set for their own countries, but I think we also need to set realistic expectations for just how long these kinds of developments can take.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power?

    In a lot of ways, I was surprised just how much of Jefferson's personal history is included in this book, since I had expected it to be much more about his use of political office to turn his philosophical views on human society into political reality. I'm glad that Meacham decided to spend so much time talking about Jefferson's character, however, since I think that really is at the heart of what I wanted to understand. I think it really drove home the point that he really, deeply believed in the values of freedom, liberty, and equality that he infused into his writings, and making them a political reality really was an experiment - and an experiment that for most of his life he genuinely feared might fail.

    At the same time, I found the break between how he applied those ideals and how he spoke about them deeply appalling, and I was more upset the more I learned. Over the course of his life, he owned a total of roughly 600 slaves, and the only ones he freed upon his death were his children even though he would have been well within his rights to free every single one. He did not believe that people of different races could live peacefully together, and he was a strong proponent of moving Native Americans off their land even if it meant by force. He was master of his domain at Monticello and he had a fierce temper when anyone questioned him. He twice pursued married women, in one case even went to the woman's room late at night even after she refused him and had to chase him away. He espoused freedom and liberty, but based on the description of how he lived he seemed to be advocating for his liberty to live as he wished, not that everyone around him was equally free and independent.

    Many people today defend Jefferson by arguing that we can't judge him today for having held slaves because the practice was so central to how society worked at the time, it took us as a country one hundred and fifty more years to give descendants of slaves equal rights under the law, and we still have trouble actually treating different races fairly and equally. I would agree that we can't judge Jefferson independently and it would not be fair to criticize him for holding slaves more than we do his contemporaries just because he was the stronger advocate of equality and therefore the bigger hypocrite. I would flip the question on its head. I would argue that Jefferson's life and philosophy would not have been possible without slaves, and so rather than trying to separate the man from the issue of slavery, I think we need to spend some time wrestling with how to separate the ideas from the reality of slavery. Jefferson advocated for personal as well as political independence, created Monticello to be a model of self-sufficiency, and based much of his political platform on the belief that government should be as hands-off as possible. His very model, however, contradicts that view because he was not in fact self-sufficient - he depended on several hundred people whom he owned to maintain his lifestyle of study and contemplation. The books gives an example of how he helped become "self-sufficient" by constructing a nail factory on the property to create his own building supplies and generate some revenue by selling the excess of the 10,000 nails per day it created. It fails to mention, however, that Jefferson never worked a day in that nail factory, and instead it was entirely staffed by slave boys, who began working there at the age of eight. Jefferson's own son - his eldest surviving son because Martha's sons all died, and who looked so much like Jefferson that visitors did a double take, and who lived out his adult years as a free white man because he was so light skinned no one guessed he'd been born a slave - had to work in that nail factory for probably over ten years before he was old enough to be free. That is Jefferson's model of self-sufficiency.

    What the book helped me do, however, was come to terms with the fact that I do not have to like the man to like his ideals. These days we seem to have the idea that politicians have to be perfect people in order for their ideas or professional leadership to be respected. I think the careers of John Edwards, David Petraeus, and Bill Clinton (although he's made something of a recovery) demonstrate that Thomas Jefferson never would have survived our present political climate - and I do think our country would have suffered from having lost his philosophical input into our national psyche. People are flawed and full of contradictions, and I think we all lose when we aren't able to separate ideas from the people who generate them. That's not to say that anyone, least of all Jefferson, deserve a pass for bad behavior if they have good ideas. But I do think we need to be able to honestly discuss what is possible and what is ideal and be able to talk about realistic ways to marry the two. Jefferson may not have been a model of self-sufficiency in his life, but Thoreau was able to. So, how can we take what Jefferson said and what Thoreau did and come up with an understanding or a principle that would actually be widely applicable? I don't think our pursuit of liberty and an ideal society have to suffer just because Jefferson wasn't able to exemplify them. Jon Meacham was on Meet the Press this morning (replayed), and said one of the things this book should teach us is, "If they can do it, we can do it." I would dispute that, and argue this book teaches us we can do better.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matt OVERLAND PARK, KS, United States 02-08-13
    Matt OVERLAND PARK, KS, United States 02-08-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Must read for history buffs!"

    I have recently completed Adams, Franklin & Washington's biographies as well. All were equally good, but in my opinion it is very important to read them all. The perspectives each author has of their own subject versus the others and how they all interrelate as advisaries and/or allies through the early years of our nation is important to garner. It paints the whole picture, instead of just one author's opinion. I plan on tackling Hamilton next. I find Edward Herrman's narration to be perfect; he is all over the History Channel so his voice is familiar and appropriate for a book of this type.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colby Omaha, NE, United States 02-07-13
    Colby Omaha, NE, United States 02-07-13 Member Since 2014

    Married mother of three teenagers, back to work after 15 years at home - when I read a lot. Now I am the assistant to the Mayor of Omaha and work at least 60 hours a week, and on top of what I have to do at home - no more books. This lets me listen to the classics, the latest, whatever I want. I can learn or escape. I have always love audio books, but now I NEED them.

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    "Good Basic Primer on Jefferson"

    I love history, but have always been drawn to European history, and knew little of my own country's. Audible can take credit for helping me expand my knowledge by introducing me to a fun way to learn. I have been listening to presidential biographies now for several months, and this is one of the best. I knew little about this (or any) founding father, and as much as we hear these days about the original intent of these men, I wanted to know more. This was detailed enough to give me insight into the man while broad enough to give me a sense of his place in the bigger picture. It was funny how the presidency now seems such a small part of his life.

    I didn't give it all the stars only because there were times that the detail got to be too much, and I actually realized I had wandered off. I always came back, and figured that I had the general idea of what the author was speaking about, so I didn't bother to rewind. Any history of a real person will have it's moments that lag, but don't let that deter you. Edward Herrmann was wonderful, and could read the phone book well, so he gets all his stars.

    If you are afraid of non-fiction because you are afraid it will be boring, this might be a good one to try because he was NOT boring. He was funny, irreverant, and had a wonderful way of looking at the world. My new favorite quote is now one of his: "Religion requires careful thought, not reflexive acceptance. Fix reason firmly in her seat... Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear." In his time, this was HUGE! He was considered by many of being an athiest.

    I look forward to some history about other men of the time, like Madison, to see history of the same time from another person's perspective, while also seeing Jefferson from another perspective.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Liz Godfrey, IL, United States 02-05-13
    Liz Godfrey, IL, United States 02-05-13
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    "So-so"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    There's art and there's craft. Monet and macrame. This is more like macrame. I mean, this is the life of one of the greatest men who ever lived. The subject deserves a great telling. This wasn't it.


    Did Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power inspire you to do anything?

    Start writing history.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Smokey 02-04-13
    Smokey 02-04-13
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    "Very enjoyable and informative"
    What did you love best about Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power?

    I really liked all the in-depth, historical background information that isn't generally known (by me at least). Democracy and politics was just as ugly and messy then as it is today, but it works out as long as the citizens stay informed & engaged and vote.I also liked the narrator's voice and style. This is important to me as I won't listen very long if I dislike the narration. I've enjoyed other books narrated by Herrmann and that's one reason I chose this book.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    R. Davis California 02-04-13
    R. Davis California 02-04-13
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    "Utterly brilliant."
    What did you love best about Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power?

    The man, Jefferson is fascinating. His words, his thoughts, his life. All just amazing. The book is extremely well written, full of perfect quotes and snippets of the mans life.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The history. Our history, and the creation of this country. Rich with import and bearing on today's society.


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

    Not sure... but Herrmann did a wonderful job. Great voice; perfect for this type of historical biography.


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

    The same as the book title. Or Thomas Jefferson: Words of Freedom.


    Any additional comments?

    One of my favoirte audiobooks thus far. A perfect combination of great story and the perfect narrator.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charles Whitehead Easton, MD 02-04-13
    Charles Whitehead Easton, MD 02-04-13 Member Since 2012

    steam boat

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    "Very good history, but hard to read."
    What made the experience of listening to Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power the most enjoyable?

    It was very full of facts, some of which made the reading difficult.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power?

    It has made me want to learn more about the early history of the country.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ned 02-01-13
    Ned 02-01-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Mr. Jefferson revealed"
    If you could sum up Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power in three words, what would they be?

    Eclectic, Bright, politician


    What did you like best about this story?

    the story of his entire life.


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

    very easy to listen to.


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

    No


    Any additional comments?

    Meacham's work in this book is magnificent.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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