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 Drawing on archives in the United States, England, and France, as well as unpublished Jefferson presidential papers, Meacham presents Jefferson as the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American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.
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.
81 of 88 people found this review helpful
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.
45 of 50 people found this review helpful
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.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power?
This book takes a deeper look at Jefferson's early life than any other that I've read.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power?
The entire book was absorbing.
What about Edward Herrmann and Jon Meacham ’s performance did you like?
Edward Herrmann is simply the best book narrator there is.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
The death of Jefferson's wife
Any additional comments?
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.
9 of 11 people found this review helpful
Where does Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
What did you like best about this story?
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.
Which scene was your favorite?
His descriptions of the reconciliation of Adams and Jefferson as well as his moving depictions of Jefferson's final hours.
9 of 11 people found this review helpful
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.
9 of 11 people found this review helpful
I loved the insights into Jefferson's life, but the story telling left much to be desired. It was easy to put this down, and forget you were reading it. Unlike JOHN ADAMS, which I found riveting, this writing did not keep me engaged. However, it is well worth reading to learn more about a fascinating man, who's personality and choices live in our daily lives because of the impact he made to the country. The author, with his resources, could have done a much better job. I felt like he read kept reading through his notes and said, "Oh, I forgot to add this, so I'll pop it in here."
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
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.
8 of 10 people found this review helpful
In an age when most media fail to supply any depth to issues, this book defies that trend. Whether you love Jefferson -- or hate him -- it is important to understand his life in the context of his time.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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.
7 of 9 people found this review helpful
If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?
This book is fantastic from a bibliographical prospective. Extremely detailed. A person really passionate about Jefferson would like it!
The usual reader is lost in too many letters and details about day to day life, and lose the great ideals that drive Jefferson's life.
Has Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power put you off other books in this genre?
1 of 3 people found this review helpful