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"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 Drawing on archives in the United States, England, and France, as well as unpublished Jefferson presidential papers, Meacham presents Jefferson as the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American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.
Praise for "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power"
"This is probably the best single-volume biography of Jefferson ever written."--Gordon S. Wood
- ISBN-13: 9781400067664
- ISBN-10: 1400067669
- Publisher: Random House
- Publish Date: November 2012
- Page Count: 800
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-07-16
- Reviewer: Staff
Another Jefferson biography (right on the heels of Henry Wiencek’s Master of the Mountain)! Fortunately, Meacham’s is a fine work, deserving a place high on the list of long biographies of its subject even if rivaled by such shorter ones as Richard B. Bernstein’s Thomas Jefferson. Like David McCullough’s John Adams (to which it can be seen as a counterpart), Meacham’s book is a love letter to its subject. While he’s fully conversant with long-held skepticism about aspects of Jefferson’s character (his dissimulation, for instance) and his stance toward slavery, Meacham gives him the benefit of the doubt throughout (on, for example, his Revolutionary War governorship of Virginia and the draconian 1807 embargo). To Meacham, who won a Pulitzer for his American Lion, Jefferson was a philosopher/politician, and “the most successful political figure of the first half century of the American republic.” Those words only faintly suggest the inspirational tone of the entire work. Meacham understandably holds Jefferson up as the remarkable figure he was. But in the end, as fine a rendering of the nation’s third president as this book may be, it comes too close to idolization. Jefferson’s critics still have something valid to say, even if their voices here are stilled. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Nov.)
Power, politics and public life
Thomas Jefferson’s eloquent writings have made him revered as the nation’s premier spokesman for democracy. A man of the Enlightenment, he pursued an extraordinary range of interests and served in the nation’s highest offices; a man of contradictions, he cultivated the image of a philosopher who was above the political fray. And yet, as Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham demonstrates in Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, our third president was as much a man of action as he was of ideas.
Meacham’s Jefferson, at his core, was a politician who eagerly sought office where he could work toward the future he envisioned for his country. In his meticulously researched and very readable book, Meacham writes, “The closest thing to a constant in his life was his need for power and control. He tended to mask these drives so effectively . . . the most astute observers of his life and work had trouble detecting them.”
Once in office he emphasized one overarching political concern: the survival and success of popular government. More than George Washington or John Adams, he believed in the possibilities of human beings governing themselves. Like all effective politicians, he articulated the ideal but acted pragmatically, as in the case of the Louisiana Purchase. The philosophical Jefferson thought there first should be a constitutional amendment authorizing the president to purchase new territory. But when it seemed Napoleon might change his mind, the realist Jefferson immediately went ahead with the deal without an amendment. His personal political style was smooth, although he relied on his allies to be more confrontational. Indeed, Meacham believes Jefferson led so quietly that popular history tends to downplay his presidential achievements.
The book also examines Jefferson’s hypocrisy on slavery. He knew slavery was morally wrong but he could not bring himself to sacrifice his own way of life on an issue whose time, as he saw it, had not yet come. After attempts early in his career to limit slavery, he gave up trying, concluding that to pursue it would end whatever future he might have in public life.
Jefferson comes alive in this discerning and elegant biography, surely one of the best single volumes about him written in our time.