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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon…

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Jon Meacham

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6724514,252 (4.02)24
Title:Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Authors:Jon Meacham
Info:Random House (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 800 pages
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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham (2012)


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A recent best-seller of the greatest mind of America. Little new to the Jefferson scholar, but nice to know there is interest in this man. But for three or four others, Presidents have barely approached the leadership skills of Mr. Jefferson. Unlike recent ones, here was a President who didn't rely on committees to make decisions or speech writers to placate the electorate. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
This is the second biography by Jon Meacham I've read -- the other on Andrew Jackson. He seems to have a penchant for taking interesting characters from American history and making them less so. Granted, both men have had many volumes written about them and it's hard to find a new spin, but Meacham stakes his claim to the mundane.

In this book, we find out about Jefferson's many children who don't survive childhood. We are fascinated by details of his horticultural journal, riveted by the appearance of the cherry blossoms. But we do also hear about his fears on what the future might hold for the country -- and how Jefferson frequently thought he was the best hope for preservation of the nation as he perceived the founding to be.

Meacham also focuses much on Jefferson's flaws. While he accomplished much greatness, he failed to show courage in an early opportunity to weaken the foundation of slavery. As governor of Virginia, he fled in advance of the British, and this too would plague him the rest of his career. Meacham's characterization of Jefferson on religion is rather all over the place -- on one hand suggests (as most agree) that religion had no place in government, but then mentions on multiple occasions that he thought Atheist was the worst possible trait for a politician. Jefferson's personal financers also seemed to be much in disarray, with his time in the presidency particularly costly to his personal fortunes.

In the end, Meacham's achieves his dispassionate goal in characterizing Jefferson as a mere mortal and not the legendary giant of his inflated legacy. This is a very good point to make, however, I wish Meacham could find a more effective path. Household gossip might be appealing to the soap opera set, but not so engaging for the rest of us. ( )
  JeffV | Jun 8, 2014 |
A fascinating portrait of one of the most dynamic of America's Founding Fathers. Jon Meacham does not attempt to explore every detail of Jefferson's varied life; rather, he focuses on displaying Jefferson's character and political skill. I appreciated Meacham's approach, especially as he showed how some of Jefferson's traits, such as avoidance of conflict, worked to his advance at various points in his life. On the other hand, his realistic description of Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemings and their children made me wonder whether this president is worth the accolades he's been given. Nevertheless, Meacham gives a very realistic and pragmatic picture of Jefferson, a man who was a legend in his own time. ( )
1 vote wagner.sarah35 | Jan 27, 2014 |
I found this book one of the weaker biographical works I have read. It is an easy read but it doesn't really go deep enough, doesn't provide enough background information. Sometimes it goes on a tangent, providing long but not very important quotes. I guess it does concentrate more on a character of Thomas Jefferson but I would like to see a more serious work of history. ( )
  everfresh1 | Jan 13, 2014 |
A strong, vivid picture of one of the Founding Fathers of our country. It makes the man seem human and forever at the same time. He was a great and humble man and oft revered.

The book is highly readable and never lets you down. ( )
  koalamom | Dec 21, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Meacham has chosen storytelling over analysis, offering up a genial but meandering narrative. There is some meat in the book, but finding it requires dexterity and doggedness—checking the endnotes after every ten pages or so to see what is missing from the passing panorama. Meacham has read the scholarly literature on Jefferson—some of it critical—but doesn’t let enough of this debate intrude on the storytelling, which nearly always puts Jefferson in the best possible light.
Mr. Meacham intends “The Art of Power” as a portrait that “neither lionizes nor indicts Jefferson, but instead restores him to his full and rich role as an American statesman who resists easy categorization.” That sounds bolder than it proves to be. It’s a polite way of staking out middle ground.
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A few broad strokes of the brush would paint the portraits of all the early Presidents with this exception. . . . Jefferson could be painted only touch by touch, with a fine pencil, and the perfection of the likeness depended upon the shifting and uncertain flicker of its semi-transparemt shadows. - Henry Adams, History of the United States of America During the Administration of Thomas Jefferson
I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. - President John F. Kennedy, at a dinner in honor of all living receipients of the Nobel Prize, 1962
To Herbert Wentz And, as ever, for Mary, Maggie, Sam, and Keith
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(Prologue) He woke at first light.
He was the kind of man people noticed.
Knowing human nature - and knowing the Congress, which was human nature writ large - [Jefferson] understood that the Congress would not be able to keep themselves from abusing their power by deciding that everything concerned the national interest.
". . . such proceedings are so common that they cease here to be disgraceful."
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"Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" gives readers 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, catapulting him into becoming the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American history.… (more)

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