Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

  • by Jon Meacham
  • Narrated by Edward Herrmann, Jon Meacham
  • 18 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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 Drawing on archives in the United States, England, and France, as well as unpublished Jefferson presidential papers, Meacham presents Jefferson as the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American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


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)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Man and Biography Relevant to Our Day

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.

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- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"

Practical Politician and 'Flawed Giant'

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" 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.

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- Mel

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-13-2012
  • Publisher: Random House Audio