THOMAS JEFFERSON by Jon Meacham
Kirkus Star

THOMAS JEFFERSON

The Art of Power
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer lauds the political genius of Thomas Jefferson.

As a citizen, Jefferson became a central leader in America’s rebellion against the world’s greatest empire. As a diplomat, he mentored a similar revolution in France. As president, he doubled the size of the United States without firing a shot and established a political dynasty that stretched over four decades. These achievements and many more, Time contributing editor Meacham (American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, 2008, etc.) smoothly argues, would have been impossible if the endlessly complicated Jefferson were merely the dreamy, impractical philosopher king his detractors imagined. His portrait of our most enigmatic president intentionally highlights career episodes that illustrate Jefferson’s penchant for balancing competing interests and for compromises that, nevertheless, advanced his own political goals. Born to the Virginia aristocracy, Jefferson effectively disguised his drive for control, charming foes and enlisting allies to conduct battles on his behalf. As he accumulated power, he exercised it ruthlessly, often deviating from the ideals of limited government he had previously—and eternally—articulated. Stronger than any commitment to abstract principle, the impulse for pragmatic political maneuvering, Meacham insists, always predominated. With an insatiable hunger for information, a talent for improvisation and a desire for greatness, Jefferson coolly calculated political realities—see his midlife abandonment of any effort to abolish slavery—and, more frequently than not, emerged from struggles with opponents routed and his own authority enhanced. Through his thinking and writing, we’ve long appreciated Jefferson’s lifelong devotion to “the survival and success of democratic republicanism in America,” but Meacham’s treatment reminds us of the flesh-and-blood politician, the man of action who masterfully bent the real world in the direction of his ideals.

An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his political success.

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6766-4
Page count: 800pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2012




NEW & NOTABLE NONFICTION: NOVEMBER 2012:

NonfictionLEONARDO AND THE LAST SUPPER by Ross King
by Ross King
NonfictionMARBLES by Ellen Forney
by Ellen Forney
NonfictionKURT VONNEGUT by Kurt Vonnegut
by Kurt Vonnegut
NonfictionTHOMAS JEFFERSON by Jon Meacham
by Jon Meacham

OUR CRITICS' TAKES ON MORE BESTSELLERS

See full list >
Cover art for A HERO OF FRANCE
VERDICT:
BUY IT
Cover art for THE EMPEROR'S REVENGE
VERDICT:
BORROW IT
Cover art for GRUNT
VERDICT:
SKIP IT
Cover art for HERE'S TO US
VERDICT:
BORROW IT

MORE BY JON MEACHAM

NonfictionDESTINY AND POWER by Jon Meacham
by Jon Meacham
NonfictionAMERICAN LION by Jon Meacham
by Jon Meacham

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionJEFFERSON AND HAMILTON by John Ferling
by John Ferling
NonfictionMADISON'S GIFT by David O. Stewart
by David O. Stewart
NonfictionALEXANDER HAMILTON by Ron Chernow
by Ron Chernow
NonfictionTHE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO by Annette Gordon-Reed
by Annette Gordon-Reed