In this adaptation for young readers of his Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (2012), Meacham overviews Jefferson’s life, times and ideas.
The subtitle suggests a focus on Jefferson’s political philosophy and two-term presidency, but Meacham instead attempts to touch upon all aspects of his full and rich life. Less than a quarter of the text covers Jefferson’s eight years as president. His republican political philosophy is discussed and contrasted with Federalism, but there is no discussion of the philosophers and ideas that influenced his thinking, nor is there mention of Jefferson’s thoughts on religion, radical and controversial for their time. Meacham devotes considerable attention to Jefferson’s conflicting views about slavery. Despite being a lifelong slave owner and father of children by his enslaved mistress, Sally Hemings, Jefferson considered slavery immoral and doomed as a continuing institution. Meacham suggests Jefferson’s unwillingness to confront the problem of slavery politically was his greatest failure as a statesman. “When it came to slavery,” Meacham writes, “Jefferson, always curious and eager to explore new ideas, did what he almost never did: he gave up.”
Choosing to cover every aspect of Jefferson’s life without exploring any particular part in depth makes this an engaging, informative introduction but does not make it stand out among many others that do the same. (extensive backmatter, not seen for review) (Biography. 10-16)