Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  7,297 ratings  ·  927 reviews
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....more
Hardcover, 800 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Random House (first published January 1st 2012)
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David Beeson
Looking around the gathered Nobel Prize winners he had invited to a White House dinner, John F. Kennedy declared, ‘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.’

That quotation, included by Jon Meacham in his enthralling biography of Jefferson, gives a measure of the man, and the man fully deserves such a biography. Not that it’s a simple ha...more
Shellys♥ Journal
I loved this book. Really delves into the psyche of Thomas Jefferson, chipping to the core on the things that make him tick. Meacham spends a lot of time in Virginia laying the groundwork for Jefferson's character - how he loved control but hated conflict. And then he builds the bridge to the presidency - detailing his struggles with the executive powers that Hamilton put upon the presidency during Washington's terms and then how he embraced these very powers in his own Presidency.

We get to kno...more
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
It took me a long time to begin to like Jon Meacham's portrait of Thomas Jefferson in Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. As I finished it, however, I found myself a reluctant admirer, appreciative of Meacham's style and of the biography, not to mention of the man.

Meacham is the author of two previous books on American presidents, winning the Pulitzer prize for his look at Andrew Jackson American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. With The Art of Power he delves into the life of one of the...more
It's rare when this happens. I just finished the prologue to this book. This eary in the book, I had the overwhelming feeling that I was reading something GREAT. Oh, I'm going to enjoy this book!!!
I wanted to devour this book the way I had with bios of the other Founding Fathers, but this one was more of a slog than I anticipated. Meacham does a good job connecting all the big historical touchstones of Jefferson's remarkable life: writing the Declaration of Independence (check); serving as an ambassador to France (check); serving in Washington's cabinet (check); winning election as the third president of the U.S., negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, and founding the University of Virginia...more

“Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” is author Jon Meacham’s fifth and most recent book, having been published in late 2012. Meacham received the Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 biography of Andrew Jackson, and has also written about Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as well as the civil rights movement and the influence of religion in American politics.

“The Art of Power” is by a significant margin the most popular and widely-read Jefferson biography av...more
A good, very readable "popular" biography of Thomas Jefferson that focuses on Jefferson's use of power and influence to achieve his desired ends throughout his life. Despite pointing out (yet somewhat glossing over) some of Jefferson's flaws, Meacham's biography is nevertheless a little too hagiographic for me to rate it higher than 3 stars.

I enjoyed reading the book, and even gained some new insight into Jefferson, but still came away from it feeling as though Meacham missed the mark a little....more
Excellent book. Meacham sees Jefferson not only as the idealist and philosopher who wrote the Declaration of Independence, but as a man who learned from experience and compromised throughout his political career. In fact, at the beginning of his Presidency, the Federalists were frightened that the country fail because real democracy was too dangerous and at the end of his Presidency some of the Republicans were angry that he'd compromised with the Federalists to the extend that he compromised th...more
Jay Connor
The greatest problem with a pragmatic philosopher is that in coming ages people from all perspectives can claim ownership to your ideas and ideals. Jefferson is just such a chameleon whose actions often betray his language. Be wary of the ideologue who self-servingly quotes this founding father -- for likely his pearls of phrase on equality or gun rights or states rights are often more costumed in reality.

All of this is not to take much away from Jefferson's greatness only to diminish from those...more
Won this Advanced Readers Edition of - Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power - through GR Giveaways, after some consideration whether I should enter the Giveaway in the first place. I like nonfiction, biography, and history – and this book represented all three – but I had some misgivings. What more can be said of Thomas Jefferson? There already exists a body of work on Jefferson that is spectacular – noting just the five-volume 1975 Pulitzer Prize winning effort of Dumas Malone (Jefferson and his...more
Jon Meacham provides an excellent popular biography on the life of Thomas Jefferson. Without going into too much detail on anyone part of his life the author is able to give you a sample of Jefferson without bogging down in certain places as some authors have done in the past. The subtitle is a little misleading since there really is no tie back to the art of power and there are but a few scant messages about the way Jefferson organizes his power and leadership style. One of the nice things the...more
May 18, 2013 Sharon rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs
Historically and personally interesting biography of Thomas Jefferson and the times in which he lived. If it wasn't for his stubborn and persistent efforts to keep America a government by the people, we might be a monarchy today. It's astonishing how few men of his day worked tirelessly and for most of their productive lifetimes to fend off enemies who would take over the young states or western parts of the US and to ensure that this country didn't become what the colonists had just left behind...more

My heart loves fiction shoot’em ups. My head makes me read nonfiction. I slogged through this well-searched biography of Jefferson (TJ), who I admire and respect. When I was about to write this short review I looked at Wikipedia. It said it all about him. That made me thinks, “Why didn’t I spend 10 minutes on Wikipedia and have hours more for non fiction? “ Great question. No good answer.

The book should have been trimmed by 1/3. Too many quotes from Jefferson’s papers. I found it often repetitiv...more
Rather stunned by all the glowing reviews of this book. It struck me that Meacham told, much more than showed, the story of Jefferson. I found myself wishing for more detail at every turn (Ben Franklin lent the word "self-evident" to the Declaration? ... would sure love to know more about that discussion; Jefferson lost his horse and got dysentery on his way to report to the House of Burgesses? ... what must that have been like in the 1700s?) Perhaps I just couldn't get into the mood of the book...more
Fascinating portrayal of our third president, a man of startling contradictions. Meacham shows him as a man opposed to slavery, yet who kept over 600 slaves on his plantations. He also participated in the removal of the indians and believed that if the slaves were to be freed, they should be sent back to Africa. Jefferson's interest in all areas of learning was an exceptional part of his personality.
Jefferson's personal life was equally interesting. His wife died young and extracted a promise...more
Don Bryant
A good read. There is very little about the "art of power" and more a generalized biography of Jefferson. Meacham is a fan and downplays the usual critique of Jefferson as duplicitous and a quiet subversive of his political opponents, John Adams in particular. There is always the constant theme of Jefferson and slavery and Jefferson's supposed willingness to accept the institution as a fact of his time which he was not going to be able to change. So he didn't even try. There was little surprise...more
Amanda Nelson
Totally fascinating look at Jefferson and his ability to exert his will quietly but thoroughly on people and nations. My only quibble is that the book seems to skirt around some of the more controversial points of Jefferson's life: his religious beliefs, his refusal to free his slaves despite his vocal condemnation of slavery. Meacham takes Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings as undeniable fact, which I agree with but haven't seen many historians do openly. Meacham can be a bit hero-wors...more
Great and easy to absorb history of Jefferson. The book is heavy on anecdote, this makes it easy to read, but often I felt I was merely glancing off the surface of Jefferson. I really enjoyed Meacham's insights into Jefferson's psyche. The passages reflecting the ongoing crises between the Federalists and Republicans and Jefferson's fear of the new nation crumbling back into the British fold make up the most enlightening parts of the book. Meacham does a wonderful job of trying to understand Jef...more
I was expecting a lot from this book because when it came out a little over a year ago it was very highly reviewed and recommended but for me the book fell short in a number of areas. This is probably between 2 1/2 and 3 stars for me so I've rounded up.

My biggest complaint was that the structure of the paragraphs within a chapter often felt choppy and unlinked. It was as though the author couldn't decide whether events within a chapter should proceed chronologically, around a theme, or in some o...more
Steven Peterson
This is a well written, fast moving biography of Thomas Jefferson. The chapters tend to be punchy and relatively brief (some as short as 5 or 6 pages long)'

I once reviewed Ellis book, "American Sphinx," a biography of Thomas Jefferson. At one point I mentioned Ellis' perspective:

"Thomas Jefferson, according to the author, was an American Sphinx. And, indeed, there is an elusive quality to Jefferson. As the biography outlines, he could be as vicious a political assassin as there was (e.g., his at...more
This is one of the best books I've ever read. It's right up there with Steven Ambrose's Undaunted Courage. Meacham deftly paints Jefferson as deeply human, (warts and all), enlightened, compassionate, and powerful. What impressed me the most is how this man created and defined the presidency, and what that meant. Recently I read Tempest at Dawn, (another well-done book) about the creation of the constitution. The members argued about the executive branch of the government. Some said there needed...more
I received this book free through Goodreads first Reads.

I'm still reading this, but it's tough. I was looking forward to this book because I really enjoyed Mr. Meacham's Andrew Jackson biography. My expectations have not been met.

I'm finding this book very boring. There's just a little too much detail that it's becoming distracting. I appreciate the amount of research Mr. Meacham performed, but is it necessary to say that the ship that Jefferson was on arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon? Are you...more
This latest biography of Jefferson was a Christmas gift from a friend. I'm grateful for the thoughtful gift, but was disappointed in the book.

Meacham wants to tell the story of Jefferson's mastery of political power, which resulted in the longest lasting political dynasty in our history. This is an interesting thesis. He also wants to restore some appreciation for Jefferson, which has suffered in the last few decades with confirmation of the relationship with Sally Hemmings and the spate of gre...more
Ted Hunt
I have never warmed to Jefferson and this book did not change that. It is well written, with many interesting insights, but I still think that the subject was deeply flawed. He clearly was a deep thinker, but consistently withdrew from confrontation when leadership was needed. He prided himself on his partisanship, even refusing to attend any of the commemorations after Washington's death. His great achievement as President, the Louisiana Purchase, was something he stumbled into, but at least he...more
Bill Wilson
Jon Meacham is a very erudite guy, and the prose in this book is often terrific. But as a storyteller, I think I like David McCullough better. McCullough's John Adams was less a pastiche of letter snippets, anecdotes, historical context and narrative exposition and more a cohesive story in which each of those elements was seamless part of telling that story. That's not to say this book was not enjoyable - Meacham's subject would have made it fascinating despite any shortcomings he may have as a...more
Jefferson had a lifelong habit of plunging his feet into cold water each morning when he woke up to promote good health. If nothing else, the discipline required helped to get out of bed and be active.

He created his own version of the Gospels by getting rid of the supernatural and implausible parts and putting the rest in chronological order.

He promised his dying wife he would never remarry. But he had a love affair with a married woman, Maria Cosway. And he maintained a decades long relations...more
Keith Thompson
It is remarkable that over two hundred years later, America is still divided by the political visions of two men: Alexander Hamilton, and the subject of Jon Meachum’s new book, Thomas Jefferson. Even today, you will find fanatic supporters and detractors of each, as people on both the right and left seek to add the weight of a Founding Father to advance their own political agendas by extrapolating the views of these two intellectual giants. I’m an historian, and I try to view both men in their p...more
Jay Perkins
An excellent, objective, and fair biography on Thomas Jefferson. Meacham covers the entirety of Jefferson's life, but states in an author's note that his goal wasn't to "write a full life and times" but to paint a "portrait" that "neither lionizes nor indicts Jefferson, but instead restores him to his full and rich role as an American statesmen who resists easy labeling."

Meacham points out that "nearly two decades of highly acclaimed biographies of John Adams, of Alexander Hamilton, and of Geor...more
This is not just a biography of Jefferson but a description of his world in the way that he saw it. It attempted to help the reader understand why he made the decisions he made and how they were shaped by the circumstances of the time. Many of his positions are frustrating from the modern perspective but make much more sense once the setting is understood. Jefferson wanted smaller government and won the battle against Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists who wanted a strong central government...more
Thomas Jefferson was a fascinating and complex man, and this biography is a fascinating and complex book. If your history classes were like mine, during early years of the formation of this country, the establishment of the United States was a forgone conclusion. Not so, and not only did I learn about the man, I learned more about the struggles of my country's creation.

This isn't a light and easy read, but it is also not unduly scholarly. For my tastes, I prefer the writing style of David McCull...more
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Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek, a Pulitzer Prize winning bestselling author and a commentator on politics, history, and religious faith in America.
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“Our greatest leaders are neither dreamers nor dictators: They are, like Jefferson, those who articulate national aspirations yet master the mechanics of influence and know when to depart from dogma.” 7 likes
“He dreamed big but understood that dreams become reality only when their champions are strong enough and wily enough to bend history to their purposes.” 4 likes
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