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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  28,795 ratings  ·  1,868 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, 759 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Random House
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Mike That Jefferson was neither the unreasonable ideologue that his critics make him out to be nor the expounder of perfect ideals that some who would like…moreThat Jefferson was neither the unreasonable ideologue that his critics make him out to be nor the expounder of perfect ideals that some who would like to make him their standard bearer make him out to be. Meacham presents him as a largely decent but naturally flawed man of his age who indulged in enough philosophy to be drawn towards ideals but who was tethered to earth by a sense of political reality that included both a legitimately good-hearted desire to bring about good outcomes and a vain concern for his own reputation and material needs.

My take is that, while there's no way to write a perfect biography of Jefferson, the best part of this book is that it doesn't try to force Jefferson to conform to a single-clause thesis. (less)

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Elyse  Walters
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
In Jefferson's early days of life we learn that he was born into a reputable known family.
Author Jon Meacham tells us that it was said that Jefferson studied 15 hours a day, rising at dawn and reading until 2 o'clock each morning. At twilight in Williamsburg he exercised by running to a stone a mile from town; at Shadwell, he rowed a small canoe of his own across the Rivanna River and climbed the mountain he was to call
Monticello. For Jefferson laziness was a sin.
Like his father, he believed i
...more
Matt
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Meacham's biography on Thomas Jefferson. Choosing to infuse literary breath into one of the key actors in much of the early creation of the state and its constitutional foundations, Meacham not only offers an over-arching narrative, but delves into the corners of Jefferson's life, allowing the reader to have a better and well-rounded approach to this key historical figure. While Meacham offe ...more
David Beeson
Jan 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Diane
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvelous biography of Thomas Jefferson, who is arguably America's most complicated Founding Father. Jefferson is famous for many reasons, but he is often summed up by this contradiction: He wrote "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, and yet he owned slaves.

(As Jon Meacham noted, it seems Jefferson meant only white, land-owning men were created equal.)

A few years ago I had the chance to visit Monticello, Jefferson's home in Virginia, and I've been interested
...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
Roy Lotz
I did not enjoy this book. But my opinion might not be entirely fair, since it is colored by having read biographies of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams—two of Jefferson’s political foes—right before this, by two authors (Chernow and McCullough) whom I vastly prefer. This meant that I brought some strong preconceptions to the experience.

Nevertheless, I came to this book with a great deal of hope. Jefferson had come off rather badly in the two above-mentioned biographies. I wanted to see the oth
...more
Steve
Mar 25, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Shelly♥
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
Rincey
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
PSA: Edward Hermann narrates the audiobook (as well as a lot of other audiobooks) and it is a delightful way to consume this biography.
David Eppenstein
I have read several biographies either about TJ or where he was a significant character. In all of these works I have been searching for the source of his publicly perceived greatness. In this book I feel I have come a bit closer to understanding it but I, as yet, cannot accept it. Why, of all the Founders, does TJ merit monumental recognition alongside Washington in our nation's capital? Reading this book I have added to my knowledge of this man. Yes, he was truly intelligent, creative, and tal ...more
Sean
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, aadisc
Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow, I'll quote Jefferson's #6 Decalogue of Canons for Observations in Practical Life (other 9 are on page 487):
"We never repent of having eaten too little."

Kudos to Jon Meacham for daring to take on such a well-know man. So many competing biographies already exist. Meacham quotes biographer James Parton in 1874: "If Jefferson was wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right." This unbiased book sheds light on the truth to this statement.

Meach
...more
Steve
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2013/...

“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
Jay
Aug 26, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Swaroop
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
"lives in the hearts and minds..."

a #mustread for all, and specifically recommended to all the politicians of today...

Thomas Jefferson - a charming, graceful, visionary hero and most of all a human being who gave his best in spite of having all the regular flaws, in this imperfect world... a man who loved light...

Jon Meacham gives us a well-written and researched biography of this great man, who never gave up and kept going... It is, however, required to be pointed out that the book does not go
...more
Cheri
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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!!!
Darwin8u
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 interes
...more
Susan
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Amy
Dec 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, bio
Obviously with all biographies, how you frame your topic directs the course of the work. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power clearly lays out its "frame" in the title. This biography looks at Jefferson's attachment to power, both politically and personally.
I found the idea rather intriguing. Unfortunately, the author spends more time harping on Jefferson's supposed affair with Sally Hemings than on the way Jefferson accumulated power.
Therein lies my frustration with the book. As a biography, it
...more
Julie
Oct 21, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jerome
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Choppy and not as in-depth as it could be, but, in all, this was a great book. Meacham is effective in the limited goals he sets for himself in this new biography of Jefferson. He persuasively argues that Jefferson's fear of monarchists was not simple paranoia or demagoguery. Jefferson was right to fear concentrations of power in "monocrats" -- be they advocates of kings, those seeking to elevate Washington to dictator, or the powerful national banking interests that Hamilton promoted. Jefferson ...more
Ralph Strong
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
great book
Jay Connor
Sep 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mahlon
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
I must admit that as a committed Federalist and one who is therefore squarely in the Hamiltonian camp, I've had a tendency to deride Jefferson as a feminine Francophile at times. Therefore it is good to occasionally be reminded of how great Jefferson really was. Meacham Points out that once President, Jefferson had the creative flexibility to rise above party dogma, and make decisions that were best for the country. He also argues quite convincingly that to truly understand Jefferson's character ...more
Matt
The complex life and the politics of the third President of the United States in a dramatic period in history are brought to the fore in Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. After nearly twenty years in which Jefferson’s reputation has taken a hit through both scientific revelations and new biographies of his fellow Founders, the pragmatic philosopher who still yearned to daydream comes into better light 200 years after his time in office.

Meacham approached his book as a pure biogra
...more
Sharon
Mar 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Kelley
Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
This is the third and most satisfying biography I have read about Thomas Jefferson. Jon Meacham presents a solid view of Jefferson, the political legend, and Jefferson, the man. My key motivation for reading this book was that I wanted to understand more about who Jefferson was and what motivated him personally to take some of the political positions he did. I was very satisfied on both accounts. Previous to reading this book, I read Merrill Peterson's massive biography of Jefferson. While Peter ...more
Brian
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Rick
Jul 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaway-reads
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
Mlg
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
W. Whalin
Feb 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at the life of the third president of the United States. His immense impact on our world and culture carries into today's world. The detail and insights were incredible and it's worth listening to the entire book (as I did). I highly recommend the experience.
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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.

Articles featuring this book

His Favorite History Books: The Pulitzer-winning author of the new biography Thomas Jefferson picks his favorite works of historical scholarship.
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“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.” 19 likes
“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.” 16 likes
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