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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  34,089 ratings  ·  1,992 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)
Russ Grossman Like with the Washington biography you asked about as well, I think this book is pretty balanced in it's portrayal of Jefferson. There are extensive p…moreLike with the Washington biography you asked about as well, I think this book is pretty balanced in it's portrayal of Jefferson. There are extensive parts about slavery, his view on slavery, the conditions of his slaves, and his affair with Sally Hemmings. None of these men were perfect, but they all contributed to the country we have today. There are far worse figures in history than Washington and Jefferson. Take a look at Andrew Jackson. I nevertheless enjoyed this book and found it very informative and interesting.(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
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
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
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
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
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
So after having 3 months to ponder what I really want to read after libraries reopen, I chose a curriculum highlighting one of my passions which is American history. I love this book for its objectivity. Meacham does not rip Jefferson to shreds for his sins.

I could clearly see and be awestruck by what a great American Jefferson was and how indispensable his contribution to the country is. Jefferson held the vision of what nation America was to become.

A list of his accomplishments:
*writer of t
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
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.
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
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
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
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.

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.
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing

“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
Bryan Alkire
Readable enough biography. I thought it was a pretty decent account of Jefferson’s life. It could have used more about his time as a lawyer, but other than that, pretty solid. My problems with this book are two. First, the footnote strings drove me nuts. I don’t really see the need for citing every sentence and certainly not footnote strings. It was distracting. It also made the author look as though he didn’t really have any original thoughts about his research material. Probably not fair, but ...more
John Gilbert
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It only took me three years to read this magnificent biography of one of the founders of the USA. An interesting and complex man, this book is one of the best biographies I have ever read. By the end, I felt a greater understanding of the man, his successes and failings. In writing the Declaration of Independence, he opens with 'All men are created equal', of course eliminating all women, any slave or man who did not own property. Himself a slave owner and the father of at least four children wi ...more
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
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
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!!! ...more
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
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
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
Jill Hutchinson
I don't usually read Presidential biographies but this one had a little different approach which made it worthwhile.. Rather than probing Jefferson's personal life in-depth, the author provided us a word picture on those aspects of his personality and style which gave him the ability to help shape and govern the new and rather amorphous place called the United States of America. I also found his "supporting cast" in the government quite fascinating. Meacham shows us that Jefferson was rather an ...more
Sep 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Democratic Republicans getting mellow in France, Virginia slaveowners who keep, ahem, mistresses
I continue my trek through presidential biographies. I felt that Lin-Manuel Miranda treated John Adams with unnecessary harshness, but he pretty much got Jefferson right.

Lin-Manuel Miranda cast Jefferson as the antagonist for much of the second arc of Hamilton. Jefferson is the Founding Father who's most fallen out of favor, not only being a slave-owner (like Washington), but actually fathering children with his slave mistress (a sin Washington was, so far as is known, never guilty of).

Jon Meach
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
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
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
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
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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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“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.” 19 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.” 19 likes
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