The History Book Club discussion

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
This topic is about Thomas Jefferson

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 27, 2012 11:39AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
For those of you who have completed the book and/or who want to discuss aspects of the book which are beyond our weekly assignments in the non spoiler threads, this thread is a spoiler thread where you can discuss those points.

If you have completed the book and would like to tell us what you thought about this selection, please feel free to discuss your opinions in a respectful way here.

This is the thread where you post your reviews after reading the book.

However, please no links to personal reviews because we consider that self promotion. Simply post your thoughts here without the links.

Many folks read ahead of the weekly assignment and that is OK too; however, you must make sure that your posted comments on the other weekly non spoiler threads do not reflect reading ahead of the posted weekly assignment. If you would like to discuss aspects of the book further along, this is a spoiler thread where you can do just that.

We try to move along the discussion slowly on the weekly non spoiler threads but realize that some folks like to move along swiftly. So we have options for both groups of folks.

Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power by Jon Meacham Jon Meacham Jon Meacham

message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Just an FYI:

Folks, goodreads has a disclaimer at the bottom of their book giveaways which says the following:

In compliance with FTC guidelines, please disclose in your review that you received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

In the instance of a book here make sure to say that you got the book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads if you plan to post reviews elsewhere - like on the goodreads site or on the web.

I guess any free item when you review it has to have that disclaimer if you do the review on goodreads, on a blog, anyplace.

message 3: by Sherry (last edited Nov 23, 2012 10:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sherry (directorsherry) | 129 comments This is one of the best books I've ever read. It's right up there with Steven Ambrose's Undaunted Courage. Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose Undaunted CourageStephen E. Ambrose 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) Tempest At Dawn Tempest At Dawn by James D. Best James D. Best about the creation of the constitution. The members argued about the executive branch of the government. Some said there needed to be a committee of three, others felt that would create argument and would slow the government. Finally Washington is elected as the first president. Interestingly it took three presidents to figure out how to be a president, and our first two were excellent men. Washington impresses me as more of a facilitator as an executive, Adams more as a controller veering toward dictator -- (The Alien and Sedition Acts). Jefferson is a part of both of these administrations, first as secretary of state and then as vice president. He has learned a lot, it seems. Meacham in the epilogue shows us how presidents of both parties use Jefferson as a lodestar to guide them. This is an excellent book, it reads like great fiction. I am grateful to Mr. Meacham, Random House and the Goodreads Giveaways for giving me this book.

Bryan Craig Thanks, Sherry.

message 5: by Lewis (new)

Lewis Codington | 291 comments Jon Meacham gives us a wonderful, pleasantly flowing, and engaging account of Thomas Jefferson's life in his new book. The action is fast moving, and the years and decades fall away quickly in this brief treatment of Jefferson's grand life. Meacham gives us a very good overview of Jefferson as a person, his views, and what he gave to the new nation. Written in an interesting way, Meacham leaves me wanting to dig deeper and to learn more of Jefferson. One certainly comes away feeling that Jefferson was a great man who was in the right place at the right time...both for his career as well as for the founding of America. But we also see that Jefferson was not perfect, superhuman, or unbelievable. He was inconsistent, hypocritical, and not always compassionate. But these imperfections give us a greater appreciation for this man and all that he gave to our nation.

I received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

Bryan Craig Great, Lewis, thanks for sharing your review.

message 7: by G (new) - rated it 4 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments I would like to thank the Goodreads History Book Club and Random House for this book, which I received as a free Goodreads giveaway.

I am almost as conflicted about this book as I am about the subject. As to Jefferson, I go from abhorring his inability to act on abolition, even when it is not necessary for any direct political purpose on his part, as with the Missouri Compromise, to choking up with pride during Jefferson’s toast to LaFayette.

Meacham shows Jefferson not as a reflection of his time, but because, to the best of his ability, Jefferson thought strategically, to the future. To our time. Some thing, some vision our current politicians are seemingly incapable of doing.

As to the book, I am at once annoyed by it, but also amazed by the authors abilities to draw parallels to todays politics. I am grateful it was not another salacious polemic in the Jefferson-Hemmings canon except where necessary to make a point. What bothered me the most was that the author would drop in tidbits of information, factoids, which have no link to any topic in the immediate vicinity of the statement (although Jefferson’s envisioning a lending library was something I did not know). And at crucial times, the author would not advance his thesis of power and control when it seemed to have been a perfect opportunity to do so (the Barbary wars, for example).

I was going to give it 3 stars because of the conflict between content and structure but then Mr. Meacham gave us the epilogue. Here are the points which could have been scattered throughout the book, but which he gathers together in this summation. He quotes from Lincoln and 20th Century presidents who reference Jefferson when describing the country as one for all the people and not just the privileged few.

As Meacham said, “His (Jefferson's) genius lay in his versatility”; but as the author also points out during the book, this versatility came through control of and power over his world.

An annoying book, but ultimately a satisfying one.

Bryan Craig Thanks, G. Crazy ride but a very interesting one.

message 9: by G (new) - rated it 4 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments I would also like to thank the readers at Goodreads, for their knowledgeable and interesting contributions to the discussions on TJ. I may not have agreed all the time, but appreciated the counterpoint!

Peter Flom I enjoyed reading this book with this group: It's my first time doing this, and I look forward to doing it again.

Given the praise which has been heaped on Meacham's book, I found it somewhat disappointing; certainly it is not a bad book, but it is not as good as it might have been. Consider "the Art of Power" - how exactly did Jefferson amass and use his power? I was left not knowing. Contrast this with Robert Caro 's multivolume biography of LBJ: As he proceeds from The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #1) by Robert A. Caro to Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #2) by Robert A. Caro to Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #3) by Robert A. Caro exactly how LBJ got and used power.

Of course, Caro has the advantage that contemporaries of LBJ are still alive. But Jefferson left a trove of correspondence. I thought this could have been better used.

Nevertheless, this is a good and balanced life of one of our most multi-faceted presidents.

Bryan Craig Thanks for joining us Peter.

message 12: by Katy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) I received this book free from the publisher through the History Book Club here on GoodReads.
This is a wonderful biography of Thomas Jefferson. Jon Meacham allows the frailties of the man to show through while still allowing us to see his greatness and accomplishments in the name of liberty. The notes in the book are extensive and it is worth your time to read the author's notes and acknowledgements also. I enjoyed this book so much and appreciate the opportunity to read it.

message 13: by Donna (last edited Feb 03, 2013 03:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Donna (drspoon) I received this book free from the publisher through the History Book Club at Goodreads.

As Meacham portrays him, Jefferson had a brilliant, curious mind, a great deal of personal charm, and a burning vision for the democratic nation that America could become. He was deeply philosophical but at times saw the necessity of balancing his personal beliefs and philosophies with the political and practical realities he faced. During his lifetime, he suffered devastating personal and financial losses as well as some debilitating and chronic health problems. His actions weren't always consistent with his ideals, which is glaringly evident in his failure to pursue the abolition of slavery, his personal holding of slaves, and his relationship with Sally Hemmings.

I think Meacham's portrayal is a thoughtful and fair analysis. I liked that he provides primary source materials in the form of letters and first hand observers throughout the book. My only negative observation is that I wish he had included more about the Louisiana Purchase and Jefferson's Indian policies.

Bryan Craig Kathy wrote: "I received this book free from the publisher through the History Book Club here on GoodReads.
This is a wonderful biography of Thomas Jefferson. Jon Meacham allows the frailties of the man to show ..."

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kathy.

Bryan Craig DonnaR wrote: "I received this book free from the publisher through the History Book Club at Goodreads.

As Meacham portrays him, Jefferson had a brilliant, curious mind, a great deal of personal charm, and a b..."

Great, Donna, thank you so much for joining us in our discussion.

Miranda Carbaugh | 9 comments I thought the book gave a very realistic portrayal of Thomas Jefferson's character. In addition the stories were very vivid. I read the book through the Goodreads Giveaway, and appreciate the opportunity. Before reading this book I had minimal knowledge of the subject matter. After reading the book I feel that I learned a lot about that timeframe in American history. I would have liked to learn more about Thomas Jefferson's personal life, but realize that the biography was written through the scope of power.

Bryan Craig Thanks Miranda. There are a lot of TJ biographies out there. Happy reading.

message 18: by Ann D (last edited Feb 06, 2013 10:08AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ann D I received this book free from the publisher through the History Book Club at Goodreads

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Poweris a very readable biography of the third president by Jon Meacham. Jefferson left a wealth of correspondence and papers, and it is impossible to cover all facets of his life in detail in one volume. Meacham chooses to concentrate on Jefferson’s political skills. Jefferson used his natural abilities well to get and maintain power. These included a superior command of the written word, a congenial and persuasive personality that was at its best in the small groups he cultivated, and an amazing work ethic. He generally avoided direct confrontation and liked to wield power behind the scenes through very loyal and able allies like James Madison. Importantly, Meacham shows that Jefferson was a pragmatist who had the flexibility to adjust his ideas and actions. Without this ability, for example, we could never have had the Louisiana Purchase.

One thing that I especially liked about this book was that Meacham shows Jefferson in the context of his own very turbulent times. Even after the Constitution was signed, there was widespread disagreement about the role of the Federal government and its different branches. The development of political parties threatened to tear the country apart.(In fact the rabid political attacks of his day, make our own political attack ads look almost tame; I didn’t think that was possible). The security and stability of the new republic was anything but assured, both from internal and external enemies. Jefferson worried constantly about the British threat, in particular.

The book, in general, paints a very favorable picture of Jefferson. Towards the end of the book, Meacham is careful to acknowledge that Jefferson had some serious flaws, in particular his stance on slavery and his failure to deal with the spiraling debt that his lavish lifestyle exacerbated. However, he chooses to concentrate on what Jefferson did accomplish, rather than the things he left undone. Considering his goal of showing Jefferson’s political abilities, I think this is fair.

The book is very well written and the pages fly by fast. It is a good introduction to a fascinating individual.

Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power by Jon Meacham Jon Meacham Jon Meacham

message 19: by Bryan (last edited Feb 06, 2013 09:07AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bryan Craig Thanks Ann.

Don't forget to add the book cover and author photo and link. You can add it to the end of your post. Best for viewing:

Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power by Jon Meacham Jon Meacham Jon Meacham

Ann D Done.

message 21: by Jill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) 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 enigma and not always a paragon of idealism. Overall, it was an interesting approach to the man and his time.

I received this book gratis from Random House through Goodreads

Bryan Craig Thanks for joining us, Jill.

Alisa (mstaz) Very interesting and somewhat intense book about Thomas Jefferson who, as the author points out, was more than a diplomat and more than a statesman and more than a president and more than a philsoper, and more than the sum of those parts. I came away from this with a much better understanding of TJ's motivations, aspriations, and point of view. I typically find this period of time difficult to relate to but am also very curious about what life was like, and the who and how and time when our now powerful democracy was formed. The author did a wonderful job of making TJ understood, amid his many conflicts and warts and moments of glory and sadness. I can understand why many presidents after his time have studied and revered him. A fascinating and complex subject matter is aptly examined by a precise and thoughtful author.

I received this book from Random House through Goodreads. Thank you!

message 24: by Joanne (new) - added it

Joanne | 647 comments Many thanks to Bryan and to all the participants for a very interesting discussion. In the end, I feel the book is a solid, contemporary, beautifully produced springboard to learn about Thomas Jefferson, a man and a mind who will never be contained or fully assessed in a single volume.

I purchased my copy and listened, in part, to the audio version (borrowed from my public library). The reading was excellent and I highly recommend it.

Bryan Craig Thanks Joanne for participating and the kind words. Great to have you.

message 26: by Bryan (last edited Feb 11, 2013 09:00AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bryan Craig I really liked the book. I think it could have better if Meacham stayed on point about TJ as a politician and his use of power. Maybe it could have been a more precise book. But I understand he is trying for a wider audience. Yet, overall, I would recommend it in a moment.

Now I have to read his earlier work:

American Lion Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham Jon Meacham Jon Meacham

Sherry (directorsherry) | 129 comments I have enjoyed the discussions on all the chapters and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this. Thanks to all concerned, especially Bryan for his facilitation of the discussion. The summaries of chapters were excellent.

Bryan Craig Thanks, Sherry; I am glad you had the opportunity.

Tomerobber | 334 comments I have enjoyed reading this book that I received courtesy of the first reads program via Random House publishers . . thanks so much for the opportunity.

I liked this book for it's friendly approach to the presentation of history. I had never read anything in depth about Thomas Jefferson other than what I learned in school so it was refreshing to have a more detailed look at the man. And though others have wished for more details about certain aspects . . . I felt that Meacham did a great job. I'm sure it's difficult to present material in a new manner when there is sooo much of it available. I felt he did a great job of providing extensive notes and bibliography for additional reference.

As to the Art of power - I feel that although TJ had the opportunity to wield it fully . . . he frequently stepped back and preferred to work behind the scenes by influencing others rather than bullying them into a particular position. And since he was so opposed to the concept of a monarchy he went for the consensus of opinion instead.

Since this is the second President I have had the pleasure of following in a discussion group at the HBC . . . my interest has now been pricked enough to decide to read at least one or two offerings on each of them. I had always been more interested in reading and learning about world history . . . and now find myself discovering and wanting to know more about US history!

Thanks to everyone here for the discussion and suggestions . . . It's been a great read! And to Bryan for another great moderating job and for providing such great additional background info.

Bryan Craig And thank you, Tomerobber, for giving us a lot to think about in our discussion. I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

Ann D Good review, Tomereader. I've also found that one of the great things about this group is that it encourages me to read more about the subject.

Bryan, we are very lucky to have you not only moderate the discussions, but also post so much additional information about the people and events referenced in the books.

Bryan Craig Me, too, Ann. Thank you.

I'm glad my work made the experience more enjoyable. We strive to be the best.

message 33: by Gabriel (new) - added it

Gabriel I received Jon Meacham's book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power for free by Goodreads Giveways.

I found the book very enlightening to not only the life of Thomas Jefferson, but many founding fathers who are often forgotten in the presence of the mos famous ones. The book put me in the perspective of how people in the South lived there lives and as foreward thinking as Jefferson was he could not free all his slaves.

I knew the importance of Madison to him and the frequency Jefferson wrote for him for guidance, to pick his brain, and develop their political party, but knew little of how much he trusted James Monroe.

I find it interesting how John Q. Adams politics was more in line with Jefferson than his own fathers. I might have to get some books on Q. Adams, Monroe, and Madison to find out more about those Presidents.

William Mego (willmego) *I just now realized I had forgotten to post this here, despite posting the review itself Jan 30th! Here it is, and I want to thank again everybody involved, esp. Bentley and Bryan, and this group in general! It's a great thing, all of this. Now to prevent myself from trying to convince the group to read an amazing book on the war of 1812....*
I must note that I received this book through the History Book Club on Goodreads, through the Published as an advance copy, for which I am very grateful to both the History Book Club, and Random House, as well as the author, Mr. Meacham.

This is a magnificent effort from it's very accomplished author. One truly feels as though you have a grasp of the 3rd President of the United States as a man, and a much deeper understanding of his younger days. The book is filled with fascinating passages and I cannot recommend it highly enough. However, I have one small issue which prevents me from giving it a 5th star (see end). The book is ostensibly about his use of personal and political power, and does make the case...without illustrating it. Time again we're told of the manner of management and of manipulation (Meacham is to be lauded for his even-handed and balanced approach to a man you can easily love or hate) but we're only provided a few examples of it. He whets my appetite for knowledge of the mechanics of his administration, but fails to sate it. I realize he might have wanted to avoid ranging into too technical an arena, and to keep the book in the spectrum of potential best-sellers, which he did, and the book has, but Jefferson's Aggressive-Passive methods are largely still a mystery to me at this point. I felt as though I needed about double the content for the period covering his time as Vice-President and President. I imagine that a couple of books on Madison will probably do the trick. However, it is a really good book, so I think in the end it wins back a star simply for being so much better than most of what there is to read. In comparison, it's a superb book. It just came so close to being the perfect accomplishment of it's mission, I wished it could have made that final step.

Bryan Craig Thanks for posting Gabriel and Will.

A hallmark of a good book is the leaving with the need to read more and Meacham succeeds.

Gabriel: visit the Presidential Series thread in our group and find some good books on JQA, Monroe, and Madison.

message 36: by Joanne (new) - added it

Joanne | 647 comments Bryan wrote: "Thanks for posting Gabriel and Will.

A hallmark of a good book is the leaving with the need to read more and Meacham succeeds.

Gabriel: visit the Presidential Series thread in our group and fin..."

Bryan, I agree. Always leave them wanting more! Meacham has lite more than a few flames with his work.

Bryan Craig It is very dangerous for our TBR lists :-)

message 38: by Joanne (new) - added it

Joanne | 647 comments Bryan wrote: "It is very dangerous for our TBR lists :-)"


back to top