Jefferson: The Art of Power

jeffartpowerJefferson: The Art of Power
by Jon Meacham
2012 / 800 pages

This is coming up on the All-nonfiction list and at the time I stared I thought I’d get a head start.  Took me several weeks anyway.    It seemed quite good from the first several pages,  but I got waylaid and ended up reading several other books.

Now I’m finished (whew) and have to say that the experience of the first few pages continued.  Although I got the Audible version and listened to parts of it,  my basic reading was in the Kindle edition.

The driving idea behind Meacham’s book is Jefferson’s quest for power.  This is usually read about in books on John Adams where Jefferson is demonized at times (or used to be).  Meacham looks at Jefferson’s quest for power more leniently, seeing his patriotism and his fears of monarchy as being instigators of that (as well as Jefferson’s inimitable personality).

I was surprised to learn of Jefferson’s intimate and immediate knowledge of the inner workings of the French Revolution.  Of course I knew it influenced him but I didn’t know the extent of his involvement.

Meacham treats the Sally Hemings issue with a great deal of respect and sensitivity but in the end doesn’t let Jefferson off the hook.  Yes,  he was a product of his times but there were others who freed their slaves.

So much of what went on then,  the polarization of Congress,  the freedom of ideas vs protection from foreign spies/terrorists,  continues today.  Some of it will always be an issue in a free country – how much freedom to give those who would destroy it?

Meacham quotes large chunks of Jefferson’s writings as well as other writings of the times (about or to Jefferson).  Doing that changes the style of the narrative and at times Meacham falls into the 18th century vocabulary and syntax making the book a bit less than “easy reading.”

It’s quite interesting to read various accounts of Jefferson,  Adams,  Washington,  Hamilton,  and others.  Point of view is so important –



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