“Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” Is a Dynamic Biography of a Man Who Helped Author America

George Washington was honest about chopping down his father’s (nonexistent) cherry tree, Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and John Adams got a bad ass HBO series starring Paul Giamatti and Stannis Baratheon. I’m not sure why we tell these abbreviated stories to our children and have to pay for cable in order to get a more in-depth story. Great heroes of the past always appear hollow without knowing their mortal foibles.

Thus, while some presidents could be satisfied with the short and concise volumes of HarperCollins’ Eminent Lives series, Jon Meacham made it his business to craft a more comprehensive tale for our third president in Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.

Jefferson, as a whole, seems to embody the conflict at the heart of all governments, that struggle between ideology and pragmatism. He penned our declaration—a clear statement for England to back off as it was a seduction of France to lend aid—and abhorred the idea of a strong, centralized power while wielding his own executive power quite decisively to secure the Louisiana Purchase.

While I would have liked to see more color (and perhaps more HBO-style drama), Meacham does a fabulous job reviewing familiar ground and unearthing new perspectives.

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