Monday, October 8, 2012

Well Researched, but Presents Primarily the Political Jefferson: Thomas Jefferson the Art of Power


Statesman, scientist, philosopher, farmer, aesthete, lover: Thomas Jefferson is endlessly fascinating. In this biography, Meacham concentrates on the political Jefferson and how Jefferson developed his vision of what the United States should become. We learn about his early life, but it fairly cursory. The majority of the book is about his political achievements with some slight divergence into this romantic life.

I was disappointed that we were given so few glimpses of Jefferson the scientist and farmer. His inventions are fascinating and shed a more complete light on the man who was also an eminent statesman.

The Sally Hemings controversy seems to always intrigue biographers. Meacham votes for the current explanation endorsed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. He quotes their report in the notes and gives references for dissenting opinions. He relies heavily on Madison Hemings account of events, particularly on what happened in France between Jefferson and Hemings. Although interesting, Madison's account seems to have some discrepancies which is unsurprising in a primarily oral history. I suggest that interested readers follow the notes and other sources to reach their own conclusions.

I enjoyed the book, but had reservations about the use of one line quotes. I read many of the notes, and I encourage anyone interested in scholarship to do the same. Jefferson was a brilliant multifaceted individual. Although the biography does a good job of presenting the statesman, it doesn't really to justice to the other facets of this complex individual.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.