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Book Review: Author creates vivid portrait of Jefferson

Book Review: Author creates vivid portrait of Jefferson

"Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" (Random House), by Jon Meacham

November 16th, 2012 by JEFF AYERS, Associated Press in News

This book cover image released by Random House shows "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power," by Jon Meacham.

Photo by The Associated Press /News Tribune.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham follows his study of Andrew Jackson ("American Lion") with a fascinating and insightful look at the third president of the United States in "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power."

Many books have been written about Jefferson's life, but few have created such a vivid portrait. His contradictions were many. He seemed to be against slavery, yet he owned slaves. He was shy, yet he continued to seek political office. An incident while he was governor of Virginia would have shaken any man, and in today's society would have ended his political career, but he persevered and continued to dominate.

Meacham immerses the reader in that period of history to explain Jefferson's behavior during an era when the nation was as contradictory as he was. Growing pains were constant, and everything enacted or set as policy immediately set precedent.

What emerges is a Jefferson who utilized his power and charisma to get what he desired. He promised on his wife's deathbed to never marry again. But given the social mores of the time, Jefferson could flirt with married women and take one of his young slaves as a lover.

Meacham takes much of the historical material that could be dry and difficult to read and makes it sing.

His extraordinary research unveils a new Jefferson and a fresh approach to the time period. The view through the filter of Jefferson's skills as a leader and how he influenced everyone around him proves to be both intriguing and perceptive.

Many books have been written about Jefferson, but few are as good as this one. While it may not be the definitive book about him, it's close. "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" is an essential volume for both the casual reader and the biography scholar.