Jon Meacham’s book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art Of Power, is laughably misnamed— laughably and irritatingly. The biography in no way delves deeply into the cunning master-politician’s political genius.
The book covers no new ground, nor does it add any new insights concerning the life, mind, or times of Jefferson. It is a one-volume rehash of dozens of better books previously written upon the subject.
Luckily, I listened to the work as a book on compact disc and so did not tire my overworked eyes wastefully on such a mediocre and redundant offering. Only because I had no great opposition to hearing a review of Jefferson’s life in my off moments did I bother finishing the set of discs at all. A less-necessary book has rarely been published. Secondary or tertiary sources— hell, Wikipedia!– could well have provided all the information needed to puff and fluff the area between the two covers of this biography.
The author is an apologist of Jefferson, rarely remarking upon the great man’s foibles without in some way excusing them. And in a book titled “The Art Of Power,” a shameful amount of space is squandered on Jefferson’s personal life (Sadly, people today care more about Jefferson’s sex life than his political philosophy).
Amazingly for a book so-titled, we learn next to nothing about Jefferson’s political enemies or his comrades in arms. We hear precious few details, none new, about the battles they waged and the arguments that were made for the hearts and minds of their countrymen and for their places in history. Enemies of Jefferson (such as Hamilton) and friends (such as Madison) are mentioned, but their personalities and interactions with Jefferson are glossed over, as too are the more complex working relationships of Jefferson, such as Washington, Burr, and John Adams.
I would have loved reading an insightful analysis of how Jefferson –a flawed man who made his share of mistakes in both the public and private arenas– fought for and maintained influence and prestige during the turbulent days of the founding of the United States. In spite of its title, this book was certainly not that.
Perhaps I would not be so embittered toward the book if it had been given a more honest name, such as: Thomas Jefferson: A Superficial Overview.