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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson - The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Thomas Jefferson


Book Review
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
by Jon Meacham
p. 2012
Random House


  Here is the funniest thing about Thomas Jefferson and his legacy.  Historians spent close to two centuries denying that Thomas Jefferson banged the enslaved half-sister of his wife and fathered a half dozen children by her.  "Oh no- that's impossible- it was his nephew....no, no no, he would NEVER EVER do such a thing."  Across the board- historians denied it coming up with dozens of excuses.  Then- in the 1990s they finally got some quality DNA tests done AND GUESS WHAT YEAH HE DID.    Jefferson not only fathered a half dozen children by Sally Hemings, he kept the children AS SLAVES.

  So now of course, historians are like, "Oh you have to judge him by the standards of his times."  Oh rly, historians?  Is that why y'all spent two centuries bending over backwards to deny the truth?  What a crock of shit.  There were plenty of founding fathers who didn't enslave their own children- like- oh, I don't know- all of them.

  Meacham, to his credit, I guess, acknowledges the factual truth of this relationship and tries to place it into the context of Jefferson's life and times but man- the more I think about it the more it grosses me out.  Which is not to say that Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is a gross book- quite the opposite.  Meacham's one volume biography of Jefferson won the Pulitzer Prize last year.

  It clocks in at 500 pages with an additional 200 pages of footnotes.  It's pretty hard to write a one volume of Jefferson's live- and to do it you need to assume that the reader is already familiar with the historical events in the Revolutionary/Early Republic era.   With 43 chapters Meacham keeps the narrative moving along- 10 pages on this, 10 pages on that- the pace more resembles a well researched feature film then a scholarly biography.  Perhaps for that reason Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power seems destined to maintain a position as a primary source for people looking to canvass the various stories of the founding fathers.

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