LITERATURE

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

. November 2012. 800p. 978-1-40006-676-4. 35.
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Pulitzer Prize–winner Meacham (executive editor & executive vice president, Random House; American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House) claims that previous Jefferson scholars have not grasped the authentic Jefferson. Meacham unmasks a power-hungry, masterful, pragmatic leader who was not above being manipulative to achieve his goal: an enduring, democratic republic defined by him. A brilliant philosopher whose lofty principles were sometimes sidelined for more realistic goals, Meacham’s Jefferson, neither idol nor rogue, is a complex mortal with serious flaws and contradictions. Despite his dedication to human liberty, he would not impose practical measures to end slavery. Here, Jefferson’s political instincts trumped his moral and philosophical beliefs, and he lived uncomfortably with that contradiction, believing that slavery would eventually end but unable to create a balance between human freedom and political unity. Meacham believes that what some recent writers have viewed as hypocrisy was actually genius. Failing to solve the conundrum of slavery, Jefferson creatively and successfully applied power, flexibility, and compromise in an imperfect world.
VERDICT General and academic readers will find a balanced, engaging, and realistic treatment of the forces motivatingthe third President, the subject of unending fascination and debate. [See Prepub Alert, 5/10/12.]

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