My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thomas Jefferson has always been a favorite among the American Revolutionaries. Until I read this book, I didn’t realize how little I knew about him. He was, along with his political life, a student of sciences, architecture, gardening, sociology, and more. He was an avid reader, and a lifelong student. He enjoyed gambling, hunting, and the social life of his era. He played violin and loved music. He was an advocate of daily exercise. Walking, running, and rowing were among his favorite means of exercise. He was passionate, sensual, sometimes quick-tempered, insatiably curious about everything, and a talented writer. He hated confrontation, yet loved the political arena where confrontation was almost constant. He often longed for a quiet life at Monticello with his family and his gardens, yet couldn’t stay away from the political life. He was a complex and fascinating man.
Meacham does a good job at bringing Jefferson the man to life in this biography. Utilizing archives in England, France, and the US, as well as unpublished presidential papers, Meachum gives a full picture of Jefferson, personally as well as the politician. There is a lot of time spent describing the atmosphere in the various parts of Jefferson’s life, and while it can become a bit tedious at times, the setting helps in understanding how and why Jefferson could seem so often to be contradicting his professed beliefs and opinions. He was, after all, a politician, and he knew how to use his abilities to get what he wanted from the others he dealt with. The book focuses closely on Jefferson’s early life, and perhaps doesn’t go as deeply as might be expected into his presidency and the accomplishments of his term in office, but those details are probably the most well-known about him. How he got to where he ended up, and what shaped his ideals and opinions are given more weight in this biography.
I found it very interesting, and I learned much about Jefferson and many of the other familiar names of our nation’s founding years. Very much recommended if you like history and want to know a bit more about Jefferson the man as well as the politician.
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