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Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives)

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Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives) Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In this unique biography of Thomas Jefferson, leading journalist and social critic Christopher Hitchens offers a startlingly new and provocative interpretation of our Founding Father. Situating Jefferson within the context of America's evolution and tracing his legacy over the past two hundred years, Hitchens brings the character of Jefferson to life as a man of his time and also as a symbolic figure beyond it.

Conflicted by power, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and acted as Minister to France yet yearned for a quieter career in the Virginia legislature. Predicting that slavery would shape the future of America's development, this professed proponent of emancipation elided the issue in the Declaration and continued to own human property. An eloquent writer, he was an awkward public speaker; a reluctant candidate, he left an indelible presidential legacy.

Jefferson's statesmanship enabled him to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with France, doubling the size of the nation, and he authorized the Lewis and Clark expedition, opening up the American frontier for exploration and settlement. Hitchens also analyzes Jefferson's handling of the Barbary War, a lesser-known chapter of his political career, when his attempt to end the kidnapping and bribery of Americans by the Barbary states, and the subsequent war with Tripoli, led to the building of the U.S. navy and the fortification of America's reputation regarding national defense.

In the background of this sophisticated analysis is a large historical drama: the fledgling nation's struggle for independence, formed in the crucible of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and, in its shadow, the deformation of thatstruggle in the excesses of the French Revolution. This artful portrait of a formative figure and a turbulent era poses a challenge to anyone interested in American history — or in the ambiguities of human nature.

Synopsis:

This compelling new biography of Jefferson is set amid the historical drama of the new nation's struggle for independence. The author presents a portrait of a formative figure and a turbulent era in history.

Synopsis:

In this unique biography of Thomas Jefferson, leading journalist and social critic Christopher Hitchens offers a startlingly new and provocative interpretation of our Founding Father—a man conflicted by power who wrote the Declaration of Independence and acted as ambassador to France yet yearned for a quieter career in the Virginia legislature. A masterly writer, Jefferson was an awkward public speaker. A professed proponent of emancipation, he elided the issue of slavery from the Declaration of Independence and continued to own human property. A reluctant candidate, he left an indelible presidential legacy. With intelligence, insight, eloquence, and wit, Hitchens gives us an artful portrait of a complex, formative figure and his turbulent era.

About the Author

Christopher Hitchens is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a visiting professor of liberal studies at the New School in New York City. He is the author of numerous books, including the controversial international bestseller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

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OneMansView, February 28, 2010 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Insightful, but not an arresting effort (3.25*s)

This book, while biographical in nature, represents a more free-form approach by British intellectual and polemicist, Christopher Hitchens, in examining the lengthy public service career and profound life of Thomas Jefferson. Hitchens essentially acknowledges the indebtedness that America has for both Jefferson’s ideas, in particular his democratic inclinations, despite his aristocratic background, seen in both his words in the Declaration of Independence and his vigorous opposition to the neo-aristocratic policies of the Federalist in the 1790s, and his policy initiatives during his presidency, such as finally suppressing the pirates of North Africa, doubling the land size of the US through the Louisiana Purchase, and enthusiastically backing the exploration of this newly purchased land by Lewis and Clark, reflective of his lifelong interest in botany, and the like.

Jefferson’s contradictions and difficulties seem to be a main focus for the author, not so much for purposes of condemnation, but more for ensuring a balanced approach. Clearly, Jefferson’s ambiguities concerning the actual equality of all men resonant most strongly in the modern era. As a Southern planter and beneficiary of its non-free labor system, he could not satisfactorily reconcile his principles with his practices in that regard. Jefferson’s lengthy association with his house servant Sally Hennings, including the fathering of several children, is never in doubt. Interestingly, the author shows that Jefferson, though not an aggressive individual, was fond of attractive women. A more serious situation for Jefferson in his lifetime was his hasty retreat from British troops during his last days as governor of Virginia in 1780, providing ammunition for his detractors in regard to his courage, a not insignificant matter for gentlemen in colonial society.

Jefferson was, hands-down, America’s foremost intellectual of his time. His vast accumulation of the latest books from throughout Europe was a lifelong obsession. In the aftermath of the burning of the Library of Congress during the War of 1812, Jefferson sold his personal collection of 6500 volumes to the Library, a substantial start for any great library. The downside to Jefferson’s intellectualism, was his tendency to romanticize revolutionary thought and actions. He turned a blind eye to the excesses of the French revolution far beyond any objective assessment. He was given to intemperate views, though not necessarily publicly stated, such as regarding the periodic spilling of blood as a means of renewing revolutionary ideals or holding that one generation owed little to their successors and that government and most institutions should begin anew. The author, given his well-known religious disinclination, is more than mildly appreciate of Jefferson’s fairly successful efforts, mostly in Virginia, to orchestrate legislation to curb the dominance of organized churches in social and political affairs. Jefferson’s specific religious ideas remain somewhat vague, yet his lifelong support of Thomas Paine, an infamous infidel and Revolutionary era hero, may be telling.

The book is mildly informative concerning the major activities and impact of Jefferson. Jefferson remains a remarkable man in Hitchens’ telling, though not without flaws. However, the book is somewhat selective in what is covered. Other principals of the era make mostly cameo appearances. The author brings a few scattered insights that perhaps lie outside a conventional biographical focus, not to mention his occasional literary phrasing, but given the author’s reputation for polemics, it might have been expected that sharper critiques would have been offered on Jefferson’s actions and significance. The complete absence of notes or an index in the book is indicative of the author’s indifference towards conventional biography or history. A few books are mentioned in an acknowledgements section. It has to be said that the book is not an arresting effort, falling short of expectations.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780060837068
Subtitle:
Author of America
Author:
Hitchens, Christopher
Author:
Hitchens, Christopher
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Subject:
Presidents & Heads of State
Subject:
Historical - U.S.
Subject:
United States - 19th Century
Subject:
Presidents -- United States.
Subject:
Jefferson, Thomas
Subject:
Presidents
Subject:
Biography-Presidents and Heads of State
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series:
Eminent Lives
Publication Date:
20090505
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
208
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.5 in 87.68 oz

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Related Subjects

Biography » Historical
Biography » Presidents and Heads of State
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » US History » 19th Century
History and Social Science » US History » Presidents » Jefferson, Thomas
History and Social Science » US History » Revolution and Constitution Era
History and Social Science » World History » General

Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives) New Trade Paper
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Product details 208 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780060837068 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , This compelling new biography of Jefferson is set amid the historical drama of the new nation's struggle for independence. The author presents a portrait of a formative figure and a turbulent era in history.
"Synopsis" by , In this unique biography of Thomas Jefferson, leading journalist and social critic Christopher Hitchens offers a startlingly new and provocative interpretation of our Founding Father—a man conflicted by power who wrote the Declaration of Independence and acted as ambassador to France yet yearned for a quieter career in the Virginia legislature. A masterly writer, Jefferson was an awkward public speaker. A professed proponent of emancipation, he elided the issue of slavery from the Declaration of Independence and continued to own human property. A reluctant candidate, he left an indelible presidential legacy. With intelligence, insight, eloquence, and wit, Hitchens gives us an artful portrait of a complex, formative figure and his turbulent era.
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