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Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 31, 2005
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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 that struggle 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.
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Top Customer Reviews
As Hitchens notes early on, Jefferson was more than just a "man of contradictions." He more or less embodied contradiction. Few writers, in my experience, are better equipped to identify contradictions, expose hypocrisies, and "call B.S." when necessary, than Christopher Hitchens. He did it with (or to) Clinton, he did it with Kissinger, and it seems only right to have spent a few hours on this Fourth of July exploring with him the evolving ideas and motivations of Mr. Jefferson himself.
Today, conservatives, libertarians, and leftists, Republicans and Democrats, anti-government "militias" and activist social-engineer types all claim Jefferson as one of their own. And each does so with some justice. Hitchens does an excellent job of walking through Jefferson's shifting opinions on questions like the proper powers of government, centralization versus "states' rights", the necessity of revolution, international relations, and much more. This is far from a comprehensive biography of Jefferson, and it certainly lacks the Olympian objectivity we get from most modern biographers. Hitchens has strong opinions, especially about religion, and he's not in the least hesitant about making those part of his discussion. Unlike another reviewer I wouldn't recommend this title for someone who has never read much about Jefferson before. But given Hitchens' keen eye and sharp pen, I think it certainly ranks among the best *interpretations* of Jefferson I've yet seen.
So, can a fair biography of Thomas Jefferson be written by someone who still reveres the genie of Bolshevik revolution, Leon Trotsky? Trotsky, who would certainly not have turned into a Jeffersonian democrat, had he ever gotten the whip hand in Russia? Well, generally speaking, yes. Jefferson gets a predictably rough ride in these pages. His famous contradictions are not excused, and unqualified admiration is given only for his many scientific interests and his anticlericalism. And one wonders if such charity as Hitchens does extend to Jefferson is a result of his galvanized respect for the American project in the wake of 9/11. As many enemies as Hitchens has made over the years, though, no one serious has ever accused him of being ignorant. Hitchens has read deeply and wide--he ticks off an impressive bibliography in his introduction--is aware of his own leanings, and his writing has the familiar learned but curdled j'accuse tone it always did. (Plus, students picking up this small book for a homework assignment will probably need to look up words like "uxoriousness", for example.)
Hitchens is of course a well-known cultured despiser of religion, and he is drawn to those passages in Jefferson's writings which reflect the same attitude.Read more ›
However, I am disappointed in this book, for the following reasons:
First, the book seems to have been written hastily - facts are thrown in here and there, associations to other events in Jefferson's life, without sufficient explanation, and violating the chronology of the narrative. This makes the book confusing to read, espcially if the reader is not already familiar with Jefferson's life.
Secondly, the book places a lot of emphasis on issues that are "Politically Correct" at the present time. In fact, Hitchens adopts a kind of sermonizing tone with regard to these issues, which the hastiness of his scholarship renders unconvincing. It reads like the kind of grandstanding you see in journalists giving speeches at universities.
Nonetheless, there is something to be learned in this book, and Hitchens' unique background does enable him to select some interesting moments to highlight in Jefferson's life and writings. I would recommend this book only as a companion to a fuller biography of Jefferson, such as "American Sphinx" by Joseph J. Ellis.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Christopher Hitchens is such a brilliant writer. Smart insightful enjoyable. Great reading.Published 22 days ago by SUSAN
I have been wanting to read this book for sometime. Hitchens did not disappoint. It is a quick read but Hitchens was able to write about Jefferson in depth. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
It was interesting but unnecessarily dense at points. It also was bout the man, not of the man. It felt like being told about someone where I wanted to get to know that someonePublished 2 months ago by Pilar Davalos Lince
Great biography written by a Brit who held dual citizenship. All the important aspects of Jefferson's life were included with a few surprise facts. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Word Mistress
Towards the end of this short biography, Hitchens describes one of Jefferson's post-presidential activities, and adds a tart parenthetical remark:
... Read more
Very interesting. Lots of stuff about TJ that I didn't know. Gives me a great appreciation of things that shaped Jefferson, who in turn shaped our nation.Published 2 months ago by MarkyMark