- Series: Eminent Lives
- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Eminent Lives; First Edition edition (May 31, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060598964
- ISBN-13: 978-0060598969
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 218 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #801,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 31, 2005
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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 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.
Discover More Eminent Lives
Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code by Matt Ridley
Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind by Peter Kramer
Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power by Ross King
Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong
George Washington: The Founding Father by Paul Johnson
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From Publishers Weekly
In this brief yet dense biography, the newest in HarperCollins's Eminent Lives series, Hitchens (A Long Short War, etc.) proposes that Jefferson "designed America" when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, establishing "the concept of human rights, for the first time in history, as the basis for a republic." Hitchens is quick to point out, however, the obvious contradiction-that Jefferson was both an advocate for freedom and a slaveholder. Beginning with his aristocratic upbringing, which Jefferson purportedly viewed with "indifference," this biography explores both the private and public aspects of Jefferson's life, from his political philosophies to his affair with his slave Sally Hemings. In an attempt to set the facts straight about Hemings, Hitchens explains that, while technically a slave, she was actually related to Jefferson's wife and was treated "more like a privileged housemaid." Presenting countless excerpts from Jefferson's writings, Hitchens closely analyzes the President's words to reveal the Enlightenment ideas that shaped American policy, such as the separation of church and state and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. This opinionated, lively narrative sheds light not only on Jefferson's complex personality but on the politics of his time, making it both a fascinating character study and an excellent review of early American history.
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1) Creating the expansion of the country through the Louisiana Purchase and ultimately the impetus to include the lands from the East to the West coast.
2) Creating the force behind a strong Navy and ultimately the Marine core moving the country from isolationism to active involvement.
3) The movement that slavery was unacceptable although not truly recognizing Black people or Native Americans as truly equal to the “White” race.
Understanding his importance and contributions in these areas makes this book an important read for anyone interested in the history of the United States.
on Hitchens in order to take his point of view with a grain of salt. To Hitchens partisans: read Joe Sobran's Pensees
and be challenged by an equally talented writer. They both agreed that the brilliant Bill Clinton was a BSer! That said,
he is a marvelous writer and this book is very well written and researched. One way to look at it is a reflection on the
relationship between "old Europe" and the new United States. Jefferson was favorable to the French Revolution even
as it began to devour itself, while Washington, Adams, Hamilton and Jay were more pro-British and favorable to the old
regime as theorized by Edmund Burke. Hitchens emphasizes the secularism of Jefferson and Thomas Paine, while their
political alliesincluded Madison, and almost everyone in the narrative can't stand Aaron Burr. Abigail Adams, who figured
so prominently in John Adams by David McCullough, is again an influential correspondent. John Adams himself
is a constant foil but a worthy one, and Henry Adams is the finest biographer of the 1800s because he was
close enough to the people and events, but detached by the subsequent generations. Ironically, Jefferson favored
an agrarian, smaller way of life compared to Hamilton's mercantilist banking views, but it was Jefferson's administration
that expanded America with the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark expedition. Hitchens reflects extensively
on Jefferson's views on liberty as it relates to slavery.
While Hitchens himself was a revolutionary figure (Trotskyist, etc) his conclusions are reasonably patriotic for an expatriate
who came to America. In many ways he loves the newness of America and breaks away from the ties of the old regime
whether British or French. I recommend the YouTube video where Hitchens talks about his book on England and America
with Bill Buckley, John O'Sullivan and Michael Kinsley.
"The truth is that America has committed gross wrongs and crimes, as well as upheld great values and principles. It is a society
chiefly urban and capitalist, but significantly rural or-as some prefer to say-pastoral. It has an imperial record as well as an isolationist
one. It has a secular constitution but a heavily religious and pietistic nature. Jefferson is one of the few figures in our history whose
absence simply cannot be imagined: his role in the expansion and definition of the United States is too considerable, even at this
distance, to be reduced by the passage of time. But all the above strains and paradoxes, many of which he embodied and personified,
would still have been present if he had never been born.
"The French Revolution destroyed itself in Jefferson's own lifetime. More modern revolutions have destroyed themselves and others.
If the American Revolution, with its secularism, its separation of powers, its Bill of Rights, and its gradual enfranchisement of those
excluded and worse at its founding, has often betrayed itself at home and abroad, it nevertheless remains the only revolution that
still retains any power to inspire.
"Thomas Jefferson had, in the course of a long political life, contained sufficient "multitudes", in Walt Whitman's phrase, to contradict
himself with scope and with generosity...this surrender (on slavery) by a man of the Enlightenment and a man of truly revolutionary
and democratic temperament, is another reminder that history is a tragedy and not a morality tale".
... The Philosophy of Jesus in 1805, was described on its cover as “an abridgement of the New Testament for the use of the Indians, unembarrassed with matters of fact or faith beyond the level of their comprehensions.” This certainly matched Jefferson’s view that Indians should be protected from Christian missionaries, but some Unitarians have speculated that it also provided him with a respectable cover story for his otherwise profane exercise of cutting up the holy book with a razor blade and throwing away all the superfluous, ridiculous, and devotional parts. (This is an exercise that I have long wanted to repeat in the case of the multi-volume hagiography of Jefferson himself, penned so laboriously by Dumas Malone.)
Could it be that he has done this, in effect, here? Surely there had to be a lot of pedantic assemblage of fact behind the "brief life" Hitchens has compiled, like a latter day Plutarch, of a noble American.
Noble? In the sense of a man who did great things, not one who was above hypocrisy, deceit, and bigotry. Hitchens, who clearly admires Jefferson, is nonetheless honest about where his hero falls short:
... “Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or lesser suffusions of color in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black, which covers the emotions of the other race?” Other more recent clichés of the duller sort seem to have found their first expression in the Notes: “In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tone and time. Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody, or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved.”
This is not the parlor game of proving that the Founders were politically incorrect. In fact, these remarks probably WERE politically correct, which is part of the problem with enforcing orthodoxy at any time. But let us let Jefferson have the last word (in his First Inaugural):
Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans, we are all federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.