Non-Fiction

Review GPA: Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

In Review GPA, we translate reviews of notable new books into letter grades and determine a grade point average.

thomas jeffersonPublication Date: November 13, 2012

Publisher: Random House

Genre: History/ Presidential Biography

Publisher’s Synopsis: “In this magnificent biography, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston brings vividly to life an extraordinary man and his remarkable times. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power gives us Jefferson the politician and president, a great and complex human being forever engaged in the wars of his era. Philosophers think; politicians maneuver. Jefferson’s genius was that he was both and could do both, often simultaneously. Such is the art of power.”

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Jill Abramson for The New York Times

Gold Star: “Where other historians have found hypocrisy in Jefferson’s use of executive power to complete the Louisiana Purchase, Meacham is nuanced and persuasive.”

Demerit: “His new book lacks the conceptual boldness of those by Ellis and Gordon-Reed…”

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power guides us through the entire life, but without much color or drama.”

Grade: B+

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Joyce Appleby for The Washington Post

Gold Star: “…Meacham, despite his subtitle, accomplishes something more impressive than dissecting Jefferson’s political skills by explaining his greatness, a different task from chronicling a life, though he does that too — and handsomely. Even though I know quite a lot about Jefferson, I was repeatedly surprised by the fresh information Meacham brings to his work. Surely there is not a significant detail out there, in any pertinent archive, that he has missed.”

Demerit: None

Grade: A+

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Amanda Urban for Publisher’s Weekly

Gold Star: “Meacham’s is a fine work, deserving a place high on the list of long biographies of its subject…”

Demerit: “But in the end, as fine a rendering of the nation’s third president as this book may be, it comes too close to idolization. Jefferson’s critics still have something valid to say, even if their voices here are stilled.”

Grade: B

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Tina Jordan for Entertainment Weekly

Gold Star: “His is a big, grand, absorbing exploration of not just Jefferson and his role in history but also Jefferson the man, humanized as never before.”

Demerit: “…Meacham’s Jefferson is cast in an overly golden light.”

Grade: A- (grade given by reviewer)

Review GPA: B+ (3.5)