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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.

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ISBN-10:  0060598964
ISBN-13:  978-0060598969
Author:  Christopher Hitchens
Genre:  Biographies & Memoirs, History
Publisher:  Eminent Lives
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review by . June 25, 2011
In his excellent book concerning Mother Teresa titled The Missionary Position, Hitchens expertly compiled a wealth of shocking facts pertaining to that demagogue's less than admirable history that made for an exciting and informative read. Writing of one of America's finest founding icons, Hitchens has considerably less of note to convey, and there are no astounding revelations to be found in this rather slim volume.      As usual, Hitchens' prose is quite fine, if …
review by . September 28, 2007
...and this one is not among the top ten. That should be a helpful enough review for most readers. May I recommend my own listmania--Jefferson's Shadows--as a better starting point for learning about the Sage?
review by . July 31, 2006
The idea behind the series "Eminent Lives" is a good one: have various well-known authors write brief biographies of famous people. One of the problems with this idea is that, sometimes brevity is not a good idea when it comes to a life that was full of action and activity. That is especially true of the life of Thomas Jefferson, a man who was a true "renaissance man" in all the best aspects of the word. No brief biography can do his life justice, but the author really does his best to give us the …
review by . August 02, 2005
This is one of several volumes in the HarperCollins Eminent Lives series. Each offers a concise rather than comprehensive, much less definitive biography. However, just as Al Hirschfeld's illustrations of various celebrities capture their defining physical characteristics, the authors of books in this series focus on the defining influences and developments during the lives and careers of their respective subjects. In this instance, Thomas Jefferson.     Hitchens suggests that …
review by . July 04, 2005
I've read two volumes in the Eminent Lives series now, and have been very impressed with both. Paul Johnson's George Washington: The Founding Father (Eminent Lives) and Christopher Hitchens' essay on Thomas Jefferson are very different books. But each was in its own way remarkable. I think it's safe to say that this is a book that few readers will soon forget.    As Hitchens notes early on, Jefferson was more than just a "man of contradictions." He more or less embodied contradiction. …
Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent
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