Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Jefferson: Author of America Warning: This part of the review is primarily about Christopher Hitchens: Christopher Hitchens was a force. He loved to write books about people he loved (Orwell, Jefferson, Paine) or hated (Mother Theresa, Henry Kissinger, the Clintons). In many ways, that talent for writing based on passion perfectly matches Thomas Jefferson to Christopher Hitchens. A couple things I learned from reading Hitch's micro-biography: * Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha took 'an early mutual delight' with Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Anyway, if reading Johnson's mini bio of Washington was at the cost of entry to read Hitch's bio of Jefferson, I'd read it twice to just nibble at this book.
If anyone could cram Thomas Jefferson into under 200 pages it would be Christopher Hitchens (and even for him its a stretch). I think that history has proved that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet hours beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility.
There are Hitchens books strewn all over my father's house. God, another Thomas Jefferson book?
Author of America is bombastically written, with greater concern placed on gift of phrase and linguistic ingenuity than on revealing the man of Jefferson, the basic remuneration a reader expects in return for his or her entry fee. If America is right, Jefferson was right." This oft-cited declaration is a failure, both as an epigram and as an aphorism. Forget that the "rights" which Americans declared are either inalienable or not, and either natural or not, and exist (or do not) independently of any man's will or character.
where Locke had spoken of "life, liberty, and property" as natural rights, Jefferson famously wrote "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"... I was worried that Hitchens might have gone soft over his adopted land but it's full of this kind of thing: A bad conscience, evidenced by slovenly and contradictory argument, is apparent in almost every paragraph of his discourse on slavery. "Even as he yearned to get rid of them, he refused to let them go" * Native Americans: Average, bad. --- Whatever view one takes of Burke's deepening pessimism and dogmatic adherence to the virtues of Church and King, the fact is that after the summer of 1791 the Jacobins did their best to prove him right. Deleted scene from the Declaration of Independence: King George has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. And Hitchen's final exceptionalist thought: The French Revolution destroyed itself in Jefferson's own lifetime.
The other book Ive read on the man is Jon Meachams Jefferson: The Art of Power, which is quite magisterial, in my opinion. He delves into detail on specific parts of Jeffersons career where he ensures that the often precarious situation of the United States is correctly painted - the fledgling nation, not quite the superpower, with a small population and resources, among the mighty Colonial powers of the world.
Like other titles I've read in this series, Hitchens' biography of Thomas Jefferson admirably and concisely tells the story of the life of America's 3rd President. He waxed poetic about the rights of man, and yet defended the murderous oppression of Robespierre and his ilk, declaring glibly "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." But when he became President, he proved much more judicious and pragmatic than anyone would have expected. In all, then, the late Hitchens deserves real credit for bringing this great man back to life, "worts and all". If his biography has a flaw, it is that in his effort to avoid hagiography, he diminishes Jefferson's virtues too much, though clearly he admires the brilliant but (as Hitchens emphasizes) humorless man.
In this little 188-page biography for the Eminent Lives series, Hitchens writes about the United States of America's third President, Thomas Jefferson. In this book, he details Thomas Jefferson's political career from an early legislator to his time as President of the United States. Through out the work Hitchens tries to explain what it is that makes Thomas Jefferson so important and Revolutionary. He did not, through this blinker of prejudice, at first discern that events in Haiti would one day provide him with an opportunity of historic dimensions." p.101 This is a great little one-stop biography, even if you are not a fan of Mr. Hitchens himself that should not stop anyone from enjoying this work.
This book will not be seen by many as his finest; I suspect he hammered it out in his spare time one weekend, using his preexisting knowledge and opinions as the basis.
I actually met Christopher Hitchens and had him sign this copy not too long ago at a reading/interview tour event for 'Hitch-22'.
Christopher Eric Hitchens was an English-born American author, journalist, and literary critic.