Naperville fans excited to talk history with Jon Meacham
By David Sharos For The Sun December 5, 2012 4:36PM
Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham speaks to the crowd at Wentz Hall at North Central College on Thursday night December 6, 2012. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Meacham talks about what made Jefferson special
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham spoke with The Sun about his newest book, “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” before appearing at North Central College Thursday night.
Q: How long did it take you to research the book?
A: “Four years.”
Q: And why Jefferson?
A: “Why not, given his significance and versatility? Jefferson was arguably the most versatile of the Founders, and what I wanted to focus on was the political Jefferson. He wanted to be seen as a man of ideas, which he certainly was, but for 40 years, he was a working politician. As we try to figure out what to do in our own political moment, it seemed to me that it would repay our attention to see what he had done in even more tumultuous times.”
Q: What will readers learn about Jefferson that maybe other books about him haven’t addressed?
A: “I think that they will find that he was much more of a primal politician – a primal political animal than they might have thought. A lot of portraits of Jefferson have him as a kind of airy philosopher or a terribly cynical politician. I think he was a little bit of both.”
Q: We seem to be in the midst of a kind of historical-political revival. The “Lincoln” movie is doing great things as I’m sure your book will. What explains why the public is drawn to this? Is it because we’re not finding the leaders today that inspire us so we’re looking back at the ones that used to?
A: “I think we feel adrift. I think we feel there are enormous problems, and obstacles, and the only way to find answers, in many ways, is to seek some guidance from the past, not for specific solutions, but for a spirit of compromise and a spirit of what I think of as Jefferson’s principle pragmatism.”
Q: Can our society produce another Jefferson?
A: “Sure, and Jefferson would think that, too. One of the things that is most important to me in biography is to show that these were men before they were monuments, and if they could overcome seemingly impossible obstacles than we can, too.”
Updated: January 8, 2013 6:14AM
Celebrating former presidents seems to be in style these days as Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” movie has attracted millions looking to revisit one of America’s most storied presidents.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham has sought to weave the same sort of historical magic with his new book, “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” which was the focus of a special event Thursday night, as Anderson’s Bookshop offered a book signing and a Q&A session at North Central College’s Wentz Hall in Naperville.
A former editor of Newsweek and current contributing editor to Time magazine, Meacham has penned other books on historical figures including Andrew Jackson and Benjamin Franklin. Meacham said that for him, Jefferson represents someone “that may not solve the fiscal cliff crisis, but yet someone we can still learn from.”
“It may be considered a form of child abuse, but I was raised in a house where reading and politics were in the air we breathed,” Meacham told a crowd of more than 200 people who came to Wentz Hall. “Even though Jefferson is not here to fix our current problems, there are lessons we can take from him.”
Anderson’s Bookshop owner Becky Anderson introduced Meacham to the audience and noted “he was one of the authors I have looked forward to seeing the most this year.”
Audience members said the attraction of Thursday night’s event ranged from Meacham’s compelling television persona to having a keen interest in one of the Founding Fathers.
Elizabeth Thulin of Naperville admitted she was “fascinated with American history” and that a recent effort by her family to look into its own history has sparked in her a deeper interest in reading about the times of her ancestors.
“This is the first book I’ll be reading about Jefferson, but it’s exciting for me to read about things and people from centuries ago in order to learn more about the way things were when my ancestors were here,” Thulin said.
Charles Plath of Aurora said he has seen Meacham speak before and had read other books on Jefferson. Plath said Jefferson is compelling because, “his was the driving force around the world.”
“Our country and the way we have organized ourselves was basically his experiment, and the rest of the world took notice,” he said. “As far as Meacham, he’s an American voice and I think he speaks fairly and is not prone to attack. But he is always well-armed with his arguments and he has such access to so much information.”
Glenn Dagenais of Aurora said he was familiar with Meacham from Newsweek and that his interest in Jefferson has grown simply from growing older himself.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more interested in history,” he said. “People like Lincoln and Jefferson continue to be people I want to know more about.”