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Society & Culture

Boston Athenæum

Updated 19 days ago

Society & Culture
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The Boston Athenæum, a membership library, first opened its doors in 1807, and its rich history as a library and cultural institution has been well documented in the annals of Boston’s cultural life. Today, it remains a vibrant and active institution that serves a wide variety of members and scholars. With more than 600,000 titles in its book collection, the Boston Athenæum functions as a public library for many of its members, with a large and distinguished circulating collection, a newspaper and magazine reading room, quiet spaces and rooms for reading and researching, a children’s library, and wireless internet access throughout its building. The Art Department mounts three exhibitions per year in the institution's Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery, rotating selections in the Recent Acquisitions Gallery, and a number of less formal installations in places and cases around the building. The Special Collections resources are world-renowned, and include maps, manuscripts, rare books, and archival materials. Our Conservation Department works to preserve all our collections. Other activities for members and the public include lectures, panel discussions, poetry readings, musical performances, films, and special events, many of which are followed by receptions. Members are able to take advantage of our second- and fifth-floor terraces during fine weather, and to search electronic databases and our digital collections from their homes and offices.

Read more

The Boston Athenæum, a membership library, first opened its doors in 1807, and its rich history as a library and cultural institution has been well documented in the annals of Boston’s cultural life. Today, it remains a vibrant and active institution that serves a wide variety of members and scholars. With more than 600,000 titles in its book collection, the Boston Athenæum functions as a public library for many of its members, with a large and distinguished circulating collection, a newspaper and magazine reading room, quiet spaces and rooms for reading and researching, a children’s library, and wireless internet access throughout its building. The Art Department mounts three exhibitions per year in the institution's Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery, rotating selections in the Recent Acquisitions Gallery, and a number of less formal installations in places and cases around the building. The Special Collections resources are world-renowned, and include maps, manuscripts, rare books, and archival materials. Our Conservation Department works to preserve all our collections. Other activities for members and the public include lectures, panel discussions, poetry readings, musical performances, films, and special events, many of which are followed by receptions. Members are able to take advantage of our second- and fifth-floor terraces during fine weather, and to search electronic databases and our digital collections from their homes and offices.

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8 Ratings
Average Ratings
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iTunes Ratings

8 Ratings
Average Ratings
5
0
1
1
1

Best weekly hand curated episodes for learning

Cover image of Boston Athenæum

Boston Athenæum

Latest release on Mar 17, 2020

Best weekly hand curated episodes for learning

The Best Episodes Ranked Using User Listens

Updated by OwlTail 19 days ago

Rank #1: Charles Spencer, "Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I"

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February 26, 2015 at the Boston Athenæum.

Killers of the King tells the shocking stories—including the fascinating fates—of the 59 men who signed the death warrant of Charles I of England in 1649. This act not only changed British history forever, but may it very well have reverberated across the ocean to the young British colonies, which more than a hundred years later also rose up against their king to become an independent country known as the United States. When Charles I’s son, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660, he set about enacting a deadly wave of retribution against all those responsible for his father’s death. Some of the "regicides"—the killers of the king—pleaded for mercy, while others stoically awaited their sentences. This powerful tale of revenge from the dark heart of England’s past, a unique contribution to seventeenth-century history, Killers of the King tells the incredible story of the men who dared to assassinate a monarch.

Aug 17 2015

47mins

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Rank #2: Emily Bazelon and Adam J. Foss, “Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution”

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April 29, 2019 at the Boston Athenæum.
Join us for a conversation with two leading voices in the movement to bring about criminal justice reform, New York Times Magazine journalist Emily Bazelon and Boston-based advocate and former prosecutor Adam Foss. In their respective fields, both grapple with the fact that the image of the American criminal justice system as a contest between the prosecution and the defense with judges ensuring a fair fight does not, in fact, match the reality. Much of the time, it is prosecutors more than judges who control the outcome of a case, and oftentimes with devastating consequences. Emily Bazelon’s new book entitled Charged examines this heretofore unchecked power of prosecutors and how this power undermines the American criminal justice system. She exposes the damage overzealous prosecutors can inflict alongside those—like Adam Foss—who seek to reform the system. Adam Foss, who formerly served as Assistant District Attorney in the Juvenile Division of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, has firsthand insight into the connection between prosecution and mass incarceration. Since his viral Ted Talk on prosecution in February in 2016, Adam Foss has gone on to found Prosecutor Impact, a non-profit developing training and curriculum for prosecutors to reframe their role in the criminal justice system. With participants uniquely suited to speaking on the present issues afflicting the justice system, this event will shine a light on the little known cause for enormous injustice, while also offering a vision for a better future.

May 30 2019

55mins

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Rank #3: Karen Corsano and Daniel Williman, "John Singer Sargent and His Muse: Painting Love and Loss"

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June 11, 2015 at the Boston Athenæum.

Learn more about this American artist by joining Karen Corsano and Daniel Williman for a discussion of their book, John Singer Sargent and His Muse: Painting Love and Loss. This sensitive and compelling biography sheds new light on John Singer Sargent’s art through an intimate history of his family, especially of his niece and muse, Rose-Marie Ormond. Between 1906 and 1912, John Singer Sargent documented the idyllic teenage summers of Rose-Marie and his own deepening affection for her serene beauty and good-hearted, candid charm. When his niece died tragically in a bombed church vault, Sargent expressed his grief on canvas: he made his last murals for the Boston Public Library a cryptic memorial to Rose-Marie and her husband, Robert. The book braids together the lives and families of Rose-Marie, Robert, and John Sargent while drawing on a rich trove of letters, diaries, journals, and the Athenæum Archive.

Jul 31 2015

48mins

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Rank #4: Robert Kuttner, “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?”

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April 26, 2018 at the Boston Athenæum.

Before and after World War II, a serendipitous confluence of events created a healthy balance between the market and the polity—between the engine of capitalism and the egalitarian ideals of democracy. Under Roosevelt’s New Deal, unions and collective bargaining were legalized. Glass-Steagall reined in speculative finance. At Bretton Woods, a global financial system was devised explicitly to allow nations to manage capitalism. Yet this golden era turned out to be lightning in a bottle. From the 1970s on, a power shift occurred, in which financial regulations were rolled back, taxes were cut, inequality worsened, and disheartened voters turned to far-right, faux populism.

Robert Kuttner lays out the events that led to the postwar miracle, and charts its dissolution all the way to Trump, Brexit, and the tenuous state of the EU. Is today’s poisonous alliance of reckless finance and ultra-nationalism inevitable? Or can democracy find a way to survive?

Apr 27 2018

32mins

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Rank #5: Nathaniel Philbrick, “In the Hurricane's Eye”

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December 3, 2018 at the Boston Athenæum.

In the fall of 1780, after five frustrating years of war, George Washington had come to realize that the only way to defeat the British Empire was with the help of the French navy. But as he had learned after two years of trying, coordinating his army’s movements with those of a fleet of warships based thousands of miles away was next to impossible. And then, on September 5, 1781, the impossible happened. Recognized today as one of the most important naval engagements in the history of the world, the Battle of the Chesapeake–fought without a single American ship–made the subsequent victory of the Americans at Yorktown a virtual inevitability.

In a narrative that moves from Washington’s headquarters on the Hudson River, to the wooded hillside in North Carolina where Nathanael Greene fought Lord Cornwallis to a vicious draw, to Lafayette’s brilliant series of maneuvers across Tidewater Virginia, New York Times bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick details the epic and suspenseful year through to its triumphant conclusion. A riveting and wide-ranging story, full of dramatic, unexpected turns, In the Hurricane’s Eye reveals that the fate of the American Revolution depended, in the end, on Washington and the sea.

Dec 06 2018

41mins

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Rank #6: Jean Findlay, "Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C.K. Scott Moncrieff: Soldier, Spy, and Translator"

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May 14, 2015 at the Boston Athenæum.

Since 1922, English-language readers have been able to leap into the prose of Proust thanks to translator C. K. Scott Moncrieff, who wrestled with Proust’s seven-volume masterpiece—published as Remembrance of Things Past—until his death in 1930. In her book, Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C.K. Scott Moncrieff: Soldier, Spy, and Translator, Jean Findlay reveals aspects of Scott Moncrieff’s life which have remained hidden behind the genius of the man whose reputation he helped build. Catholic and homosexual; a partygoer who was lonely deep down; secretly a spy in Mussolini’s Italy; publicly a debonair man of letters; a war hero described as “offensively brave,” whose letters from the front are remarkably cheerful—Scott Moncrieff was a man of his moment, thriving on paradoxes and extremes. In Chasing Lost Time, Findlay gives us a vibrant, moving portrait of the brilliant Scott Moncrieff, and of the era—changing fast and forever—in which he shone.

Aug 04 2015

41mins

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Rank #7: David J. Silverman, “This Land is Their Land”

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November 19, 2019 at the Boston Athenæum.

Ahead of the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving, historian David J. Silverman offers a transformative new look at the Plymouth colony’s founding events, told for the first time with the Wampanoag people at the heart of the story, in This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving. Silverman is a professor of Native and Colonial American history at George Washington University and has worked with modern-day Wampanoag people for more than twenty years. Through their stories, other primary sources, and historical analysis, Silverman sheds profound new light on the events that led to the creation, and bloody dissolution, of the alliance between the Wampanoag tribe and the Plymouth settlers. The result complicates and deepens our current narrative of the first Thanksgiving, presenting us with a new narrative of our country’s origins for the twenty-first century.

Nov 22 2019

59mins

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Rank #8: Daniel Breen, "The Unkempt Bibliomaniac of Tremont Street: William Shaw and Federalist Boston"

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November 8, 2018 at the Boston Athenæum.

In the precarious first decades of the Boston Athenæum, no one did more to keep the fledgling institution alive than its first librarian, William Smith Shaw. Slovenly in his appearance and extreme in his politics, Shaw could easily come across as disagreeable to his Boston contemporaries. Yet Shaw was much more than the prickly personality who looks disdainfully down at us from his portrait in the Athenæum Newspaper Room. His character was marked by considerable virtues as well, and it is these virtues that should inspire us today, in the troubled and perplexing twenty-first century. In telling the colorful and tragic story of Shaw's life, we will look behind the portrait to find the glowing strengths that helped preserve the Athenaeum in its infancy, strengths that may help inform the institution's work in its maturity.

Dec 05 2018

37mins

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Rank #9: Austen Barron Bailly, "Thomas Hart Benton and the Modern American Woman"

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July 13, 2015 at the Boston Athenæum.

In Thomas Hart Benton and the Modern American Woman, Austen Bailly will speak about how American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) pictured twentieth-century female experiences in America and saw American women as a means to make the mythic modern in his art. Benton met his Italian-born wife Rita Piacenza around 1917 on the heels of his early involvement with motion pictures in Fort Lee, New Jersey—America’s “first Hollywood.” The movies inspired Benton to chart a new artistic course to compete with the drama and power of movies. Rita, imagined as a glamorous leading lady in Benton’s self-portrait from about 1924, was key to the artist’s vision for presenting himself as new American art star. Like Hollywood directors, Benton cast women as leading and supporting players in authentic American stories and recognized their roles in American myths.

Jul 31 2015

56mins

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Rank #10: James B. Conroy, “Jefferson’s White House: Monticello on the Potomac”

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October 31, 2019 at the Boston Athenæum.

As the first president to occupy the White House for an entire term, Thomas Jefferson shaped the president’s residence, literally and figuratively, more than any of its other occupants. Remarkably enough, however, though many books have immortalized Jefferson’s Monticello, none has been devoted to the vibrant look, feel, and energy of his still more famous and consequential home from 1801 to 1809. In Monticello on the Potomac, James B. Conroy, author of the award-winning Lincoln’s White House offers a vivid, highly readable account of how life was lived in Jefferson’s White House and the young nation’s rustic capital.

Nov 01 2019

1hr 3mins

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Rank #11: Stephen Greenblatt, “Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics”

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October 22, 2018 at the Boston Athenæum.

As an aging, tenacious Elizabeth I clung to power, a talented playwright probed the social causes, the psychological roots, and the twisted consequences of tyranny. In exploring the psyche (and psychoses) of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, Coriolanus, and the societies they rule over, Stephen Greenblatt illuminates the ways in which William Shakespeare delved into the lust for absolute power and the catastrophic consequences of its execution.

Cherished institutions seem fragile, political classes are in disarray, economic misery fuels populist anger, people knowingly accept being lied to, partisan rancor dominates, spectacular indecency rules—these aspects of a society in crisis fascinated Shakespeare and shaped some of his most memorable plays. With uncanny insight, he shone a spotlight on the infantile psychology and unquenchable narcissistic appetites of demagogues—and the cynicism and opportunism of the various enablers and hangers-on who surround them—and imagined how they might be stopped. As Greenblatt shows, Shakespeare’s work, in this as in so many other ways, remains vitally relevant today.

Nov 15 2018

43mins

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Rank #12: Sonia Purnell, "A Woman of No Importance"

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April 11, 2019 at the Boston Athenæum.
This lecture is in conjunction with the Royal Oak Foundation.

In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent command: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her." This spy was Virginia Hall, a young socialite from Baltimore, who, after being rejected from the Foreign Service because of her gender and prosthetic leg, talked her way into the SOE, the WWII British spy organization dubbed Churchill's "ministry of ungentlemanly warfare." Hall, known as the "Madonna of the Resistance," was one of the greatest spies in American and English history, yet her full story remains untold. At a time when sending female secret agents into enemy territory was still strictly forbidden, Hall coordinated a network of spies to report on German troop movements, arranged equipment parachute drops for Resistance fighters, and recruited and trained guerrilla units to ambush enemy convoys and blow up bridges and railroads. Even as her face covered WANTED posters throughout Europe, Hall refused orders to evacuate. She finally escaped in a death- defying climb over of the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown, and her associates imprisoned or executed. But, adamant that she had more lives to save, she plunged back into the field with the American OSS secret service, directing partisan armies to back up the Allied forces landing on Normandy beaches. A Woman of No Importance: The Spy Who Helped Win WWII will reveal the captivating story of a formidable, yet shockingly overlooked, heroine whose fierce persistence helped win the war.

Aug 15 2019

1hr 4mins

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Rank #13: Jessie Morgan-Owens, “Girl in Black and White”

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March 22, 2019 at the Boston Athenæum.
When a decades-long court battle resulted in her family’s freedom in 1855, seven-year-old Mary Mildred Williams unexpectedly became the face of American slavery. Famous abolitionists Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Henry David Thoreau, and John Albion Andrew would help Mary and her family in freedom, but Senator Charles Sumner saw a monumental political opportunity. Due to generations of sexual violence, Mary’s skin was so light that she “passed” as white, and this fact would make her the key to his white audience’s sympathy. During his sold-out abolitionist lecture series, Sumner paraded Mary in front of rapt audiences as evidence that slavery was not bounded by race.

Weaving together long-overlooked primary sources and arresting images, including the daguerreotype that turned Mary into the poster child of a movement, Jessie Morgan-Owens investigates tangled generations of sexual enslavement and the fraught politics that led Mary to Sumner. She follows Mary’s story through the lives of her determined mother and grandmother to her own adulthood, parallel to the story of the antislavery movement and the eventual signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Girl in Black and White restores Mary to her rightful place in history and uncovers a dramatic narrative of travels along the Underground Railroad, relationships tested by oppression, and the struggles of life after emancipation. The result is an exposé of the thorny racial politics of the abolitionist movement and the pervasive colorism that dictated where white sympathy lay―one that sheds light on a shameful legacy that still affects us profoundly today.

May 17 2019

36mins

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Rank #14: Giles Milton,Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare:The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat

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February 28, 2018 at the Boston Athenæum.

In the spring of 1939, a top-secret organization was founded in London: its purpose was to plot the destruction of Hitler’s war machine, through spectacular acts of sabotage. The guerrilla campaign that followed was as extraordinary as the six men who directed it. One of them, William Fairbairn, was a portly pensioner with an unusual passion: he was the world’s leading expert in silent killing, hired to train the guerrillas being parachuted behind enemy lines. Another, Cecil Clarke, was an engineer and caravan-designer turned maverick bomb-maker. Led by dapper Scotsman Colin Gubbins, these men—along with three others—formed a secret inner circle that, aided by a group of formidable ladies, changed the course of the Second World War: a cohort hand-picked by Winston Churchill, whom he called his Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

Mar 02 2018

45mins

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Rank #15: Christian Di Spigna, “Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren”

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May 28, 2019 at the Boston Athenæum.
A rich and illuminating biography of America’s forgotten Founding Father, the patriot physician and major general who fomented rebellion and died heroically at the battle of Bunker Hill on the brink of revolution.

Little has been known of one of the most important figures in early American history, Dr. Joseph Warren, an architect of the colonial rebellion, and a man who might have led the country as Washington or Jefferson did had he not been martyred at Bunker Hill in 1775. Warren was involved in almost every major insurrectionary act in the Boston area for a decade, from the Stamp Act protests to the Boston Massacre to the Boston Tea Party, and his incendiary writings included the famous Suffolk Resolves, which helped unite the colonies against Britain and inspired the Declaration of Independence. Yet after his death, his life and legend faded, leaving his contemporaries to rise to fame in his place and obscuring his essential role in bringing America to independence.

Christian Di Spigna’s definitive new biography of Warren is a loving work of historical excavation, the product of two decades of research and scores of newly unearthed primary-source documents that have given us this forgotten Founding Father anew. Following Warren from his farming childhood and years at Harvard through his professional success and political radicalization to his role in sparking the rebellion, Di Spigna’s thoughtful, judicious retelling not only restores Warren to his rightful place in the pantheon of Revolutionary greats, it deepens our understanding of the nation’s dramatic beginnings.

May 30 2019

49mins

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Rank #16: Robert Shiller, “The Transformation of the American Dream”

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February 15, 2018 at the Boston Athenæum.

In his 1931 book The Epic of America James Truslow Adams first popularized the concept of the “American Dream" as "being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in older civilizations." But the meaning of the term changes through time as culture changes, and as opportunists try to redefine to their own advantage. It is this dream which he thought "lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores." But he also thought that, even in 1931, many were losing sight of this dream. The situation has worsened since he wrote.

Now the American Dream is most often equated with the dream of owning a spacious home. In the United States, the new values affect major government decisions on housing, regulation, and mortgage guarantees. Conflating the American Dream with expensive housing has had dangerous consequences—it may have even contributed to the housing bubble that led to the financial crisis of 2008.

Mar 01 2018

45mins

Play

Rank #17: Karen Abbott, “The Ghosts of Eden Park”

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October 24, 2019 at the Boston Athenæum.

In the early days of Prohibition, long before Al Capone became a household name, a German immigrant named George Remus quit practicing law and started trafficking whiskey. Within two years he was a multi-millionaire. The press called him “King of the Bootleggers,” writing breathless stories about the Gatsby-esque events he and his glamorous second wife, Imogene, hosted at their Cincinnati mansion, with party favors ranging from diamond jewelry for the men to brand-new Pontiacs for the women. By the summer of 1921, Remus owns 35 percent of all the liquor in the United States.

Pioneering prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt was determined to bring him down. Willebrandt’s bosses at the Justice Department hired her right out of law school, assuming she would pose no real threat to the cozy relationship they maintained with Remus. Eager to prove them wrong, she dispatched her best investigator, Franklin Dodge, to look into his empire. It was a decision with deadly consequences. With the fledgling FBI on the case, Remus was quickly imprisoned for violating the Volstead Act. With her husband behind bars, Imogene began an affair with investigator Dodge. Together, they plotted to ruin Remus, which sparked a bitter feud that soon reached the highest levels of government–and ended in murder.

Combining deep historical research with novelistic flair, The Ghosts of Eden Park is the unforgettable, stranger-than-fiction story of a rags-to-riches entrepreneur and a long-forgotten heroine, of the excesses and absurdities of the Jazz Age, and of the infinite human capacity to deceive.

Oct 25 2019

49mins

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Rank #18: John Buchtel, “All Necessary and Useful Knowledge: Thomas Bray’s Libraries for Colonial America”

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November 13, 2019 at the Boston Athenæum.

This free-for-members event is made possible with support from the William Orville Thomson Endowment, which is generously funded by Athenæum Proprietor Peter Thomson.

In 1697, Thomas Bray, a priest in the Church of England, published a detailed report (Bibliotheca Parochialis) in which he outlined all the “necessary and useful” books that he thought would constitute the essential knowledge needed to equip Anglican church leaders to minister effectively in the English colonies in North America. At the same time, Bray began fundraising to assemble libraries based on his published plan. By the time he turned his project over to his successors in 1704, Bray’s remarkable enterprise resulted in more than 40 collections of books being sent to various locations in the American colonies.

One of those libraries, the collection sent to King’s Chapel in Boston in 1698, survives intact as part of the collections of the Boston Athenæum. This talk will explore Bray’s expressed purposes behind his selections for his libraries, as well as telling the story of the King’s Chapel collection, including its remarkable survival during the American war for independence. The talk is presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Required Reading: Reimagining a Colonial Library,” on view at the Athenæum from September 17, 2019 through March 14, 2020.

Nov 15 2019

50mins

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Rank #19: Bettina Norton, “A Foray into Forgery and the Boston Athenæum's Role in Exposing It”

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January 9, 2020 at the Boston Athenæum.

An over-zealous Boston art dealer in the early years of the 20th century made knowingly false attributions of 18th-century portraits from the Salem-Boston area. The attributions were promulgated by colleagues and later by art scholars until disproved by two other historians. The saga is a sub-chapter in Norton’s upcoming book on the Salem 18th-century portrait artist, Benjamin Blyth. Sometimes mistaken for Copleys, Blyth’s portraits include the Massachusetts Historical Society’s iconic images of the newly married John and Abigail Adams, the Providence man who started the US postal system, the clergyman who promoted settlement of the Northwest Territory, and numerous figures of the American Revolution and their families. The upcoming book by Norton doubles the attributions for pastels and oils and, for the first time, lists miniatures.

Jan 10 2020

47mins

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Rank #20: Joel Richard Paul, “Without Precedent: John Marshall and His Times”

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March 5, 2018 at the Boston Athenæum.

No member of America's Founding Generation had a greater impact on the Constitution and the Supreme Court than John Marshall, and no one did more to preserve the delicate unity of the fledgling United States. From the nation's founding in 1776 and for the next forty years, Marshall was at the center of every political battle. As Chief Justice of the United States - the longest-serving in history - he established the independence of the judiciary and the supremacy of the federal Constitution and courts. As the leading Federalist in Virginia, he rivaled his cousin Thomas Jefferson in influence. As a diplomat and secretary of state, he defended American sovereignty against France and Britain, counseled President John Adams, and supervised the construction of the city of Washington. D.C.

This is the astonishing true story of how a rough-cut frontiersman - born in Virginia in 1755 and with little formal education - invented himself as one of the nation's preeminent lawyers and politicians who then reinvented the Constitution to forge a stronger nation. Without Precedent is the engrossing account of the life and times of this exceptional man, who with cunning, imagination, and grace shaped America's future as he held together the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the country itself.

Mar 12 2018

47mins

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