Books

From Thomas Jefferson to James Comey — a night of politics at the Miami Book Fair

FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2015 file photo, FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington. Comey is accepting on Nov. 7, 2016, a lifetime achievement award on the eve of the election at a dinner organized by a law enforcement support group. Its board includes people with longtime ties to Donald Trump.
FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2015 file photo, FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington. Comey is accepting on Nov. 7, 2016, a lifetime achievement award on the eve of the election at a dinner organized by a law enforcement support group. Its board includes people with longtime ties to Donald Trump. AP

On the fifth day of the Miami Book Fair , the subject was a familiar one: politics, politics, politics. But at least on Thursday the subject partially involved politics of another century.

Besides, the weather was lovely and there were tacos at The Porch. Give Miami celebrated its day-long event, and local writers like John Dufresne and Lynne Barrett read stories at Noir at the Bar, so all was right with the world.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed joined co-author Peter S. Onuf to share insights on the third American president, about whom they wrote in “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination.” The book is a character study of a founding father full of contradiction, a man who touted freedom but kept people in bondage.

“He discovered he was anti-slavery,” Gordon-Reed told the audience, “and this gives people pause. But he thinks slavery is wrong in his 20s.” And yet he died without freeing his slaves.

Gordon-Reed and Onuf talked about how Monticello and Virginia shaped the man, just as his time in France made him appreciate the United States more. Put off by the French lack of "family life" — he called French women Amazons and American women angels, Onuf said — Jefferson decided that "Virgina, started looking good to him," Gordon-Reed said.

Author and legal and political analyst Jeffrey Toobin — who said coming to the book fair "fills your heart with joy" — promised he'd allow election questions but wanted to first tell the story of his latest book, "American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, the Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst." Toobin, always an engaging speaker, set the scene in the good old days (the 1970s in San Francisco) to talk about the newspaper heiress and her bumbling (but dangerous) captors and their group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, which she came to embrace.

"I don't buy that she was forced," he said. "I believe she became a member of the SLA."

Toobin, who says the story of her kidnapping — the only political kidnapping in U.S. history, he says — and her subsequent pardon is "a lesson in the value of wealth and privilege.

"And with that," he joked, "I would welcome your incredibly depressing questions about the election."

Audience members obliged him, asking his opinion on vote tampering, WikiLeaks and FBI director James Comey, whom he knows (for the record, Toobin says, "What he did was shockingly, shockingly wrong, but I don't think he was trying to swing the election to Donald Trump. … his actions indicate his obsessiveness with his own reputation.")

And when an audience member asked if President Barack Obama would pardon Hillary Clinton, a rumble went through the crowd, and it sure sounded angry.

Toobin had to laugh.

"People are still so mad," he said.

If You Go

What: Miami Book Fair

When: Through Nov. 20

Where: Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., downtown Miami

Tickets and information: www.miamibookfair.com

Schedule of events this week

Friday: An Evening with the National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, 6 p.m.; $15

Street fair: Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; $8 for adults; $5 for 13-18 and over 62; 12 and under free

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