American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House - Jon Meacham

Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek and author of Franklin and Winston, says of Jackson that “the virtues and vices of this single man tell us much about the virtues and vices of our country.”  American Lion (Random House, $30) is Meacham’s portrait of Jackson’s years in power. He draws on previously unavailable letters of Jackson’s intimate circle. Jackson was born in the Carolina backwoods; his father died before his birth, and he was orphaned at 14. He received little formal schooling, and when Harvard bestowed an honorary degree on him in 1833, John Quincy Adams refused to attend Harvard’s “disgrace in conferring her highest honor upon a barbarian who would not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.” Jackson assumed the presidency in 1829 amid ongoing secessionist crises.  He advocated extending freedom and democracy to the poorest whites and he worked to expand the powers of the presidency in ways that Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt would follow.  A champion of the common man, he was also the first president to insist upon deference due the chief executive.

As the roster of journalist-historians grows, the world of academic historians increasingly regards them as doctors see chiropractors.  Although the academics may grumble, Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, demonstrates in American Lion (Random House, $18) that he knows how to research new primary sources and gather the fruits for a fresh assessment of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Because Meacham heavily invokes character and setting, he is regarded as a “popular historian”; thus The New York Times described this biography as “enormously entertaining.”  But Meacham finally received the respect he deserves for this monumental study: it won the Pulitzer Prize. The Jackson he describes was a rich contradiction of kind and brutal, populist and haughty—in short, a colorful character who defies easy definition.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House By Jon Meacham Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812973464
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - April 30th, 2009

Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson - David S. Reynolds

David Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, won the Bancroft Prize in American History for Walt Whitman’s America.   His new book, Waking Giant (HarperCollins, $29.95), looks beyond the Jackson presidency to the social and cultural movements of the years between 1815 and 1848.  Reynolds argues that this era is the richest in American history—a bold assertion, but his narrative of this brash and bumptious period, rife  with social ferment and literary and artistic flourishing, well supports his claim.  The elitist Anglophiles from the Hamilton and Adams years were pushed out, and in came the excesses of the gambler and duelist Henry Clay and a president, Andrew Jackson, whose chest was pockmarked from bullets taken in brawls and duels.  In the background throughout this period were ominous rumblings from the southern states, which would burst into the foreground in the savagery of the Civil War.

Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (American History) By David S. Reynolds Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060826574
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Published: Harper Perennial - September 29th, 2009