The Soul of America
A timely look at tumultuous periods in American history when Presidents and ordinary citizens came together to defeat the forces of fear and hate--from the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.In The Soul of America, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment of crisis in American politics by looking back at critical times in history when hope overcame hatred. Our current climate of partisan division is not new, and by exploring past dark moments in American history Meacham shows us how our "better angels" have again and again won the day. Painting revealing portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and U.S. Grant, he brings the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Southern "Lost Cause" back to vivid life, as well as Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive movement; Woodrow Wilson and the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the KKK in the 1920's; FDR and the "America First" movement of the 1930's; Truman, Eisenhower, and the reign of Joe McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson's fight for civil rights.

The Soul of America Details

TitleThe Soul of America
Author
ReleaseMay 8th, 2018
PublisherRandom House
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Politics, North American Hi..., American History, Presidents, Military History, Civil War, Historical

The Soul of America Review

  • Casey Wheeler
    January 1, 1970
    I received a free Kindle copy of The Soul of America by Jon Meacham courtesy of Net Galley  and Random House, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.I requested this book as I have read a number of books (all biographies) by the author and the description made it very interesting. Meacham describes accurately I received a free Kindle copy of The Soul of America by Jon Meacham courtesy of Net Galley  and Random House, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.I requested this book as I have read a number of books (all biographies) by the author and the description made it very interesting. Meacham describes accurately this book with the subtitle "The Battle for our Better Angels." The books is about how we as a country have endured and overcome extremeism and racism in the past. Whenever past political leaders have tried to gain ground through fear and blaming other groups (primarily ethic and immigrants) we as a nation have overcome these shortsighted grabs for power. He uses numerous examples and rather than trying to recreate what was said, uses many direct qoutes from speeches of those involved in providing leadership to overcome the attempts at spreading and feeding fear in the people (in particular specific groups).I strongly recommend this book for anyone who thinks that we are doomed due the current political atmosphere in our country. We are not and we will surivive and rise above the political spin, social media garbage, sound bite news and real fake news.
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  • Stephen
    January 1, 1970
    My only complaint about this book, and it’s not minor, is it’s reactionary tone to Donald Trump. It’s as if only the rise of Trump gave rise to this book, and that weakens the message. The Soul of America and indeed the humanity that Meachum describes, is in all of us, American or not, no matter who is president. No matter the era. Make no mistake: The message is a good one for the national freak out currently in progress. Things have been much much worse. And good people, and even bad people wh My only complaint about this book, and it’s not minor, is it’s reactionary tone to Donald Trump. It’s as if only the rise of Trump gave rise to this book, and that weakens the message. The Soul of America and indeed the humanity that Meachum describes, is in all of us, American or not, no matter who is president. No matter the era. Make no mistake: The message is a good one for the national freak out currently in progress. Things have been much much worse. And good people, and even bad people who had changes of heart, prevailed. If you’re looking for that reassurance, this is a book for you. As a historic hodgepodge of imperfect people doing the right thing during darker days, Meachum does a fair job summarizing what was happening during reconstruction, McCartyism, and the Civil Rights Act. If you want deeper analysis, there are better books.
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  • Kusaimamekirai
    January 1, 1970
    It is easy perhaps in 2018 with the frequent vulgar twitter outbursts, invectives against enemies real and otherwise, and attempts to delegitimize the basic fabric of government coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (or Florida I suppose), that the American project is facing the greatest crisis it has ever faced. The author acknowledges that things are bad but he sees in America’s history that this moment is far from unique. From wars, to crippling depressions, to internal strife, America is no It is easy perhaps in 2018 with the frequent vulgar twitter outbursts, invectives against enemies real and otherwise, and attempts to delegitimize the basic fabric of government coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (or Florida I suppose), that the American project is facing the greatest crisis it has ever faced. The author acknowledges that things are bad but he sees in America’s history that this moment is far from unique. From wars, to crippling depressions, to internal strife, America is no stranger to dark days. It has had Presidents who have tried to build physical as well as metaphorical walls and have at times not always put our best foot forward (Woodrow Wilson segregating the federal government, Andrew Johnson trying to strangle reconstruction, Andrew Jackson…too many things for the scope of this short review). It has also however had Lincoln, FDR, and others who despite fierce partisanship, preached tolerance and reconciliation under the banner of us all being Americans. Even a polarizing figure like George W. Bush spoke eloquently about how Islamic extremism was just that, extremism and that Muslim-Americans are first and foremost Americans. America’s history is one of drifting toward the darkness of fascism or communism but always in end finding a way to right itself. While the President is never the sole reason for these corrections, he has always been the figurehead of the nation and the man who sets its moral course. Reading Meacham’s outstanding and compulsively readable history of how we have survived as a nation makes for extremely inspirational reading for those who hope America can find that course again. I’ll stop my review here and instead I’d like to close with a few quotes from great Americans during times of crisis. They can say more and say it more articulately than I ever hope to.“Now, the greater any of these apprehensions, the greater is the need that we look at them clearly, face to face, without fear, like honest, straightforward Americans, so we do not develop the jitters or any other kind of panic, that we do not fall prey to hysterical thinking. Sometimes you feel, almost, that we can be excused for getting a little bit hysterical, because these dangers come from so many angles, and they are of such different kinds, and no matter what we do they still seem to exist. It is the American belief in decency and justice and progress, and the value of individual liberty, because of the rights conferred upon each of us by our Creator, that will carry us through. There must be something in the heart as well as in the head. -Dwight Eisenhower”“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, and whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”-Martin Luther King.“We have our factions which seek to promote this or that interest, without regard to the relationship to others, and without regard for the common we. We have the factions of hatred and prejudice and violence. Hamilton warned us that however such combinations or associations may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely themselves to usurp the reins of government, destroying afterward the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion”As an LBJ fan, I have to include this conversation he had with Alabama governor George Wallace at the White House when he hoped to convince him to not resist desegregation, simply because it is so quintessentially LBJ and it made me smile:LBJ: “Why don’t you just desegregate all your schools? You and I go out there in front of those television cameras right now, and you announce you’ve decided to desegregate every school in Alabama.”Wallace: “Oh, Mr. President, I can’t do that. You know, the schools have got school boards. They’re locally run. I haven’t got the political power to do that”LBJ: “Don’t you shit me, George Wallace. Now, listen, George, don’t think about 1968, Think about 1988. You and me, we’ll be dead and gone then, George. What do you want left after you, when you die? Do you want a great big marble monument that reads, George Wallace-He Built. Or do you want a little piece of scrawny pine board lying across that harsh caliche soil that reads, George Wallace-He Hated.”
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  • Dan Graser
    January 1, 1970
    There is no doubt in my mind that Jon Meacham is one of the finest historians in the world. While several prominent writers have written similar works to this in the past year, none is more thoroughly-researched or more eloquently stated. This quick traversal of several extreme moments in American history where the nation's principles were tested by parasitic bigotry and stupidity effectively lays out exactly how it was that the country moved, though ever-slowly, ever-forward following these ste There is no doubt in my mind that Jon Meacham is one of the finest historians in the world. While several prominent writers have written similar works to this in the past year, none is more thoroughly-researched or more eloquently stated. This quick traversal of several extreme moments in American history where the nation's principles were tested by parasitic bigotry and stupidity effectively lays out exactly how it was that the country moved, though ever-slowly, ever-forward following these steps back. While it's clear that he is attempting to give some hope for the current toxic socio-political climate, he never debases the message by making cheap shots or generalizing into superficial platitudes. This is not a book that addresses or that will fix everything that ails the US, after all it's a book so the country will likely be unaware of it, however it is one that puts this epic wave of American stupidity into perspective.
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  • Chris Carson
    January 1, 1970
    Meacham is a superb storyteller, historian and Presidential scholar. His book is timely as our country faces the most (disgusting) unusual ascendency of a candidate to the office of President since Andy Jackson. The United States has survived and thrived because the majority of its citizens have followed the course of its “better angels.” Hopefully this abnormal interlude will end soon and the values that truly make our country great throughout the world will once again be the standard.
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  • Kelsey
    January 1, 1970
    I don’t usually write reviews, however, I feel compelled to do so for this wonderful book. Jon Meacham has come up with a fascinating in-depth look at our fight for a more perfect union. Although this book took a few pages to hook me, it is a thorough and well thought out chronicle of our struggle for equality in a nation that has always aspired to become a more perfect and inclusive society. We as Americans, tend to pick and choose which high points we like to consider in our look back at histo I don’t usually write reviews, however, I feel compelled to do so for this wonderful book. Jon Meacham has come up with a fascinating in-depth look at our fight for a more perfect union. Although this book took a few pages to hook me, it is a thorough and well thought out chronicle of our struggle for equality in a nation that has always aspired to become a more perfect and inclusive society. We as Americans, tend to pick and choose which high points we like to consider in our look back at historical events. Meacham has no time for our revisionist history. Giving examples of the good and the bad. We cannot understand history’s victories without understanding the battles and the people who shaped them. Without mentioning Trump by name, Mr. Meacham helps make clear that one single human being cannot alone shape the tonality and soul of the American people. I found this book to be hopeful and helpful in understanding our current place in the “long arc of history”. May our “better angels prevail”.
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  • Alexa Geyer
    January 1, 1970
    I was disappointed by this book.Not sure what I was expecting, perhaps, some analysis to help me feel better about the strange political times the country is currently going through. What this is one quote after the other from one historical figure after the other, not necessarily to illustrate a point. It seemed as if he had a stack of index cards with all his researched quotes, one for each card and he just copied those out one after the other. I
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  • Chris Burd
    January 1, 1970
    I think Meacham does a great job of pulling together a series of historical vignettes that speak to the most challenging times in our history - and how we, as a nation, made it through. However, in hearing him speak of the book, Mr. Meacham points to these stories as proof that we can make it through this trying time of our current Presidential Administration. It's a great book - but I have a very different conclusion. I believe the book highlights those challenging times in our history and poin I think Meacham does a great job of pulling together a series of historical vignettes that speak to the most challenging times in our history - and how we, as a nation, made it through. However, in hearing him speak of the book, Mr. Meacham points to these stories as proof that we can make it through this trying time of our current Presidential Administration. It's a great book - but I have a very different conclusion. I believe the book highlights those challenging times in our history and points to the importance of moral leadership to guide us through, and it is that moral leadership that we are currently lacking.I highly recommend the book - but not if you are looking for something to assure you about the present situation.
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    “For Donald Trump’s opponents, he is the embodiment of regression. For Trump’s supporters, he is nothing less than an American messiah,” writes Jon Meacham in a USA Today op-ed piece. No doubt you could replace Trump with Obama and that sentence would be just as accurate. Ironically, I first read a Meacham book (his biography of Andrew Jackson) last year while at the beach, and my wife’s at the beach now. So maybe this will be a new tradition for me. Anyway, he’s clearly opinionated, but aren’t “For Donald Trump’s opponents, he is the embodiment of regression. For Trump’s supporters, he is nothing less than an American messiah,” writes Jon Meacham in a USA Today op-ed piece. No doubt you could replace Trump with Obama and that sentence would be just as accurate. Ironically, I first read a Meacham book (his biography of Andrew Jackson) last year while at the beach, and my wife’s at the beach now. So maybe this will be a new tradition for me. Anyway, he’s clearly opinionated, but aren’t most of us? His bibliography alone is enough to make me covetous.
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  • Barbara
    January 1, 1970
    Jon Meacham appears to have written this book in direct response to the political climate of the Trump era. Meacham is an excellent biographer who can set the scene for a variety of historical periods. This ability is of use in this book which describes many of the uglier periods of American history: reconstruction, the KKK, various anti-immigrant movements, actions which led to the Great Depression, continued racism, McCarthy-ism. Meacham moves fluidly from one period to another, using direct q Jon Meacham appears to have written this book in direct response to the political climate of the Trump era. Meacham is an excellent biographer who can set the scene for a variety of historical periods. This ability is of use in this book which describes many of the uglier periods of American history: reconstruction, the KKK, various anti-immigrant movements, actions which led to the Great Depression, continued racism, McCarthy-ism. Meacham moves fluidly from one period to another, using direct quotations from each period maintaining a broad sense of the times. I especially like his delineations of people who stood up against the issues. The example of Lyndon Johnson fighting for civil rights when he became president was compelling to me. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis are huge in the fight. John Kennedy proposed the Civil Rights Act, but it was LBJ whose better angels pushed through the voting act.Meacham also drives home the parallels between the past and what we are facing now. He comes back, time and again, to the way Americans continue to press forward in support of our 'better angels.' There is hope in this book that gives me the strength to go ahead. We will go past this ugly period.
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  • Michael Austin
    January 1, 1970
    Jon Meacham's The Soul of America is this week's entry in what has become a major genre: a well-known academic or public intellectual writes a scholarly book for a popular audience that demonstrates just how much of an outlier--historically or politically--Donald Trump is. Among the books I have recently read in this genre are Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die, Robert Reich's The Common Good, Cass Sunstein's #Republic, Amy Chua's Political Tribes, Madeline Albright's Fasci Jon Meacham's The Soul of America is this week's entry in what has become a major genre: a well-known academic or public intellectual writes a scholarly book for a popular audience that demonstrates just how much of an outlier--historically or politically--Donald Trump is. Among the books I have recently read in this genre are Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die, Robert Reich's The Common Good, Cass Sunstein's #Republic, Amy Chua's Political Tribes, Madeline Albright's Fascism, and Timothy Snyder's The Road to Unfreedom.All in all, it's not a bad genre. Trump is a political and historical outlier, and it is good to understand exactly how. But these books are not uniformly good. One of the most infallible rules of the publishing industry is that, when a certain kind of book starts to sell well, everybody will publish one, and some of them will suck.The Soul of America doesn't exactly suck. But neither does it exactly not suck. It's author, Jon Meacham, is certainly a very good historian who has written a lot of very good books. This one, though, feels more like assorted notes for a book rather than an actual book. It doesn't ever really come together as a thing. It contains some good insights and a few interesting bits of history, but it doesn't contain, well, a book.Meacham's thesis, from what I can tell, is that there have been a lot of times in American history when people have been divided. But we have been able to do good things anyway because of some intangible quality in American presidents by which they take their offices seriously, rise to the occasion, and do important things, even though they are deeply flawed human beings whom one would never have expected capable of doing important things.The events are all at least vaguely related to various Civil Rights issues: Lincoln and emancipation, Grant and the KKK, TR and Women's Suffrage, Wilson and the KKK 2.0, FDR and the Nazis, Eisenhower and McCarthy, an LBJ and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But even these chapters don't really stick to their main point. They bounce all over the place and bring in side issues and tangents that detract from anything that could reasonably be considered a main point. While reading The Spirit of America, my main thought was, "this would be pretty good if somebody turned it into a book."I have no idea how this book came to be, but I like to imagine that it went something like this: the editors at Random House look around and see that anti-Trump books by academics are flying off the shelves. They call up Jon Meacham, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes for biographies of Jackson and Jefferson and say, "Hey, Jon Baby, can you write us a "Dump Trump" book. Meacham clears off a bunch of stuff from his hard drive that didn't make it into any of his other books, writes a preface that talks about how divided the nation is these days because Donald Trump, and then groups the material into chapters that vaguely suggest that Americans can do hard things when they have a minimally decent president.With a little more effort, a good editor, and another 9-12 months, it could have been a good book too.
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  • Angie Boyter
    January 1, 1970
    A quotation treasure chest for dedicated history buffsInspired by the tumultuous climate of current-day politics and government the new book The Soul of America by Pulitzer-winner Jon Meacham explores periods in America’s history that tested our nation’s soul and our ability to face fear and extreme controversy. His upbeat conclusion is that we as a nation have, indeed, called upon “the better angels of our nature” and weathered our toughest challenges, including Reconstruction, women’s suffrage A quotation treasure chest for dedicated history buffsInspired by the tumultuous climate of current-day politics and government the new book The Soul of America by Pulitzer-winner Jon Meacham explores periods in America’s history that tested our nation’s soul and our ability to face fear and extreme controversy. His upbeat conclusion is that we as a nation have, indeed, called upon “the better angels of our nature” and weathered our toughest challenges, including Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, Ku Klux Klan (a recurring threat),the Great Depression, McCarthyism, and the 60s civil rights movement. To sum up the book, in the words of Harry Truman, “The people have often made mistakes, but given time and the facts, they will make the correction.” The depth and breadth of Meacham’s scholarship is truly impressive, and he draws on his sources liberally, at times seeming almost like a volume of Bartlett’s Quotations. For example, on one page picked at random, he quotes Thomas Jefferson, Aristotle, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Thomas Paine. The heavy use of the quotes from his sources was admirable on one level but to this reader broke up the smooth flow of the writing and made it a less enjoyable read. As a result, I suggest that this book is most likely to be appreciated by true history mavens.Indeed, Meacham is certainly not the only fine writer inspired by present-day events. For a different take on challenges to political systems a general audience might enjoy How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt , which discusses failures but also the elements that enable a democracy to thrive, with interesting examples from America as well as foreign governments.NOTE: My thanks to NetGalley for an advance reader copy of this book.
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  • Tommy
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting read. Meacham's response to the current administration, and to those who a weathering the storm. A look at how various presidents acted as the conscience of the nation, and who had to weather storms of their own, in the face of populism, rising fascism, false nationalism and outright terrorism.He ends his book with an essay on how to respond, how to engage the political process when any administration (I shouldn't single out the Trump administration, even if it is the impetus behind Interesting read. Meacham's response to the current administration, and to those who a weathering the storm. A look at how various presidents acted as the conscience of the nation, and who had to weather storms of their own, in the face of populism, rising fascism, false nationalism and outright terrorism.He ends his book with an essay on how to respond, how to engage the political process when any administration (I shouldn't single out the Trump administration, even if it is the impetus behind this book), when it looks like we're regressing.The book also serves as a comfort, showing that even when times darken, the light has shined through, because of the work of those who do listen to their better angels....
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  • KF-in-Georgia
    January 1, 1970
    Still reading this...Nice, inspiring quotes, but not easy to read. There's no flow. If you took a copy of Bartlett's Famous Quotations and read the quotations on America, you'd find that as empty of storyline as Meacham's book is. But I'll keep going, in hopes of finding something to inspire The Battle for Our Better Angels.One problem is that not all of America's statesmen have been golden-tongued orators like Martin Luther King, speaking to inspire his listeners. Some of them (Woodrow Wilson) Still reading this...Nice, inspiring quotes, but not easy to read. There's no flow. If you took a copy of Bartlett's Famous Quotations and read the quotations on America, you'd find that as empty of storyline as Meacham's book is. But I'll keep going, in hopes of finding something to inspire The Battle for Our Better Angels.One problem is that not all of America's statesmen have been golden-tongued orators like Martin Luther King, speaking to inspire his listeners. Some of them (Woodrow Wilson) speak like long-winded college professors, lecturing their sleeping students.Enough. Reading this has become drudgery, and that's not why I read.It's preachy, but it's not good, inspirational, ass-kicking, revival-preacher preachy.
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  • Pat Sturmon
    January 1, 1970
    Fantastic overview of the strengths and failures of the American democracy. He calls our democracy an eternal struggle. It provides a great summary of what we need to learn from the past. It helps us understand our great leaders and what they have contributed to our great country. And, it is not an easy task to keep our democracy on track for future generations. We need to reflect on the past to gain insight into our future.
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  • Stephen
    January 1, 1970
    A reminder to citizens currently stressed that the USA has often been through dark times, and how we came through them and slowly improved. I learned a lot. I’d like toread more of Meacham’s books. And also learn more about MLK Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson.
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  • Dkolacinski
    January 1, 1970
    History repeats itself by cause history is ultimately each and everyone of us, with our better and bitter angels. We have survived as a nation and as a society. And so it goes.
  • Joe
    January 1, 1970
    Disgusting at best. Hateful and less than go honest. Would not recommend to any one. A piece of liberal garbage.
  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    Inspiring.
  • Barbara
    January 1, 1970
    Incredible book! would encourage everyone to read this wonderful book that looks back on critical times in our country’s history. could not put it down. Very fast read and so well written.
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