The Soul of America
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment in American politics and life by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame division and fear.Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" have repeatedly won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history. He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women's rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson's crusade against Jim Crow. Each of these dramatic hours in our national life have been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear — a struggle that continues even now.While the American story has not always — or even often — been heroic, we have been sustained by a belief in progress even in the gloomiest of times. In this inspiring book, Meacham reassures us, "The good news is that we have come through such darkness before" — as, time and again, Lincoln's better angels have found a way to prevail.

The Soul of America Details

TitleThe Soul of America
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 8th, 2018
PublisherRandom House
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Politics, North American Hi..., American History

The Soul of America Review

  • Bill Kerwin
    January 1, 1970
    ”The past is never dead; it is not even past.”—William FaulknerIn August of 2017, after the deadly alt-right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Time’s editor Nancy Gates called up Jon Meacham and asked him if he had any thoughts on the subject. The Pulitzer prize-winning historian—and son of the South who grew up on Missionary Ridge, battlefield of the Civil War—began to reflect on the words of Faulkner, and how the “American battles over power and race and history” have, “with astonishing regu ”The past is never dead; it is not even past.”—William FaulknerIn August of 2017, after the deadly alt-right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Time’s editor Nancy Gates called up Jon Meacham and asked him if he had any thoughts on the subject. The Pulitzer prize-winning historian—and son of the South who grew up on Missionary Ridge, battlefield of the Civil War—began to reflect on the words of Faulkner, and how the “American battles over power and race and history” have, “with astonishing regularity,” proven the truth of those words. The initial result of his reflection was “American Hate, a History” (Time, August 17 2017), an exploration of “several different eras” of American history “in which a politics of fear seemed to triumph, at least temporarily, over hope.” Meacham continued to reflect, and “American Hate, a History” became the seed that gave birth to his book The Soul of America.It has also been said of the past (in a quote attributed to Twain) that history does not repeat itself but it rhymes, and I have never read a book which summons the echos of those rhymes more expertly—and more ominously—than The Soul of America. Meacham is a master of his subject, and if the ground he covers seems familiar (it is), if some chapters seem like reworked essays on individual episodes (they are), and if the extensive use of quotations at times almost overwhelms the author’s clear and elegant prose, then such factors should be seen as only minor faults—if seen as faults at all—for they too contribute to the design of the whole. For Meacham discovers the marvelous rhymes of our history in the familiar stories we (only think we) know, often in apparently unrelated episodes, their connections hidden in the testimony of the people who lived them.Here are two examples that demonstrate how adept Meacham can be at your choosing instances which demonstrate the rhyming of history.Joe McCarthy and the press: When he read coverage he disliked, McCarthy did not keep quiet—he went on the offenseive, singling out specific publications and particular journalists, sometimes at rallies. He particularly hated “The Milwaukee Journal.” . . . To a “Journal” reporter, McCarthy confided: “Off the record, I don’t know that I can cut [the “Journal”’s] profits at all . . . . But if you show a newspaper as unfriendly and having a reason for being antagonistic, you can take the sting out of what it says about you. I think I can convince a lot of people that they can’t believe what they read in the “Journal.” George Wallace and his crowds: Wallace brought something intriguing to the modern politics of fear in America: a visceral connection to his crowds, an appeal that confounded elites but gave him a durable base. [He] was “simply more alive than all the others,” a female journalist told the writer Marshall Frady. . . . “You saw those people in that auditorium when he was speaking—you saw their eyes. He made those people feel something real for once in their lives. . . . I couldn’t take my eyes off him, there were all those people screaming. You almost love him, though you know what a little gremlin he actually is.” Perhaps the best thing about The Soul of America is the way it communicates the character of the person who wrote it, for Jon Meacham himself is an inspiration. Although he is a scholar and a citizen dismayed by recent events, he is also a resilient man who chooses to hope and to act. And because he is a scholar, he finds ample evidence for his hope in the deeds of brave Americans, both in its leaders—Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, FDR, Truman, LBJ—and in the gadflies and agitators who kept those leaders honest: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Alice Paul, Eugene Debs, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Chase Smith, John Lewis, Martin Luther King. Meacham sums it up best himself: For all of our darker impulses, for all of our shortcomings, and for all of the dreams denied and deferred, the experiment begun so long ago, carried out so imperfectly, is worth the fight. There is, in fact, no struggle more important, and none nobler, than the one we wage in the service of those better angels who, however besieged, are always ready for battle.
    more
  • Michael Ferro
    January 1, 1970
    The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels should be required reading for every American in these divisive times. Now more than ever we need to not only recognize just how deep our societal division is, but remember that we have been in times like this before (though it's hard to remember) and come out a stronger nation... well, most of the time. Of particular interest to me was the study of the mythical "Lost Cause" and the pathos that resulted in the resulting one hundred years of r The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels should be required reading for every American in these divisive times. Now more than ever we need to not only recognize just how deep our societal division is, but remember that we have been in times like this before (though it's hard to remember) and come out a stronger nation... well, most of the time. Of particular interest to me was the study of the mythical "Lost Cause" and the pathos that resulted in the resulting one hundred years of racism and inequality (and very much survives today). Meacham takes a closer look at our internal struggles across the short life of our cherished democracy, from the birth of our nation through McCarthyism and civil rights. There was at least one truly wonderful and enlightening thing about each leader during these time periods (and at least one distressing thing) that can help us comprehend how we move forward. Sure, America has never been this divided since the Civil War, but thanks to amazing leaders—both presidential and those extraordinary everyday citizens—we have persevered and the American Dream lives on. Sure, Meacham reminds us that we're never likely to have a "perfect" nation, but history is painfully alive—a living thing—and if we'd be remiss to ignore it, and foolish to have to repeat the same mistakes and injustices over and over again. Sadly obvious throughout this great book is the importance of having an honest, determined, and good-natured leader in times of cultural crisis. And while we certainly do not have that in our current administration, perhaps the light is just around the corner. I admit, I'm not often a "glass half full" type, but Meacham truly does awaken some of the better angels of our nature...
    more
  • Elizabeth George
    January 1, 1970
    If there were a six star category, I would give this book six stars. It's a book that should be read by every thinking American who is worried, concerned, or devastated by what is going on and has gone on in our country since Donald Trump was elected President. Yet....this is a hopeful book. Meacham posits that we have been in desperate situations before as a country, and we have survived. He covers everything from the Civil War to the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan to the McCarthy hearings t If there were a six star category, I would give this book six stars. It's a book that should be read by every thinking American who is worried, concerned, or devastated by what is going on and has gone on in our country since Donald Trump was elected President. Yet....this is a hopeful book. Meacham posits that we have been in desperate situations before as a country, and we have survived. He covers everything from the Civil War to the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan to the McCarthy hearings to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. He explains the nature of the Presidents who were in office during the most trying times in the country's history. In the end, he is more optimistic than I would have thought possible. It's not a difficult book to read, but it is thoroughly researched and written with a compassionate spirit. Really and truly. Everyone should read this book.
    more
  • David Eppenstein
    January 1, 1970
    "I've got the the biggest brains, I'm going to be the biggest man in the United States." Sound familiar ? Think you recognize the speaker? I thought so too. I was wrong. The speaker was a man named David Stephenson who was a major leader of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's who was subsequently arrested for kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young woman but was convicted of second degree murder. This book is full of quotes like this from historic figures we will all recognize as well as many "I've got the the biggest brains, I'm going to be the biggest man in the United States." Sound familiar ? Think you recognize the speaker? I thought so too. I was wrong. The speaker was a man named David Stephenson who was a major leader of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's who was subsequently arrested for kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young woman but was convicted of second degree murder. This book is full of quotes like this from historic figures we will all recognize as well as many people whose deeds and words have been lost to history but resurrected by Mr. Meacham to serve a purpose greatly needed at present. That need is to demonstrate how knowing and understanding history helps us cope with the issues and crises of our present. No book in my memory has served a better or more needed function.To achieve his goal Mr. Meacham has taken an assortment of divisive issues and events in our history and examined them and the people either associated with these issues or those charged with dealing and resolving these matters. He examines the history surrounding the event and what forces were exerted to make it so volatile and divisive and then how the issue was either treated or not treated and why. While reading this book I was put in mind of JFK's "Profiles in Courage" as the format is very similar but this book's treatment of its subject is far more detailed and of much greater depth. The issues covered and the personalities considered are hardly surprising but I admit I came away with different understandings of some of the historic figures I thought I knew. Meacham quotes liberally from a variety of sources to reveal much more than the public face of a given figure and the inclusion of numerous private conversations is immensely helpful in this regard. There is much to recommend this book and its need is sorely felt in our present political atmosphere. It is a relatively short book at only 272 pages of text but its message is clear and easily understood. If that wasn't sufficient, however, Mr. Meacham ends his book with a concluding chapter of what we, the voters, can do to find "Our Better Angels". The only sad conclusion one can reach after reading this book is that most, maybe all, of the issues examined still divide us. What that means is that neither the voters nor the people they vote for know enough about our history to keep us from constantly repeating our mistakes. In order to get passed our history we must first understand and deal with it and we must do that as one people.
    more
  • 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.
    more
  • Lorna
    January 1, 1970
    The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels is a beautiful book written to give one hope in these troubled times by veteran historian Jon Meacham. Basically, it recounts the struggles that this country has had from its beginnings and how many American presidents have risen to the occasion, as well as this country's influential activists, striving to keep this democracy alive and in the "search for the better angels of our nature.""We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels is a beautiful book written to give one hope in these troubled times by veteran historian Jon Meacham. Basically, it recounts the struggles that this country has had from its beginnings and how many American presidents have risen to the occasion, as well as this country's influential activists, striving to keep this democracy alive and in the "search for the better angels of our nature.""We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when touched, as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature." - Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, 1861
    more
  • Scott
    January 1, 1970
    "He . . . understood people, and when it came time to make decisions, he was willing to take the responsibility . . . He had a good head and a great brain and a kind heart . . . He was the best kind of ordinary man. I mean that as high praise, not deprecation . . . He's one of the people and becomes distinguished in the service that he gives other people." -- Harry S. Truman on Abraham Lincoln Author Meacham details various moments in U.S. history when certain presidents (Lincoln, both of the Ro "He . . . understood people, and when it came time to make decisions, he was willing to take the responsibility . . . He had a good head and a great brain and a kind heart . . . He was the best kind of ordinary man. I mean that as high praise, not deprecation . . . He's one of the people and becomes distinguished in the service that he gives other people." -- Harry S. Truman on Abraham Lincoln Author Meacham details various moments in U.S. history when certain presidents (Lincoln, both of the Roosevelts, LBJ and others) or citizen activists (including Martin Luther King) 'stepped up to the plate' and made good - but, admittedly, sometimes bad - or even far-reaching decisions about laws and rights that helped shape this great country. In fact, I'd say the book is pretty effective in simply demonstrating that the nation - no matter which leader is at the helm - remains as durable as ever.
    more
  • 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.
    more
  • 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.”
    more
  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    This beautiful book uses the prism of American history to present the case that 'we've been here before' and 'this too shall pass'. Did it make me feel better? Sort of. The quotes from past presidents and historical figures of note are insightful, inspiration and, in some cases, moving. I can see Meacham's argument that this division and turmoil is nothing 'new', but has there ever been such an absence of moral leadership? Has there ever been a leader so untethered to facts, so unversed in conve This beautiful book uses the prism of American history to present the case that 'we've been here before' and 'this too shall pass'. Did it make me feel better? Sort of. The quotes from past presidents and historical figures of note are insightful, inspiration and, in some cases, moving. I can see Meacham's argument that this division and turmoil is nothing 'new', but has there ever been such an absence of moral leadership? Has there ever been a leader so untethered to facts, so unversed in convention, and so indifferent to historical precedents? Yes, this will pass, eventually, but what will remain when it does?
    more
  • Aura
    January 1, 1970
    I watched Jon Meacham on the Real Time by Bill Maher. He talked about how he is hopeful for the future and trump is nothing new in American history. I decided that I needed to read this book because I needed something uplifting to read. As I listened to this audiobook, I did not feel reassured nor hopeful. I still feel fearful of the future of America. Most of this book is a recounting of history from the civil war, reconstruction, the rise of the Klan, Jim Crow laws, McCarthism, the internment I watched Jon Meacham on the Real Time by Bill Maher. He talked about how he is hopeful for the future and trump is nothing new in American history. I decided that I needed to read this book because I needed something uplifting to read. As I listened to this audiobook, I did not feel reassured nor hopeful. I still feel fearful of the future of America. Most of this book is a recounting of history from the civil war, reconstruction, the rise of the Klan, Jim Crow laws, McCarthism, the internment of the Japanese, civil rights movement to current day Charleston church shooting. American history is a history of race relation and an experiment in democracy. American History has lead us to this moment and our better angels will see us through. Meacham believes that our democratic experiment with the help of our better angels has produced a country that has continuously moved towards more freedom and inclusion. Meacham ends the book with Obama's words in his farewell address, "For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back." I guess we need to push forward and believe that this carnival barker trump is only but one step back and soon we will be back on course straight ahead away from politics of fear and hatred. Maybe every other generation has faced a McCarthy or a trump and has lived through their attacks on democracy but why do I feel like this, what we are living through today, is different?
    more
  • 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.
    more
  • Joseph Sciuto
    January 1, 1970
    Jon Meacham's "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels" is a must read, especially for those among us who are not familiar with the racism that has infested our great nation since the time of the American Revolution. Thankfully, as Mr. Meacham has so poignantly pointed out, with each infestation there have been men and women who have stood up to such evil and kept our nation on a path toward righteousness from Presidents Lincoln, Grant, TR, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, John Jon Meacham's "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels" is a must read, especially for those among us who are not familiar with the racism that has infested our great nation since the time of the American Revolution. Thankfully, as Mr. Meacham has so poignantly pointed out, with each infestation there have been men and women who have stood up to such evil and kept our nation on a path toward righteousness from Presidents Lincoln, Grant, TR, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, and George Herbert Bush. And extraordinary citizens, such as Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, John Lewis, and Eleanor Roosevelt. To quote Mr. Meacham, who quotes Mr. William Faulkner, "The past is never dead; it's not even past." Voting, as is pointed out repeatedly throughout the book, is the most powerful tool against discrimination and ignorance.
    more
  • 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.
    more
  • Barbara Hale
    January 1, 1970
    I don't generally read non-fiction, other than memoirs, but this book was an excellent reminder of the struggles our country has gone through in the past, and how those struggles were handled by our leaders, some great, and some not so great.Historian Jon Meacham starts with the Constitutional Convention, takes us through the Civil War, Reconstruction, the rise of the KKK, World War 1, the Depression, The New Deal, World War II, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, to present day. He shares l I don't generally read non-fiction, other than memoirs, but this book was an excellent reminder of the struggles our country has gone through in the past, and how those struggles were handled by our leaders, some great, and some not so great.Historian Jon Meacham starts with the Constitutional Convention, takes us through the Civil War, Reconstruction, the rise of the KKK, World War 1, the Depression, The New Deal, World War II, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, to present day. He shares little known (or forgotten) facts about the character of the men who have led this nation for over 200 years, and what it meant to each of them to lead. None of them were perfect, but each, in their own way, brought personal humility and a shared vision of American values to the job of president. Virtually every one of them believed America is a great nation, and their role was to make it better.I was particularly interested in learning more about LBJ and his struggle for Civil Rights. Being a Southern Democrat, he managed to corral his fellow southerners to pass legislation because it was the right thing to do - although definitely not the politically advantageous thing to do - but just because it was right and our Constitution demanded it. He knew his political capital was limited, so he worked tirelessly to pass not only the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but also the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also knew that in doing so, he was guaranteeing that it would be years before the Democratic Party ever controlled the Southern states again.In the last chapter, Meachum provides practical suggestions on how to better fight our political battles as citizens of this great nation. The soul of America depends on our engagement as informed citizens. First, we have the obligation to "enter the arena" and become politically engaged. If we can't run for office, we at least need to pay attention, express our opinions, and cast our ballots. Second, we must "resist tribalism" "Wisdom generally comes from a free exchange of ideas, and there can be no free exchange of ideas if everyone on your side already agrees with one another." Third, we must "respect facts and deploy reason." "Too many Americans are locked into their particular vision of the world, choosing this view or that perspective based not on its grounding in fact but on whether it's a view or perspective endorsed by the leaders one follows." Fourth, we must "find a critical balance." Meachum quotes Teddy Roosevelt saying "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Most of our prior presidents have understood this and humbly accepted criticism from the press for their failings or when their decisions were unpopular. Finally, we must "keep history in mind." "History has taught us that demagogues can only thrive when a substantial portion of the demos - the people- want him to."Meachum's pragmatic approach to history, and his understanding of the character of those who have come before us, is admirable. I listened to most of the book on Audible and felt like I was attending a very interesting college lecture, or listening to a fascinating podcast. I highly recommend this book - it should be required reading for every American high school graduate.
    more
  • Brian Willis
    January 1, 1970
    We live in scary times, with erratic and sometimes dangerous leadership, and with nearly everybody dissatisfied with leadership in Washington. International relations are on eggshells with the possibility of a major crisis.Several of my favorite American biographers are releasing books this year which are rather manuals on how to be an effective leader in these times of crisis: David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Joseph J. Ellis. This is Meacham's turn, and his book is a series of vignet We live in scary times, with erratic and sometimes dangerous leadership, and with nearly everybody dissatisfied with leadership in Washington. International relations are on eggshells with the possibility of a major crisis.Several of my favorite American biographers are releasing books this year which are rather manuals on how to be an effective leader in these times of crisis: David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Joseph J. Ellis. This is Meacham's turn, and his book is a series of vignettes on moments that echo our own in history: a brief history of the evolving role of the Presidency as crisis manager, the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the South and efforts to curb it when America's moral compass stubbornly clung to segregation, the progressive movement of Teddy Roosevelt against Big Business, the women's suffrage movement, the voices of radicalism during the Great Depression and World War II and FDR's response to it, the red scare of McCarthyism, and LBJ's moral leadership in civil rights.It's a great survey of crisis moments that required moral leadership in America's brief history, told by a master of that craft. Well worth it for the reassurance in these trying times. Easy, pleasurable reading.
    more
  • Steven Z.
    January 1, 1970
    Reading Jon Meacham’s latest historical work, THE SOUL OF AMERICA: THE BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS at the same time as the federal government is separating immigrant families into “relocation centers” reminiscent of Japanese internment camps during World War II is extremely disturbing. It is not a stretch to label the Trump administration’s immigration policies as racist when one considers the language and comments of those like Steven Miller and company, especially the president. However you d Reading Jon Meacham’s latest historical work, THE SOUL OF AMERICA: THE BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS at the same time as the federal government is separating immigrant families into “relocation centers” reminiscent of Japanese internment camps during World War II is extremely disturbing. It is not a stretch to label the Trump administration’s immigration policies as racist when one considers the language and comments of those like Steven Miller and company, especially the president. However you describe the facilities that parents and children are separated and housed in together, it is un-American for the media and members of Congress to be barred from investigating what is going on behind those chain linked fences. President Trump may tweet his racist rationalizations and comments that have little or no basis in fact all he wants, but what is clear is that he has a different agenda than the majority of the American people. Meacham’s overall thesis is that the current political turmoil we find ourselves in is not unprecedented and as a nation we have survived worse. Let us hope that he is correct but after events like Charlottesville, talk of Mexican rapists, vicious attacks on anyone who disagrees with the administration, the Mueller investigation, the fecklessness of Congressional Republicans, and President Trump’s admiration for dictatorships around the world, at the same time as he is exhibiting disdain for America’s democratic allies, I fear that Mr. Meacham may be overly optimistic.For those who have read Meacham’s works on Roosevelt and Churchill, Andrew Jackson, George H.W. Bush, and Thomas Jefferson his current effort should not disappoint. Meacham’s monograph is well written and researched as are all his previous books. He has the ability to expose the reader to a useful overview of American history that assists in our understanding of events. The author points out that he has not written his work because past presidents have always risen to the occasion, but because President Trump rarely, if ever does. A major theme of the book is that America will usually choose the right path when encouraged from the top.Meacham’s discussion of the historical roots of fear in our history are apropos as in today’s politics as President Trump seems to rest each statement and policy on ginning up his base through the application of fear. We must remember that “fear divides, hope unifies.” Meacham concentrates on the twin tragedies in our nation’s history, the subjugation of people of color, and the justification of policies that infringe upon the rights of citizens justified through the concept of the “expansion of liberty.” The creation of the presidency by the Founding Fathers was “an act of faith in the future and an educated wager on human character.” The problem is that throughout our history such hopes have not always been realized.After reviewing a number viewpoints dealing with the presidency, the ideas of Thomas Jefferson sum it up best; “in a government like ours it is the duty of the Chief-magistrate, in order to enable himself to do all the good which his station requires to endeavor, by all honorable means, to unite in himself the confidence of the whole people,” not just those who voted for him.Meacham delves into the philosophical foundations of America’s creation in detail. He explores the likes of John Locke, Adam Smith, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams concluding that the president is a reflection of the needs and wants of the American people. The character and temperament of the Chief Executive are of paramount importance when trying to unite the general population behind a program that is supposed to meet the needs of all. By discussing the approaches taken by men such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson it makes it difficult to accept the demeanor and character of the current occupant of the White House.The author does an excellent job introducing each case study at the outset of each chapter. He places events and characters in their proper historical context and allows the reader insights into the issue at hand, and creates continuity for the examples he puts forth. This is evident in perhaps Meacham’s best chapters dealing with immigration and white nationalism. He makes the important point that to understand the resurgence of white nationalism today, furthered by Trump’s “dog whistle” approach to race one must return to the immediate post-Civil War period and the failure of Reconstruction. The parallels with the latter part of the 19th century, the 1920s, and today in terms of racial issues and hatred, are very discomforting.Many white American feared a post slavery society in which emancipation led to equality, and they successfully ensured through lynching’s, denial of equal education and voting rights, that no such equality would come to pass. Immigration has also been seen as a threat to white Americans as millions arrived between 1890 and 1910. The reaction that produced the Ku Klux Klan is important to contemplate because some of the issues that prevailed in America are similar to today. For the post-Civil War period that produced the first Klan, and the 1920s that produced the second Klan we witness massive industrialization and urbanization which transformed the old agrarian world. The Klan promised racial solidarity and cultural certitude. The issue of jobs, neighborhoods, religious rights, immigration all affected how Americans felt about the future, a future where whites believed that they were losing their country to non-whites. The Klan and men like Huey Long and Father Coughlin in the 1930s gave their adherents a social and political program that spoke to their fears at the moment and to the “mythology of identity.” The 1920s sought a wall against southern Europeans, today Trump wants a wall against Mexicans and Central America.Perhaps the man who most epitomizes the tactics, character, and temperament of President Trump is Senator Joseph McCarthy. While Trump wishes he had his own Roy Cohn, McCarthy actually had him. Cohn, a New York lawyer who advised McCarthy and later worked with Trump describes McCarthy; “he was impatient, overly aggressive, and overly dramatic. He acted on impulse. He tended to sensationalize the evidence he had….He would neglect to do important homework and consequently, would on occasion, make challengeable statements.” McCarthy was a master of the news cycle and probably the author of “fake news “as he dominated politics between 1950 and 1954, and caused so many who were accused as being soft on communists or communists themselves to lose their jobs and place in society, but as Meacham might argue we as a nation overcame his negative impact and moved on. Since Cohn’s description fits Trump to a tee, hopefully once he is out of office the same thing will occur.The most important chapter in the book deals with Lyndon Johnson. After not heeding the warning that he could lose the south for the Democratic Party for a generation he pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Further, Johnson, a white southerner led the fight that resulted in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Johnson’s work reflected an unusual character and temperament that allowed him to beat back the George Wallace’s of the age and show what the true “soul of America” could be. As he stated in his address to Congress on March 15, 1965, “For with a country as with a person, what is men profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Today, I wonder what the evangelical leadership thinks when they support Trump’s tweet and actions when they consult Jesus from the Gospel of St. Mark?For Meacham, his book is one of optimism and hope arguing that after each period of reaction and racism it has been followed by elements of the good in our society. He makes it sound like the business cycle and that it is inevitable that the evil purported by the Trump administration will eventually be replaced by what really made America great once he is out of office. Meacham‘s work is an easy read, but do not mistake the substance that lies behind it.
    more
  • Vivian
    January 1, 1970
    [redacted] America.
  • Jim
    January 1, 1970
    Jon Meacham's The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels is about the crises the U.S. has faced in his history that were unrelated to (1) economic panics, recessions and the Great Depression; (2) labor problems; and (3) war. Although I liked what Meacham had to say, I thought he should have been clearer that his book skirted these areas which led to perhaps more conflict than anything else. What we are undergoing now in the Trump era is not (yet) economical, not (yet) related to labor Jon Meacham's The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels is about the crises the U.S. has faced in his history that were unrelated to (1) economic panics, recessions and the Great Depression; (2) labor problems; and (3) war. Although I liked what Meacham had to say, I thought he should have been clearer that his book skirted these areas which led to perhaps more conflict than anything else. What we are undergoing now in the Trump era is not (yet) economical, not (yet) related to labor, and not (yet) related to war.While it is a relief to know that our country has weathered other crises, I still believe we have to act at times as if the current crisis will lead to our demise as a free, democratic nation. As it well might.There is a heavy emphasis on the battle for the African-American population to achieve their Civil Rights, and this is one of the best parts of the book. I was also interested to hear about the Ku Klux Klan's political power in the 1920s, when it had millions of members, controlled several statehouses, and some members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. I found the book interesting enough to look up other works by the author and add them to my reading list.
    more
  • Peter Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    Racial demagogues and people fighting for justice are part of the American story. Trump is playing notes that have been playing since colonial days. It is maddening that we are still playing this game and that we can't seem to move forward on this issue in this country. The same bigots seem to come at us with the same stupidity over and over again as if the worst of American history is recycled in slightly different (sometimes more menacing) packaging every generation. When are we supposed to ov Racial demagogues and people fighting for justice are part of the American story. Trump is playing notes that have been playing since colonial days. It is maddening that we are still playing this game and that we can't seem to move forward on this issue in this country. The same bigots seem to come at us with the same stupidity over and over again as if the worst of American history is recycled in slightly different (sometimes more menacing) packaging every generation. When are we supposed to overcome the A-holes and fighting the same zombie armies racists who can't let go of past hatreds? It is not that Trump is not something new his role was played by characters like George Wallace, Father Coughlin, Bull Connor, Andrew Jackson, Calhoun, Bedford Forest, the same villains the same stuff over and over again. Can we ever get out of this loop? If it wasn't the same people using the same stupid arguments holding us back and forcing us to refight the same battles over and over again we would be colonizing Mars or something.
    more
  • 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.
    more
  • Koren
    January 1, 1970
    If you are a history buff, you probably wont find a lot new. The author tells of other times in U.S. history when things happened that we are not very proud of. Mostly it is about times when basic human rights were not honored. Slavery, the holocaust, Martin Luther King, Jr., racism, McCarthyism, are all discussed. The basic message of the book is that we have been in dark times before and come through it and we will come through our latest controversaries also.
    more
  • Denny
    January 1, 1970
    Jon Meacham's The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels is an easily readable, thorough if limited, well-researched, and generously sourced work of American history. Given its scope, though, it's bittersweet. I was reminded that, over and over throughout our history, our people and our politicians and, too often, the institutes they lead, have treated significant segments of America's population with disregard, disrespect, and outright criminality, sometimes using the Bible as justif Jon Meacham's The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels is an easily readable, thorough if limited, well-researched, and generously sourced work of American history. Given its scope, though, it's bittersweet. I was reminded that, over and over throughout our history, our people and our politicians and, too often, the institutes they lead, have treated significant segments of America's population with disregard, disrespect, and outright criminality, sometimes using the Bible as justification. Yes, the book's overall tone is hopeful, and the conclusion offers good advice on how we as a people can be and do better, but being reminded of how bad we've been (and how often!) was quite depressing.
    more
  • 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”.
    more
  • 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.
    more
  • Mehrsa
    January 1, 1970
    This is a really hopeful book, but also a little boring. The end passage is the most vital. Things are not worse than they have been and we can get over it. The message may be more optimistic than is my usual leaning, but he does show how racism, xenophobia, corruption, etc have always been with us and so have the drives toward equality, acceptance, and reform.
    more
  • Bob
    January 1, 1970
    Summary: A review of American presidential leadership and the battle between the politics of fear and the politics of hope for our national soul.Jon Meacham thinks that even more crucial than an affirmation of the American creed is the fight for the American soul. Meacham characterizes this fight as a struggle between fear and hope, and surveys the forces in American history that appeal to each and the crucial role of presidential leadership. He summarizes his thesis as follows: "Our greatest le Summary: A review of American presidential leadership and the battle between the politics of fear and the politics of hope for our national soul.Jon Meacham thinks that even more crucial than an affirmation of the American creed is the fight for the American soul. Meacham characterizes this fight as a struggle between fear and hope, and surveys the forces in American history that appeal to each and the crucial role of presidential leadership. He summarizes his thesis as follows: "Our greatest leaders have pointed toward the future--not at this group or that sect." Among others, he quotes Harry S. Truman as one who upheld this ideal:"You can't divide the country up into sections and have one rule for one section and one rule for another, and you can't encourage people's prejudices. You have to appeal to people's best instincts, not their worst ones. You may win an election or so by doing the other, but it does a lot of harm to the country."Meacham's book is a survey of this struggle throughout our history. We begin with George Washington's expansive vision: "The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions." He was followed by John Adams who passed the unpopular Alien and Sedition Act, leading in term to Jefferson's presidency. He explores our "peculiar institution" of slavery that eventuated in the Civil War, Lincoln's movement to an emancipation vision and a generous peace, and the cruel reaction of the rise of Jim Crow, the Klan, and lynchings during the failed Reconstruction.His chapter on Teddy Roosevelt focuses on the mixed record of this president whose progressive agenda fought for the poor and who was the first to welcome a black, Booker Washington, to the White House and invoked high ideals, yet also made racist remarks and yield to the forces of the Lost Cause. Nevertheless, he worked with Jane Addams on poor relief and the rights of women. He epitomizes the struggle between fear and hope in his person and yet articulated a vision of one America:"There can be no divided allegiance....We have room for but one flag, the American flag; for one language, the English language [an idea some would contest today]; for but one soul loyalty and that is loyalty to the American people."The post World War I era brought new struggles even as America prospered. Women's suffrage finally became the law of the land, yet fear over the rise of communism and a resurgent Klan aroused the fears of Americans against enemies without and within. Prosperity gave way to Depression. Politics contrasted between the demagoguery of Huey Long, and the expansive vision of Franklin Roosevelt who declared that we had nothing "to fear but fear itself."Post World War II found America with an expanding middle class thanks to the GI Bill, and a renewed paranoia about communism, incarnated in McCarthyism. Later when Lyndon B. Johnson succeeds assassinated President Kennedy, he uses all his political skill to pass Kennedy's civil rights agenda, losing the South to the Democrats, but ending desegregation, establishing many civil rights protections, and giving blacks the vote. He concludes this work with a ringing plea for Americans to enter the arena, to resist tribalism, to respect facts and use reason, to find a critical balance between the extremes of our politics, and to keep our history in mind. It is clear that he has our current political administration in his sights in tracing this struggle between the rival visions of hope and fear that many have used to try to capture the American soul. His argument falls on the side of hope, as he cites examples over and over of how leaders have appealed to our "better angels" to overcome hate, and that this hope should animate us even in a time of fear.What is somewhat troubling to me in this book is that the book uses, even quotes rhetoric I've heard since my childhood--in fact the quotes are one of the highlights of this book--they are so good. And yet, there is a humanistic optimism here that I think does not adequately reckon with the darker angels of our nature as a country. It is evident in the underlying struggle with racism and white supremacy that runs through the book. I don't think Meacham reckons with how strongly and unrepentantly embraced this is in many sectors of white society, even the parts that try to deny we are racist; that try to pretend we are colorblind. I think Meacham is right to contrast fear and hope, but I would suggest he neither adequately assesses the roots of fear, nor explores the faith and convictions that animate hope amid desperate circumstances. The closest he gets is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s encounter with an inner voice when his home was bombed and his family threatened. The voice said," 'Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And, lo, I will be with you even until the end of the world.' I heard Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone."We live in an age of sentiments rather than convictions. Meacham reminds us of people motivated by compelling ideas and moral principles. If hope is nothing more than a preferable feeling to fear, it won't take us very far. But if a hope grounded in deep conviction takes the measure of the deep roots of fear and hate, and "stands up," there is yet a chance that the soul of America might be turned. I hope.____________________________Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
    more
  • Jon
    January 1, 1970
    I am no great student of American history, so there is much in this book that I didn't know. I found out--with a chill--that Lee surrendered to Grant on Palm Sunday of 1865, and Lincoln was shot five days later on Good Friday. I have never read such a thorough description of the way racism, fear, and hatred have warped our history--how the south may have lost slavery in 1865, but it was determined (and still is) not to lose white supremacy or state's rights. As Robert Penn Warren said, the Confe I am no great student of American history, so there is much in this book that I didn't know. I found out--with a chill--that Lee surrendered to Grant on Palm Sunday of 1865, and Lincoln was shot five days later on Good Friday. I have never read such a thorough description of the way racism, fear, and hatred have warped our history--how the south may have lost slavery in 1865, but it was determined (and still is) not to lose white supremacy or state's rights. As Robert Penn Warren said, the Confederacy was born at Appomattox. I didn't know that the Ku Klux Klan once had a presence in all 48 states with a membership of at least two million, perhaps as many as six million. Klansmen held office: eleven governorships, sixteen US Senate seats, and "scores" of US House seats. Raising tariffs and "building a wall" to protect America were common campaign themes long before our current president. A lengthy description of Joe McCarthy, with his explosive tactics, lambasting of the press (on whom he depended for daily publicity), and his "fluid" relationship with facts, could have been descriptive verbatim of our current president. I had thought the book might be Pollyanna-ish: "Well, things are bad, but they've been worse, and we're better for it." It is not. It is thorough (the notes, bibliography, and index are equal in length to the text itself) and it is a call to action. Meacham is expert at picking pertinent quotes, most from past presidents, and many of which I have never seen before. He tells good stories. The closing pages list and enlarge upon a few things Americans can do: enter the arena (pay attention and vote), resist tribalism, respect facts, use reason, find a critical balance, remember history. A vivid, clearly written, compelling book.
    more
  • Rod Zemke
    January 1, 1970
    One of the most important books published in the United States this year. This should be a "must read" before anyone over 18 is allowed to vote. We, (basically Americans) think we have the greatest country in the world and maybe we do, but we are certainly not faultless. We had to fight a civil war to rid our country of slavery. Think about that fact alone. England eliminated slavery without fighting a civil war, as did most western countries. In this country, the civil war still exists in many One of the most important books published in the United States this year. This should be a "must read" before anyone over 18 is allowed to vote. We, (basically Americans) think we have the greatest country in the world and maybe we do, but we are certainly not faultless. We had to fight a civil war to rid our country of slavery. Think about that fact alone. England eliminated slavery without fighting a civil war, as did most western countries. In this country, the civil war still exists in many ways. It was not until 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, did blacks get close to having true voting privileges. During the 21st century, many states have tried to restrict voting by minorities. Income inequality has grown to new staggering heights. Social mobility in many countries exceeds that of the United States. Is all hope gone?--No. This country is so blessed with the diversity of its population. What would the Silicone Valley be without immigrants or the children of immigrants? Andy Paul, the half-Persian Steve Jobs, Sergey Brim, and the list could go on and on. Jon Meecham is a wonderful writer.This book is so timely in a period when our country could use the leadership of a person with the qualities of an Abraham Lincoln or an FDR.
    more
  • Randal White
    January 1, 1970
    This book should be required reading for everyone. Today we think that America is a horrible mess, and cannot possibly find a way forward. And that the divisions among us are insurmountable. Meacham reveals that this is not the end, that we have found ourselves in similar predicaments many times in the past. And we persevered and came out the other side stronger. Today's problems are just a bump in the road, and we will survive. Many thanks to the author for making me feel better and confident t This book should be required reading for everyone. Today we think that America is a horrible mess, and cannot possibly find a way forward. And that the divisions among us are insurmountable. Meacham reveals that this is not the end, that we have found ourselves in similar predicaments many times in the past. And we persevered and came out the other side stronger. Today's problems are just a bump in the road, and we will survive. Many thanks to the author for making me feel better and confident than I did before reading the book!
    more
Write a review