|American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
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Andrew Jackson, his intimate circle of friends, and his tumultuous times are at the heart of this remarkable book about the man who rose from nothing to create the modern presidency. Beloved and hated, venerated and reviled, Andrew Jackson was an orphan who fought his way to the pinnacle of power, bending the nation to his will in the cause of democracy. Jackson’s election in 1828 ushered in a new and lasting era in which the people, not distant elites, were the guiding force in American politics. Democracy made its stand in the Jackson years, and he gave voice to the hopes and the fears of a restless, changing nation facing challenging times at home and threats abroad. To tell the saga of Jackson’s presidency, acclaimed author Jon Meacham goes inside the Jackson White House. Drawing on newly discovered family letters and papers, he details the human drama–the family, the women, and the inner circle of advisers–that shaped Jackson’s private world through years of storm and victory.
One of our most significant yet dimly recalled presidents, Jackson was a battle-hardened warrior, the founder of the Democratic Party, and the architect of the presidency as we know it. His story is one of violence, sex, courage, and tragedy. With his powerful persona, his evident bravery, and his mystical connection to the people, Jackson moved the White House from the periphery of government to the center of national action, articulating a vision of change that challenged entrenched interests to heed the popular will–or face his formidable wrath. The greatest of the presidents who have followed Jackson in the White House–from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to FDR to Truman–have found inspiration in his example, and virtue in his vision.
Jackson was the most contradictory of men. The architect of the removal of Indians from their native lands, he was warmly sentimental and risked everything to give more power to ordinary citizens. He was, in short, a lot like his country: alternately kind and vicious, brilliant and blind; and a man who fought a lifelong war to keep the republic safe–no matter what it took.
Jon Meacham in American Lion has delivered the definitive human portrait of a pivotal president who forever changed the American presidency–and America itself.
From the Hardcover edition.
- very readable - no longer 'listen-able'
I really enjoyed this book - well written and about an amazing american character. Highly recommended, although the visually-disabled can no longer access it, as the publisher recently decided to disable the text-to-speech feature....more info
With the amount of reviews already here, I fear I cannot add too much more to the overall picture painted of this book. But, I would like to add that this treatise is a welcomed tome on my shelf to an already crowded collection of Andrew Jackson texts. There are many out there, all worthwhile. Check out some of those other biographies, but, in the meantime, since you are here, do yourself a favor and pick this one up to. You will be glad you did. Further, you will likely find yourself in awe of this formidable and admirable man who captures so perfectly the fighting spirit of our forefathers that truly paved the way for our (then fledgling) country and made us who and what we are today as a nation and as a people, and, for my fellow Scots out there, the spirit infused in our people and culture. On that note, and by way of a brief sidebar, check out "Born Fighting" by Jim Webb - a fantastic piece - even if it is from a Democratic junior member of Congress from Virginia - he's still a Marine and ok in my book =). At any rate, not to digress too much, Andrew Jackson was much more than many people know and/or can recall. His spirit and character were something that I try to carry on and instill in others and something sorely lacking in today's society (political and non political alike).
An absolutely fantastic read of this most extraordinary gentleman....more info
- too many facts, not enough insights
The five-star reviews are wrong. 'American Lion' does not rank up with the recent-and-excellent biographies that have crossed my nightstand, including McCullough's John Adams, Kearne Goodwin's Team of Rivals, Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, and the most-excellent Brahms biography by Jan Swafford. All these books are longer than "American Lion". All, also, are more interesting.
What's the trouble with this book?
It's piled deep-and-high with facts, but overall the book includes too much information and not enough insight. I found myself at several times, stopping, re-reading paragraphs to figure out a) what the author tries to say and b)what in the paragraph actually matters.
Save for the conclusion, the author does not comment much on the contemporary significance of major controversies in Jackson's era. What would we say now about the north-south tariff controversy, since most everyone know believes 'freer-is-better' with regard to trade? On this tariff topic, he alludes to how tariffs helped the north at the expense of the south, but did not delve deeply enough.
And what exactly was the Nicholas Biddle's 'Central Bank' and how does it compare to the U.S. Federal Reserve or Europe's central banks? He goes into the blow-by-blow, but leaves a lot of questions as to the relevance of these issues. I know after reading that Jackson feared 'elite institutions' taking advantage of 'the people', but don't really have a sound idea how "right" he really was in hindsight.
IMO these are major shortcomings of a lay-oriented (i.e. not for academics) biography. The excellent biographies have facts, but "tell a good story" also, i.e. enough to make you want to read all 600 pages.
I've read enough good-bad-and-mediocre biographies to recommend this approach: finding the best "Andrew Jackson" and read that. Mediocre biographies are a waste of time. (I only read "American Lion" as it was a gift.)
I don't know the Jackson-realm, but the world probably offers a better biography than this one. I'm glad I've learned a bit about Jackson, but potential readers are better off seeking elsewhere.
- Good biography
This was a pretty good book about former president Andrew Jackson. The biography was thorough and the reader really did get a chance to see what type of president Andrew Jackson was and the close people around him. The book did get a little slow at times which made it difficult to finish but it was worth it because there is a great deal of knowledge in this book that the reader gains. This is a great book for anyone who is particularly interested Andrew Jackson or American history....more info
- Excellent gift
I bought this for a gift for a housebound person, and he is enjoying it immensely. ...more info
- All over the place
I am a huge fan of historical biographies and this is one of the worst I have read in recent memory. Meacham jumps around various chapters in Jacksons live with little concern for crafting a compelling chronological account of this supposedly interesting president. More time is spent drawing connections to larger points and abstractions that have little historical merit and takes away much of the interpretive work from the reader. Well researched and occasionally interesting, but ultimately less than engaging. ...more info
- Loyalty beyond Reason?
Meacham shines a light on Jackson's Presidency and the potential political disaster nearly brought about by Uncle Andrew's almost obsessive loyalty to his sometimes wayward supporters....more info
- author not focused
What happened to the author's focus? He spent 90% of his time on a female character's indiscretions. What a waste of time. Buy Master And Commander and at least be greatly entertained. ...more info
- Good Book for Presidential History Enthusiasts
I bought this as a gift for my history-buff husband. He doesn't enjoy reading as a general rule, but he likes how this book reads....more info
- Old Hickory for our times
This is an excellent book on Jackson. While I would argue that the best books of all times are those by Robert Remini, Meacham's work is sound and entertaining. What this book does in terms of scholarship on Jackson is that it deals with aspects of his domestic life in new and more detailed ways than has been seen in the past. What I learned from this book was just how committed Jackson was to the idea of the separation of church and state. I do not believe that this position has received quite the same degree of attention as it has in Meacham's work.
I also thought his analysis of Jackson's handling of the Nullification crisis, the dress rehersal of the Civil War, was very insiightful. If I were to render a critique it would be that other aspects of Jackson's life as not discused in the same detail. I would argue the policy Jackson took toward South Carolina, a carrot and stick approach, was his finest hour.
Other aspects of Jackson's administration, indian removal, anti-anti-slavery measures were not fully developed. These do not rate the same level of attention. I would have also liked to have explored the implication of the Bank of the United States controversy. Was this a measure that brought the resulting economic collapse due to piersonal annoyance or was it a well reasoned attempt to prevent large economic enterprises from becoming involved in politics?
These faults aside I like Meacham's work and though I would have preferred a second term for John Quincy Adams, I do see virtures in Old Hickory in no small part due to this biography....more info
- American Lion
This book was both entertaining and wise. Andrew Jackson continues to be one of the most fascinating of our presidents albeit a little nutty. One of the best accounts I've read to date. ...more info
I bought this book on CD to listen while I do work at home that doesn't require a lot of thought. This book about a fascinating life doesn't hold interest and the reader seems as uninterested as I....more info
- Read this Lion
An energetically and scrupulously researched presidential biography -- by someone who knows how to write. ...more info
- I had to stop reading this garbage when.....
pg. 174: "Beneath Jackson's warmth and passionate attachments lay a coldheartedness essential to any great leader."
Coldheartedness in world in leaders is the reason for poverty, environmental destruction, and gross inequalities that make life for millions of the world's people miserable, including the Native Americans that Jackson committed enormous acts of brutality upon.
I also agree with other reviews that the book focuses way too much on Mrs. Eaton, the wife of a cabinet minister, who may or may not have had sexual indiscritions. This seemed to be the focus of the book and was so boring that I just kept hoping that the story would end. I just ended the book myself by shutting it as I was on page 174.
- Not a history, not a biography.
Not really a good read either. A huge collection of quotes from letters, speeches, and newspaper articles, connected by interminable passages from the author that contribute almost nothing to the story. Very similar to a high school term paper written by a student who knows nothing of the subject but has a minimum page requirement to fill. I suppose if books like this get people to develop an interest in history then they serve a purpose, but a reader would do much better to pick up H. W. Brand's popular biography on Jackson, Andrew Jackson: The Life and Times. ...more info
- A.J. gets a facelift
As presidential biographies experience resurgent popularity, Meacham's American Lion is peerless in bringing the dusty, dogeared history of another 19th Century President to life. While Jackson's larger than life story is certainly excellent fodder for grandiloquent storytelling, Meacham's narrative remains firmly grounded in details capturing the essence of Jackson in his time, yet still being accessible to a wide audience. ...more info
- I just couldn't get into it
I generally enjoy historical reading. The first couple chapters were OK, but I found myself getting bored by what seemed to be trivial subjects repeated over and over. I got about half way and gave up. And I almost always finish a book just because I't stubborn....more info
- Poor and tiresome
As a student of American History I was excited to get this book as a Christmas gift and looked forward to the chance to learn more about a President that I confess to knowing less than I should.
When I finished the book (which was a slog similar to a homework assignment) I felt that I still lacked insight into why he is considered such an influential President besides the author repeatedly making the claim. Perhaps I would prefer a more standard biography, but Meacham ignored much of the history that makes Andrew Jackson interesting (his life on the frontier, duels, legal practice, rise to office, service in 1812) and drops him straight into the Presidency at the beginning of the book.
I never felt that I understood or knew him, because Meacham was more focused on his hangers-on and associates (which may be due to a lack of primary sources from Jackson himself). We also have less background on political debates, and probably 100 pages on a minor scandal involving the wife of his Secretary of War, which Meacham spends an inordinate amount of time on. I also disliked Meacham's habit of including editorial opinions (which are ahistorical and based on his modern sensibilities) into the narrative.
It appeared that many of those who blurbed the book did so knowing Meacham's influence as the editor of Newsweek, and may not have read the biography themselves.
Overall, I'd recommend reading Paul Johnson's chapter on this period in American history from his excellent A History of the American People and skip this book....more info
- "Lion" Lets out a Meow
After finishing a read of Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" and McCullough's "Path Between the Seas" I was ready to continue reading a compelling and interesting story of a relatively unknown president, Andrew Jackson. This book paled in comparison to these two books. While informative about certain factets of politics and life in this period of time I found this book a chore to read as it lacked a good "narrative pace" as it was plodding and slugish in its prosaic style. I also found that it was repetitive in its theme that Jackson saw himself as a Champion of the People. Stating that a few times certainly would have made the point, but this was repeated in many forms incessently throughout the book's 361 pages.
Many recantations of Jackson's story came across as a gossip novel when addressing the personal intereactions of his extended family and cabinet officials and their wives.
I would not recommend this book for someone who enjoys historical documentaries as those written by McCulough, Ambrose and Goodwin....more info
- All lion, no heart
Andrew Jackson's story should be a compelling one. He was the first activist president of the United States and shocked the country by rocking the bureaucracy and taking his causes directly to the people. Earlier chief executives had more or less contented themselves with administration of congressional mandates. He was a larger-than-life figure: a warrior, a populist, and for all practical purposes a legend in his own time. He was equally a conflicted character: a defender of freedom and a slave owner, an advocate of self-determination and a slaughterer of Native Americans.
Sadly, Jon Meacham has written a biography that is far too dry to excite our concern. I shared the experience of other reviewers who have reported that they had to struggle to finish the book, and I am a voracious reader with a high level of interest in history. As a reporter myself, I suspect that Meacham is too steeped in journalistic propriety to let himself paint a more vivid picture. (The author is editor of Newsweek.) Unlike, for example, Goodwin, in her brilliant Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Meacham never succeeds in making the reader really give a hoot what happens to his protagonist. (And I say this in full acknowledgment that Goodwin's historical accuracy may have suffered at the hands of her thesis.)
All that said, Meacham did a great deal of original research and offers a good bit of information that you may not find elsewhere. IF you are a Jackson buff or extremely keen on the minutiae of the presidency, go for it. I feel like this one was pretty much a waste of my time. ...more info
I have read and enjoyed several great Early American biographies over the last several years. I requested this book for Christmas and have been very disappointed. The author focuses more on rumors and emotions than facts and historical contributions. To be honest, I haven't been able to finish it yet. I'm trudging ahead because I understand the significance of the subject matter. Yet, I pick it up with hesitation.
Hopefully, I will find another biography of Jackson that will inspire me with his greatness and warn me of his weaknesses, while educating me about the times he lived in.
That is what I expect of great biographies that are worthy of my scarce time....more info
- "In The White House"--and little more
I found this book to be an interesting, if ponderous, read. I knew little of Jackson except his inauguration party, so rambunctious that Jackson had to be removed for his safety. This is an extensive examination of his presidency, down to the dates of each occurrence. Where Meacham got this information obviously took much searching. And magic.
What I missed was Meacham's glossing over Jackson's early political yearnings. Why and how did he become interested in entering politics. I understand that this was a treatise on his White House years, but Meacham spent 12 pages on Jackson's childhood, one very disorganized page on the Battle of New Orleans, and none on his early political career. It is as if Jackson went from his battle with the Creek Indians and the Spaniards in Florida directly to the campaign for the Presidency, with no intervening years or political precursors. That is the main criticism that I have with this book; if one is interested in the minutia of his Presidency, as in a high school or early college thesis required for credit, it would be an excellent reference. For entertainment, it is disappointing.
- Not Easy
I have to give Jon Meacham credit for writing a history of Jackson and actually making him not look so bad. Jackson's decisions regarding Indian Removal alone should have made his presidency unworthy of note. Meacham finds the human drama and tragedy, making this work at least interesting and instructive....more info
- Old Hickory and the making of the Modern Presidency
Jon Meacham does an admirable job with this biography of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the US. This really isn't a comprehensive biography of Jackson and some may criticize the book for that. However, Meacham does a strong job of laying the foundation for the two critical arguments within his book, (1) Jackson was the first President who was not part of the established political system, but was of the people (2) Jackson shaped the Presidency, establishing a clear role for the power of the Executive branch and the characteristics that would ultimately define the future role of the office relative to the Legislative branch.
Meacham focuses on three critical issues, decisions and confrontations that would shape Jackson's two terms, influence future President's like Lincoln and establish the inherent power of the Presidency. These three issues were nullification, the Bank of the United States and the Eaton "affair". In each of these instances, Jackson stood his ground and got what he wanted while knowing when to draw the line and allow the opposition enough face saving measures. And in each of these situations, Jackson further built power in the Office of the President that is essential for us to understand as the genesis for the office as we know it today.
Some have criticized the book for not more forcefully on certain negative aspects of Jackson -- the reneging on Indian treaties and the further destruction and degradation of them and their culture and Jackson's ownership of slaves and opposition to the growing abolition movement. I certainly believe Jackson was wrong on these issues and would have been a better President had his beliefs and policies been different. However, this book was not meant to be an exhaustive and comprehensive assessment of Jackson's Presidency.
For all of Jackson's warts, Meacham does make a convincing argument that a core value that was dear to Jackson was the preservation of the Union. We certainly cannot know what would have resulted if nullification led to secession during Jackson's term. The US was certainly a more fragile and less mature country 25 years before the land Lincoln inherited. And it is possible that if nullification produced secession Jackson may not have been able to save the Union. At the end of the day, Jackson laid a foundation for Lincoln on the absolute importance and preservation of the Union. Meacham strongly establishes this in the book in a clear and methodical manner.
Ultimately, this book succeeds in providing the necessary construct for understanding Andrew Jackson and why he deserves a place among the top tier of our country's leaders. As is the case with all President's (and individuals), being a great President does not mean that every value or decision was the right one. However, the great ones had a profound impact on the shape and legacy of the Office that lasted well-beyond their years in office. By that measure, Jackson should be considered a great President.
- First democrat
Title of the book is appropriate. Jackson was a lion type personality. Meacham shares contents of Jackson's letters and letters of many people around him. The book was worth reading, but it was a bit of a slog (i.e. so much time spent on the Eaton situation). Meacham is no Jean Edward Smith (FDR), where the biography flows and reads more like a novel and when you wish you had more time to go further and do not want the book to end. Jackson was perhaps our fourth most important president, and many ways a great president, and that was revealed in the book. One cannot have a good understanding of American history without a clear understanding of Jackson. We speak of "Jeffersonian democracy", but democracy as we know it did not come about until Jackson, and that is also revealed in the book. ...more info
- A slog through history in search of original thought
Despite Goodwin's assertion that Meacham is a "master storyteller", he is anything but - at best, he is an editor - and not a very discriminating one at that. First, the prospective reader should note the book's sub-title is "Andrew Jackson in the White House" so as to be prepared for a book that focuses on the eight years of the Jackson presidency and does not cover Jackson' experiences from orphan to President. But more distressing is that this book is written much like the college term paper that contains nine pages of quotes from diverse (and often tangential) sources and one page of original thought. Except, the book slogs along for what seems to be an interminable period with quote after quote after quote from various correspondence or speeches which the author then makes a half hearted attempt to tie together in some sort of coherent narrative (to wit, the book contains 77 pages of footnotes - I'm sure this kept the editorial assistants busy for months - too bad Meacham didn't do something more productive with their research). I read it to the end only because I had visited the Hermitage last year and was interested to learn more about its occupant, but I was relieved to finally finish the book. Meacham should stick to his day job as editor of Newsweek (which I don't read) and leave the American history to the likes of David McCullough, Bruce Catton and Stephen Ambrose....more info
- Good but not great
Well written, faithful to accuracy, and full of quotes from heather to unpublished documents, the American Lion recounts the times and trial of the seventh President of the United States. Verbally battling with some of the senate's all-stars, Jackson resisted the takeover of Florida from Spain, and Texas from Mexico. His force of will prevented South Carolina from splitting up the Union by allowing states to decide on which Federal laws they would obey and which they would not. On the down side, Jackson supported slavery, and he forced the Indians to abandon their homeland and move west of the Mississippi River. Altogether, the book is a solid four star piece of historical reporting.