The Soul of America: The 2021 Battle for Our online sale Better Angels sale

The Soul of America: The 2021 Battle for Our online sale Better Angels sale

The Soul of America: The 2021 Battle for Our online sale Better Angels sale

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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.

ONE OF OPRAH’S “BOOKS THAT HELP ME THROUGH” • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • The Christian Science Monitor Southern Living

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.

Praise for The Soul of America


“Brilliant, fascinating, timely . . . With compelling narratives of past eras of strife and disenchantment, Meacham offers wisdom for our own time.” —Walter Isaacson

“Gripping and inspiring, The Soul of America is Jon Meacham’s declaration of his faith in America.” Newsday

“Meacham gives readers a long-term perspective on American history and a reason to believe the soul of America is ultimately one of kindness and caring, not rancor and paranoia.” USA Today

Review

“Appalled by the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump, and shaken by the deadly white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville in 2017, Meacham returns to other moments in our history when fear and division seemed rampant. He wants to remind us that the current political turmoil is not unprecedented, that as a nation we have survived times worse than this. . . . Meacham tries to summon the better angels by looking back at when America truly has been great. He is effective as ever at writing history for a broad readership. . . . [Meacham] is an adroit and appealing storyteller.” The New York Times Book Review

“Gripping and inspiring, The Soul of America is Jon Meacham’s declaration of his faith in America. . . . Meacham, by chronicling the nation’s struggles from revolutionary times to current day, makes the resonant argument that America has faced division before—and not only survived it but thrived. . . . Meacham believes the nation will move beyond Trump because, in the end, as they have shown on vital issues before, Americans embrace their better angels. This book stands as a testament to that choice—a reminder that the country has a history of returning to its core values of freedom and equality after enduring periods of distraction and turmoil.” Newsday

“Meacham tells us we’ve been here before and can find our way out, urging readers to enter the arena, avoid tribalism, respect facts and listen to history.” The Washington Post

“This engrossing, edifying, many-voiced chronicle, subtly propelled by concern over the troubled Trump administration, calls on readers to defend democracy, decency, and the common good. Best-selling Meacham’s topic couldn’t be more urgent.” Booklist (starred review)

“Meacham has become one of America’s most earnest and thoughtful biographers and historians. . . . He employs all of those skills in The Soul of America, a thoroughly researched and smoothly written roundup of some of the worst parts of American history and how they were gradually overcome. . . . Meacham gives readers a long-term perspective on American history and a reason to believe the soul of America is ultimately one of kindness and caring, not rancor and paranoia. Finally, Meacham provides advice to find our better angels—enter the arena, resist tribalism, respect facts and deploy reason, find a critical balance and keep history in mind. He’s provided a great way to do it.” USA Today

“This is a brilliant, fascinating, timely, and above all profoundly important book. Jon Meacham explores the extremism and racism that have infected our politics, and he draws enlightening lessons from the knowledge that we’ve faced such trials before. We have come through times of fear. We have triumphed over our dark impulses. With compelling narratives of past eras of strife and disenchantment, Meacham offers wisdom for our own time and helps us appreciate the American soul: the heart, the core, and the essence of what it means to have faith in our nation.” —Walter Isaacson

About the Author

Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer. The author of the  New York Times bestsellers  Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Franklin and Winston,  Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, and  The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, he is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, a contributing writer for  The New York Times Book Review, and a fellow of the Society of American Historians. Meacham lives in Nashville and in Sewanee with his wife and children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

one

The Confidence of the Whole People

Visions of the Presidency, the Ideas of Progress and Prosperity, and “We, the People”

Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. —Alexander Hamilton, The New-York Packet, Tuesday, March 18, 1788

I think that ’twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. —Words popularly attributed to Sojourner Truth, the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851

Dreams of God and of gold (not necessarily in that order) made America possible. The First Charter of Virginia—the 1606 document that authorized the founding of Jamestown—is 3,805 words long. Ninety-eight of them are about carrying religion to “such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God”; the other 3,707 words in the charter concern the taking of “all the Lands, Woods, Soil, Grounds, Havens, Ports, Rivers, Mines, Minerals, Marshes, Waters, Fishings, Commodities,” as well as orders to “dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold, Silver, and Copper.”

Explorers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought riches; religious dissenters came seeking freedom of worship. In 1630, the Puritan John Winthrop, who crossed a stormy Atlantic aboard the Arbella, wrote a sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” that explicitly linked the New World to a religious vision of a New Jerusalem. “For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill,” Winthrop said, drawing on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. (Forever shrewd about visuals, Ronald Reagan added the adjective shining to the image several centuries later.)

We’ve always lived with—and perpetuated—fundamental contradiction. In 1619, a Dutch “man of warre” brought about twenty captive Africans—“negars”—to Virginia, the first chapter in the saga of American slavery. European settlers, meanwhile, set about removing Native American populations, setting in motion a tragic chain of events that culminated in the Trail of Tears. And so while whites built and dreamed, people of color were subjugated and exploited by a rising nation that prided itself on the expansion of liberty. Those twin tragedies shaped us then and ever after.

As did basic facts of geography. There was a breathtaking amount of room to run in the New World. The vastness of the continent, the wondrous frontier, the staggering natural resources: These, combined with a formidable American work ethic, made the pursuit of wealth and happiness more than a full-time proposition. It was a consuming, all-enveloping one.

For many, birth mattered less than it ever had before. Entitled aristocracies crumbled before natural ones. If you were a white man and willing to work, you stood a chance of transcending the circumstances of your father and his father’s father and of joining the great company of “enterprising and self-made men,” as Henry Clay put it in 1832.

The next year, President Andrew Jackson appointed one such man to be postmaster of Salem, Illinois. Though a Whig at the time—Jackson was a Democrat—Abraham Lincoln was happy to accept. His rise from frontier origins became both fable and staple in the American narrative. Lincoln understood the power of his story, for he knew that he embodied broad American hopes. “I happen, temporarily, to occupy this big White House,” Lincoln told the 166th Ohio Regiment in the summer of 1864. “I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has.”

No understanding of American life and politics is possible without a sense of the mysterious dynamic between the presidency and the people at large. Sundry economic, geographic, and demographic forces, of course, shape the nation. Among these is an unspoken commerce involving the most ancient of institutions, a powerful chief, and the more modern of realities, a free, disputatious populace. In moments when public life feels unsatisfactory, then, it’s instructive—even necessary—to remember first principles. What can the presidency be, at its best? And how should the people understand their own political role and responsibilities in what Jefferson called “the course of human events”?

In the beginning, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the presidency was a work in progress. Ambivalent about executive authority, many of the framers were nevertheless anxious to rescue the tottering American nation. Governed by the weak Articles of Confederation—national power was diffuse to nonexistent—the country, George Washington wrote in November 1786, was “fast verging to anarchy & confusion!” The Constitutional Convention, which ran from May to September of 1787, was focused on bringing stability to the unruly world of competing state governments and an ineffectual national Congress.

In 1776’s Common Sense, Thomas Paine had suggested the title of “President” for the leader of a future American government. Still, the colonial suspicion of monarchial power was evident in Paine’s pamphlet. “But where, say some, is the king of America?” Paine wrote. “I’ll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain. . . . For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king, and there ought to be no other.”

The tension between the widespread Paine view (that central authority was dangerous) and the practical experience of the Revolutionary War and the Confederation period (that a weak national government was even more dangerous) shaped the thoughts and actions of the delegates who gathered in the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall, in May 1787. Physically diminutive but intellectually powerful, James Madison, who laid out a plan for the new government with care, admitted the proper executive structure was a perplexing problem. “A national Executive will also be necessary,” Madison wrote fellow Virginian Edmund Randolph before the convention. “I have scarcely ventured to form my own opinion yet, either of the manner in which it ought to be constituted, or the authorities with which it ought to be clothed.”

Madison’s uncertainty reflected the reality of the time. There were competing schools of thought. On the floor of the convention, Alexander Hamilton of New York proposed a president to be elected for life; others favored plans by which the legislative branch would select the executive, effectively creating a parliamentary system. Even when the drafting was done, the precise nature of the presidency—of its powers and relative role in guiding the nation—was an open mystery to the framers. Yet they were willing to live with ambiguity.

Why? Because of George Washington. It was generally assumed that General Washington, a man with Cincinnatus-like standing who had voluntarily surrendered military power at the close of the Revolutionary War, would be the first to hold the post. (The delegates did provide that the president had to be a natural-born citizen, “or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution,” suggesting that there has always been a wariness of foreign influence and of the foreign-born.) All in all, given the expectation of a President Washington, the creation of the office was an act of faith in the future and an educated wager on human character. From the start Americans recognized the elasticity of the presidency—and hoped for the best.

Such hopes have not always been realized. Near the end of Donald Trump’s first year in power, for instance, The New York Times reported that, before taking office, he had “told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.”

This Hobbesian view of the presidency—that every single day is a war of all against all—is novel and out of sync with much of the presidential past. In his 1867 book The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot delineated the elements crucial to the government of a free people: “First, those which excite and preserve the reverence of the population—the dignified parts . . . ​and next, the efficient parts—those by which it, in fact, works and rules.” Bagehot argued that the projection of aspirations above the usual run of political business was vital. “The dignified parts of government,” Bagehot wrote, “are those which bring it force—which attract its motive power.”

In the American context, this is especially true of the presidency, for the president, in the words of James Bryce, had become “the head of the nation.” Speaking in Bagehot’s vernacular, Bryce also observed: “The President has a position of immense dignity, an unrivalled platform from which to impress his ideas (if he has any) upon the people.” His influence could therefore be nearly total. “As he has the ear of the country,” Bryce wrote, “he can force upon its attention questions which Congress may be neglecting, and if he be a man of constructive ideas and definite aims, he may guide and inspire its political thought.”

In a twenty-first-century hour when the presidency has more in common with reality television or professional wrestling, it’s useful to recall how the most consequential of our past presidents have unified and inspired with conscious dignity and conscientious efficiency. “Every hope and every fear of his fellow citizens, almost every aspect of their wealth and activity, falls within the scope of his concern—indeed, within the scope of his duty,” Harry Truman said. “Only a man who has held the office can really appreciate that.” Reflecting on his historic push for civil rights after President Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson recalled: “I knew that, as President and as a man, I would use every ounce of strength I possessed to gain justice for the black American. My strength as President was then tenuous—I had no strong mandate from the people; I had not been elected to that office. But I recognized that the moral force of the Presidency is often stronger than the political force. I knew that a President can appeal to the best in our people or the worst; he can call for action or live with inaction.”

To hear such voices is to be reminded of what we have lost, but also what can one day be recaptured.

The possibilities of a powerful president informed several of Hamilton’s contributions to The Federalist, his joint effort, with Madison and John Jay, to support the ratification of the Constitution. Hamilton defended article 2, the establishment of the executive, with characteristic eloquence. In his Federalist published on Tuesday, March 18, 1788, Hamilton wrote, “Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to . . . ​the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy.”

Still, Hamilton’s enthusiasm had its limits. Eight days later, in a subsequent Federalist essay, he observed, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of . . . ​a President of the United States.” The Founders saw, then, that the executive office would require check and balance.

With Hamilton and Madison’s counsel, President Washington gave the institution its founding form. “As the first of everything, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent,” he wrote Madison, “it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles.” As Thomas Jefferson, the first secretary of state, recalled it, Hamilton once said that “the President was the center on which all administrative questions ultimately rested, and that all of us should rally around him, and support with joint efforts measures approved by him.” In 1792, when farmers in western Pennsylvania were gathering forces to rebel against a federal excise tax on whiskey, Hamilton urged Washington to take a direct hand. “Moderation enough has been shown; it is time to assume a different tone,” Hamilton argued. “The well-disposed part of the community will begin to think the Executive wanting in decision and vigor.”

Washington agreed, writing, “Whereas it is the particular duty of the Executive ‘to take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ . . . the permanent interests and happiness of the people require that every legal and necessary step should be pursued” to avoid “violent and unwarrantable proceedings.”

Within two decades, Thomas Jefferson, after serving in the highest office himself for eight years, came to share something of Washington’s understanding of the presidency. “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,” Jefferson wrote in 1810. “This alone, in any case where the energy of the nation is required, can produce an union of the powers of the whole, and point them in a single direction, as if all constituted but one body & one mind: and this alone can render a weaker nation unconquerable by a stronger one.”

Many of even the most divisive figures in our history have shared this Jeffersonian vision. Before Andrew Jackson, for example, power tended toward the few, whether political or financial. After Jackson, government, for better and for worse, was more attuned to the popular will. In the American experiment, Jackson proved that a leader who could inspire the masses could change the world.

He was the most contradictory of men—but then, America was, and is, among the most contradictory of nations. He had massacred Indians in combat, executed enemy soldiers, fought duels, and imposed martial law on New Orleans. A champion of even the poorest of whites, Jackson was an unrepentant slaveholder. A sentimental man who adopted an Indian orphan, he was one of a line of leaders who drove Native American tribes from their homelands. An enemy of the Second Bank of the United States, Jackson would have given his life to preserve the central government.

Jackson spoke passionately of the needs of “the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers” and made the case for popular politics and a more democratic understanding of power. He did so in part because he had begun his life as one of that “humble” class. A self-made man who had risen to the highest levels of a slaveholding society, he wanted to open the doors of opportunity for men like him. Today we find many of his views morally shortsighted, but in his time he was a figure of democratic aspiration.

In the presidency, compromise was a little-remarked Jacksonian virtue. No other president fulminated more passionately or threatened his foes more forcefully, but Jackson believed in the union with all his heart. To him, the nation was a sacred thing, hallowed by his family’s blood, for he had lost his mother and brothers in the Revolutionary War. We were then, and are now, what Jackson called “one great family.”

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Top reviews from the United States

BBRemmes
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Valuable History Lesson
Reviewed in the United States on June 9, 2018
I had been convinced that American has never seen anything like our current political and constitutional crisis before now, with the obvious exception of the Civil War. Jon Meacham has shown me otherwise. This book is a well-written historical narrative of the on-going... See more
I had been convinced that American has never seen anything like our current political and constitutional crisis before now, with the obvious exception of the Civil War. Jon Meacham has shown me otherwise. This book is a well-written historical narrative of the on-going struggle within our country over the issue of civil rights. Meacham begins his book with Abraham Lincoln and takes a quote from his first First Inaugural Address:
"I am loath to close. 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 again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." As the title of his book implies, each president has been challenged to search for the soul of America and seek the better angels. Meacham eloquently reminds us that there are times we have failed but inevitably the American people regroup, rethink, and, sometimes more slowly than hoped for, ultimately choose right over wrong. I have been enlightened by Meacham''s history lesson and encouraged by his belief that hope will again bring this country together. Would that every American would take the time to read this book.
369 people found this helpful
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Kenneth C. Mahieu
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Good News is we''ve been here before and have survived
Reviewed in the United States on June 22, 2018
I am very familiar with Pulitzer-winning author Jon Meacham. I have read his bios on Bush Sr. and Andrew Jackson and rated them both 5 stars. I watch “Morning Joe” regularly; Meacham is a frequent contributor and I enjoy his viewpoints on whatever the topic of the day is.... See more
I am very familiar with Pulitzer-winning author Jon Meacham. I have read his bios on Bush Sr. and Andrew Jackson and rated them both 5 stars. I watch “Morning Joe” regularly; Meacham is a frequent contributor and I enjoy his viewpoints on whatever the topic of the day is. I must confess though to having been a tad skeptical about 275 page “The Soul of America” (Soul). I was concerned that it might be too early for such a book and that readers might be better served by something more comprehensive post-Trump. But the angel on my other shoulder reminded me that I needed something like Soul right now. As you may have guessed, I am not a Trump fan, far from it. But Soul is not a Trump-bashing book, though it will certainly resonate more with readers who share my political views than it will with the base.

Meacham’s 19 page Introduction is an excellent set-up for what is to come. Meacham argues that he has chosen American soul rather than creed because soul goes to the next level – it is about acting on our beliefs. Meacham argues that it is “incumbent on us, from generation to generation, to create a sphere in which we can live, live freely, and pursue happiness to the best of our abilities. We cannot guarantee equal outcomes, but we must do all we can to ensure equal opportunity.” He believes that our fate is contingent on hope winning over fear. Meacham makes reference to dark moments in America’s history and he concludes the intro with “What follows is the story of how we have endured moments of madness and of injustice…..and how we can again.”

Following the intro are seven lengthy chapters about some of America’s dark moments, with a heavy emphasis of what the President did (and didn’t do) in these moments of crisis. The chapters included: Jackson, Lincoln, Appomattox, the KKK, Reconstruction, Teddy Roosevelt, women’s suffrage, the Depression, Huey Long, the New Deal, Lindbergh, America First, McCarthyism, modern media, George Wallace, MLK, LBJ. The concluding chapter is titled “The First Duty of an American Citizen”. Soul offered many anecdotes and historical facts new to me. I have read many bios, particularly on some of the characters here, and I was amazed at how many stories I heard for the first time. I will share a few “aha” moments to give a feel for what you might expect……

Frederick Douglass on Lincoln: “He knew the American people better then they knew themselves.” The author writes that Adam Smith’s (Wealth of Nations) view was that the “human capacity for sympathy and fellow feeling…was essential to the life of a republic”.
Following the Civil War, Southerners shifted from military to political approaches to battle for white supremacy and their way of life.
Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter said he always wanted to be ”the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral”.
Washington and Hamilton had very different views on immigration.
In 1924, every one of the 48 states had a Klan presence. Klan members were governors of 11 states, held up to 75 House seats, 16 in the Senate. Meacham writes that hostility from eastern journalists directed at the Klan convinced a number of middle Americans that perhaps such an organization under press attack must have something to recommend it.
(Silent Cal) Coolidge said at the time: “No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.
A small group of Wall Streeters plotted to raise an army, march on D.C. and remove FDR from office. In 1936, a Gallup poll indicated that 95% believed America should stay out of any European war.
Earl Warren, then AG of California supported internment camps.
Edward R Murrow: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty”. Meacham writes about McCarthy that he needed the press, and the press needed McCarthy, because he was fantastic copy, a real-life serial. McCarthy was in the spotlight for three and a half years. His attorney Roy Cohn: “ ….any outstanding actor on the stage of public affairs……cannot remain indefinitely at the center of controversy. The public must eventually lose interest in him and his cause.” Meacham again: “He (McCarthy) oversold, and the customers-the public-tired of the pitch, and the pitchman.”
A journalist speaking of attending a George C. Wallace rally: “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.”

Well, the Good News is that we have been here before and the country has survived. As the author points out, we have been a country that people struggle mightily to come to, not to leave. Our democratic system has been tested and stressed and has withstood attacks on our core beliefs and values. In the introduction the author states that he is writing Soul not because past American presidents have always risen to the occasion but because the incumbent American president “so rarely does”. I’ll close on a positive note, a quote that Meacham cites from Eleanor Roosevelt: “The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the mush more powerful influence of the combined voice of the people themselves.”
300 people found this helpful
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Robert L. Moore
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good Medicine for Troubled Times
Reviewed in the United States on May 8, 2018
Our current situation might seem dire, but Jon Meacham doesn’t want us to give up just yet. His message in The Soul of America is that we do certainly have reason to be alarmed, but maybe not too alarmed. The demons we face today we have faced before and, more often than... See more
Our current situation might seem dire, but Jon Meacham doesn’t want us to give up just yet. His message in The Soul of America is that we do certainly have reason to be alarmed, but maybe not too alarmed. The demons we face today we have faced before and, more often than not, we have faced them down.

By the “soul” of America, he doesn’t want us to think in terms of a “speculative and gauzy” entity, but rather of “an immanent collection of convictions, dispositions, and sensitivities that shape character and inform conduct…” The soul he presents is not the essence of all things good and noble in America, but a conglomeration of contradictions. “…sometimes the soul’s darker forces win out over the nobler ones.” On one side there is MLK, while on the other there is the KKK. We can’t deny the existence of the latter, but it is the former that we have chosen to celebrate and honor.

And so the battle has gone throughout a number of points in our history where we had to choose between the clenched fist of anger or the open arms of acceptance: the Civil War and Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, the rebirth of the KKK in the 1920s, the paranoia of the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and so on.

Meacham covers these struggles of the American soul largely through the actions of the presidents in whose administrations they occurred, an effective approach given his extraordinary familiarity with the American presidency. It also had the effect for me of forcing me to adjust my evaluations of various presidents. I found myself admiring Eisenhower a little bit less over his tepid reaction to Joseph McCarthy, but liking Harry Truman a great deal more for some of the key decisions he made.

As for our current president, well, Mr. Trump’s style is one of the primary motivations for this book: “I am writing now not because past American presidents have always risen to the occasion but because the incumbent American president so rarely does.”

It’s undeniable, of course, that our “incumbent president” has his enthusiastic supporters, but it’s also undeniable that they are outnumbered by those who look upon the current White House with attitudes ranging from concern to downright horror. And for this less-than-enthusiastic majority, Meacham’s work offers a very encouraging and informative dose of good medicine.
338 people found this helpful
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D. Langhorne
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A feel good book for Progressives. Selective progressive rewriting of history.
Reviewed in the United States on October 19, 2018
As described briefly in many of the negative reviews, this book is a thinly failed "historical" articulation of America''s complex and continuing maturation from a progressivise viewpoint. Clearly meant to legitimize any and all anti Trumpisms. I guess that one of the... See more
As described briefly in many of the negative reviews, this book is a thinly failed "historical" articulation of America''s complex and continuing maturation from a progressivise viewpoint. Clearly meant to legitimize any and all anti Trumpisms. I guess that one of the authors goals was to provide a feel good reference book for all the accusations of racism, bigotry and xenophobia leveled against President Trump and his deplorables. An interesting spin if you want to know your enemy. As expected those who are the heroes expouse progressive ideals and are the angels. Alinskist in its underpinnings.
88 people found this helpful
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Wendel Kralovich
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This Book is not worth the money
Reviewed in the United States on January 4, 2019
Because he is reacting to the incident in Charlotteesville and because he does not not like Donald Trump, this historian threw together this book which is reflected in its disorganization. Although it is advertised as a history of how presidents handled crises, the only... See more
Because he is reacting to the incident in Charlotteesville and because he does not not like Donald Trump, this historian threw together this book which is reflected in its disorganization. Although it is advertised as a history of how presidents handled crises, the only topics really studies were civil rights and immigration. In addition 55% of the book consists of footnotes, bibliographies and acknowledgements. I regret that I did not look at the physical book before wasting my money on the kindle edition.
66 people found this helpful
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Mike Billington author of Murder in the Rainy SeasonTop Contributor: Star Trek
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
There is cause for concern but there is also hope
Reviewed in the United States on June 18, 2018
President Donald Trump''s policies have led many progressives to fear for the future of the United States. They use words such as "unprecedented" when they talk about his actions in weakening environmental protection laws and regulations, starting trade wars... See more
President Donald Trump''s policies have led many progressives to fear for the future of the United States.
They use words such as "unprecedented" when they talk about his actions in weakening environmental protection laws and regulations, starting trade wars with traditional allies, and showering praise on brutal dictators around the world.
Jon Meacham, however, reminds us in "The Soul of America" that we''ve been in these circumstances before. In fact, as he points out, we''ve been here many, many times in the past. Anti-immigration movements; gender, racial, and religious discrimination are as American as apple pie and baseball on a Sunday afternoon and politicians down through the ages have used them to get uneducated, bigoted, and frightened voters to re-elect them time and again.
Is there cause for concern?
Yes, Meacham says in this book, but there is also hope.
In clear prose backed up with Meacham''s typically meticulous research, "The Soul of America" reminds us that we are, as a nation, composed of basically decent men and women. We do not move quickly to denounce racism and bias; we do not rush to right wrongs; but in the end we do so not because a charismatic politician or preacher told us to but because at the core of America there truly is a basic decency.
I could go on for many pages discussing how important this book is but I won''t.
I will simply urge Americans - all Americans regardless of political persuasion - to read it.
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David Shulman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty
Reviewed in the United States on May 29, 2018
As I write this review Jon Meacham’s “The Soul of America” is Number One on the New York Times Bestseller List and deservedly so. This book should be required reading for every Republican member of Congress who is afraid to stand up to Donald Trump. After reading “The Soul... See more
As I write this review Jon Meacham’s “The Soul of America” is Number One on the New York Times Bestseller List and deservedly so. This book should be required reading for every Republican member of Congress who is afraid to stand up to Donald Trump. After reading “The Soul of America” they will realize that standing up to him would put them on the side of the greats of American history. Further radical leftists who seem to hate everything about America should read “Soul…” because they will learn that America is a work in progress towards a more perfect union. They will learn that when the chips were down such dead white guys as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and yes Ronald Reagan did a pretty good job in moving our country forward. Hopefully they will also realize that the multi-cultural America of today brought us Donald Trump.

Meacham tells great stories as to when and how America was going off track, the better angels of our nature took command. For example when slavery divided our land, Lincoln unified it. When a few year later the KKK was running wild, Grant crushed them. I wish Meacham would have done a “might have been” had James Garfield survived his assassination and reinstituted reconstruction. Segregation might have died in its crib in the 1880s instead of waiting until 1954.

Meacham gives credit to both Harding and Coolidge in their defusing the 1920s revival of the KKK. This bit of history is not generally taught. Where Meacham is most acute is his discussion of Huey Long’s challenge to Roosevelt in the 1930s. Here was a politician who understood media and would say practically anything to get attention. Sound familiar. Similarly when much of the country was terrorized by the very media savvy Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith stood up to him and his henchman, Roy Cohn. Although Eisenhower did not act quickly his wait him out strategy worked as McCarthy burned himself out. The link to today is Roy Cohn who mentored Trump in the dark arts in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Meacham also intertwines the stories of Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King in their bringing on the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. He also rightly notes that much of the progress achieved by our leaders were brought about by very active citizen movements giving backbone to our better angels.
I have few criticisms of the book. He rightly notes how Truman’s victory over the segregationist Strom Thurmond in 1948 led to the desegregating of the military. However, had the Republican Tom Dewey won, it probably would have happened anyway. Dewey as governor of New York led the fight for path breaking civil rights legislation. Also although he gives some credit to Lyndon Johnson in his role in passing the 1957 civil rights act, much of the credit should go to Attorney General Herbert Brownell who authored the initial bill that was watered down by Johnson. The lesson here is that there are more than a few better angels among us and they can come from very unexpected places.

So let us hope there are angels in place to lead us away from a president who lies when he is moving his lips and divides us by appealing to our most base instincts. It’s time to get to work as we are called to defend liberty.
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Kathy D.
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An opinion piece
Reviewed in the United States on July 3, 2019
I have enjoy previous books by this author but that was not the case with this book. What I got from this book is the author’s opinion that because of the attitudes of the country, we got Donald Trump for president. Jon then spends the entire book using quotes from fiction... See more
I have enjoy previous books by this author but that was not the case with this book. What I got from this book is the author’s opinion that because of the attitudes of the country, we got Donald Trump for president. Jon then spends the entire book using quotes from fiction to presidents to prove his opinion is correct, leaving at the end that good people will prevail and another good man will replace Trump as president. If you don’t like the president, you will probably like this book. I wish I had done more research before getting this book but I will before I get another book by this author.
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Top reviews from other countries

GPBM
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Coming as it does from the biographer of Trump''s favourite president - Andrew Jackson - it merits particular attention
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 10, 2018
This is one of the many books now emerging that are responses to Trump''s America. Coming as it does from the biographer of Trump''s favourite president - Andrew Jackson - it merits particular attention. Meacham has no sympathy for the way Trump governs, and the purpose of...See more
This is one of the many books now emerging that are responses to Trump''s America. Coming as it does from the biographer of Trump''s favourite president - Andrew Jackson - it merits particular attention. Meacham has no sympathy for the way Trump governs, and the purpose of his book is to remind Americans - and others - that they have come through bad times before. It is an easy and uplifting read, and provides a useful overview of America''s struggles with its internal divisions during its lifetime, notably the racial one. Meacham''s heroes include Lincoln, of course, Teddy Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and, interestingly, Lyndon Johnson. Johnson is painted as a genuinely tragic figure, who committed so much to Civil Rights and welfare, but was brought down by a war he and his advisers didn''t understand. Meacham ends the book with an invocation to American readers to re-engage with the political process in whatever way they can, an undeniably important invocation. I really like Meacham''s take, and his history is informed by years of deep research and a knowledge that is hard won but easily worn. I look forward to reading his biography of Andrew Jackson. However, this book isn''t quite the antidote to Trump that the author would like it to be. On the contrary, in exhibiting the best of what America can be in its dark times, it rather exacerbates how low it has sunk today. The heroes of this book, the men who have seen the presidency as bigger than themselves, demanding extraordinary actions and immense personal discipline in overcoming whatever they knew to be their own shortcomings, serve in the end to make Trump look even more venal and unsuited, and adds to the depression of those who feel the great American dream has turned into a nightmare.
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Richard Barnes
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
When will Amazon UK make available the HBO dvd of The Soul of America?
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 12, 2020
Well done Jon Meacham! This book did its job and gave Joe Biden the theme for his 2020 winning campaign. Its a warning from history and an inspiration for now.
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k gotheridge
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A must read.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 23, 2019
The writer shows with depressing clarity that history does repeat itself.
One person found this helpful
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sarahm
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
no problems
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 15, 2019
good price
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Brian Beswick
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Insight into the American psyche.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 7, 2021
What America looks for in a president. Who excelled and who did not.
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