The Soul of America

The Soul of America

The Battle for Our Better Angels

Book - 2018
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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.

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

"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." -- The New York Times Book Review

"This is a brilliant, fascinating, timely, and above all profoundly important book." --Walter Isaacson
Publisher: New York : Random House, 2018.
ISBN: 9780399589812
Branch Call Number: 973 Mea
Characteristics: xii, 402 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

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INVS
Apr 24, 2019

Once again a 'review' by one who has not read the book. I listened to it several times & try to remain hopeful. There are numerous writers, historian, aids to presidents of both parties that have the ability to provide a balanced view - yes, in their opinion. Mecham may have paired up with previous presidents, that doesn't make him irrelevant as a historian or commentator. He bases much on previous office holders, some popular, some not, it depends on your view.

I liked it, I have great respect for this man's calm nature. I felt it was a fair perspective and frightening at the same time. That was a review of lengthy personal take.

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AQUILEA777
Apr 17, 2019

I haven't read this book, but its anti-Trump comparisons seem badly misconceived. (Author Meacham is tied to the Bush family.)
--- Meacham seems to use Lincoln as a stick to beat Trump. Viewed objectively, Lincoln was our worst president. His war on the South cost 600,000 American lives out of a population of 25,000,000. A proportionate number of deaths today would be 7,848,000. Trump would have to launch an internal war that caused 7,848,000 deaths to equal the carnage Lincoln inflicted. Only abortion and tobacco have claimed more lives. Lincoln's excuse for this slaughter was the firing on Fort Sumter, where the only deaths were from accidents.
--- Lincoln did not wage war to end slavery, but to crush independence of the Southern states. The Emancipation Proclamation upheld slavery in counties that came under Union control by a certain deadline; its purpose was to force the rebels to submit so they could keep their slaves.
--- The meaningless "better angels" phrase is typical of Lincoln's manipulative language. He did not have to choose war, angels or no. In his second inaugural speech, he blamed the Civil War not on himself, but on God.
--- Meacham also apparently prefers our second worst president, Lyndon Johnson, to Trump. Johnson was no doubt complicit in JFK's murder, and engineered the Vietnam War where we killed 2,000,000 people for nothing.
--- I do not approve Trump's mortgage defaults and other shady business maneuvers, nor his uncouthness, threats, and impulsive outbursts. I do not condone Israel's ravagement of Palestinians, as Trump does. I reject his Zionist-driven condemnation of Iran. (Iran has no nukes, has not violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and had no legal obligation even to make the deal with Obama. We have thousands of nukes, which, under the NPT, we should have junked decades ago. Israel has hundreds, but refuses to declare them.) Trump should not have missiled Syria, nor backed the Saudi devastation of Yemen, nor resumed US strangulation of Cuba, nor canceled the intermediate-range missile treaty (to counter Dem "collusion" accusations).
--- All presidents are dangerous. So far Trump has not started new wars, unlike recent predecessors who overthrew Panama, bombed Belgrade, and wrecked Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, plus Syria and Yemen, killing 1,000,000, ruining the lives of 100,000,000, and flooding Europe with refugees. He has denounced foolish wars; many US leaders support ALL wars. Democrats have recklessly sought to inflame the public against Russia, to promote their bogus "collusion" theory.
--- The real political crisis is the paranoia spread by Trump-haters who insist that Hillary's defeat was a national tragedy and we are all suffering horrible oppression. At least they seem to have stopped pretending that Trump isn't really president. Their endless wild accusations are meant for maximum disruption, to keep him from governing effectively.
--- Dems lied about Reagan too, warning that he would start WW3. Trump may yet do something terrible, but the anti-White, anti-male, anti-Christian 2020 Dem candidates seem more pernicious. The basic message they convey is abolition of institutions that reflect "White privilege" and "the patriarchy" (First Amendment, corporations, private property), and exclusion of all who do not embrace sodomy.
--- The 2020 cycle will likely be marked by increasingly violent leftist riots, presenting a real threat of assassination, insurrection, and national collapse. For years, Liberal demagogues have preached that Trump is evil and must be overthrown. Now they say their constituents deserve free college, health care, income, and reparations. If Trump wins, mobs will go berserk with rage at the loss of these giveaways. If a Democrat wins, they will likely celebrate with arson and beatings; later, when the giveaways do not materialize, far worse havoc will ensue.

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cknightkc
Apr 15, 2019

THE SOUL OF AMERICA offers readers a beacon of hope in these terribly divisive times. Author and presidential biographer Jon Meacham reminds us that our country has experienced and overcome periods of corruption, racism, and extremism before. The book has a powerful and timely message. I particularly liked the last chapter that suggests actions we, as American citizens, can take to help us get through the current chaos.

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AaronAardvark1940
Dec 17, 2018

Meacham has written an engaging book, one that he hopes will restore or maintain optimism in the face of certain actions of the current US Administration. He describes great dilemmas we have seen and overcome, at least partially, in the past. Meacham references Lincoln’s phrase, “The better angels of our nature,” suggesting that Americans eventually overcome the missteps we make. As I have seen the promise of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness extend to more and more people in my lifetime, it has been disheartening to watch the power of wealth skew the American system to the privileged in the last several decades. I hope that Lincoln’s belief that “…but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time” is true, but I worry that the phrase often ascribed to P. T. Barnum may be closer to the truth: “There's a sucker born every minute.” Readers less susceptible to pessimism (cynicism?) than I will take great pleasure from this book.

s
sandraperkins
Dec 16, 2018

This book reviews American history, primarily from the Civil War to the present, focusing on difficult times in our past and how our Presidents and other leaders strove to lead us forward instead of backward, and to have hope instead of fear.

Many of us think we are living in the worst of times today, but this country has suffered through dark times (and arguably worse times) before, and we have not only survived, we have made some of our greatest steps forward after (and perhaps because of) those dark times. And some of our greatest leaders have helped to lead us out of the dark and into better times.

This book has so much to offer that it is difficult to summarize, so I will offer a few impressions.

We have had good and bad presidents over the years. Even the best presidents had flaws, though they were trying their hardest to do what is best for the country. The worst presidents (e.g., Andrew Johnson) were pretty awful, but Congress reined them in to some extent.

We have had demagogues before (e.g., Huey Long, Senator Joe McCarthy). They were able to excite crowds and manipulate the press. When I read about Joe McCarthy using television to get his message out, it reminded me of the use of social media today. Though demagogues have pontificated before and have attracted large followings, none were elected president (until now).

So what are the lessons of this book?

There is a constant battle between hope and fear; between generosity and selfishness. While America today is freer and more accepting than it has ever been, that very freedom causes a deep reaction from right-wing populists who feel threatened by it. Every advance in our history has been met with the forces of reaction; this is laid out clearly in this book. It is an eternal struggle, and we need to realize that it is an eternal struggle.

It is tempting to feel superior to the past, but let’s all think about this: What injustices are we perpetuating today that will one day face the harshest of verdicts from those who come after us?

So what can each of us do, to preserve the soul of America? Please read this excellent book to find out!

a
annika_9
Dec 02, 2018

Just read parts of first and last chapter. Not particularly illuminating. Probably more a history of various events in history where we survived and came out OK despite very bad optics.

t
TechWriter1
Nov 02, 2018

Meacham relates the history of craziness in our country (slavery, Joe McCarthy, the Ku Klux Klan, and so on) to help us put the Trump presidency into perspective: We have been here before. The pendulum will swing back.

j
jquick99
Oct 28, 2018

I love American history, so this book should be right up my alley. However, I just couldn’t get into it. The author bounces around too much and it seemed too textbook-y for me.

Then, at the beginning of Chapter 2, the author has quotes from General Lee stating that he contemplated “sacrificing himself to enemy fire”. What? In the last year, I have easily read 20+ books on all aspects of the Civil War (especially the days before and day of The Surrender) and this has never been mentioned anywhere. I will read the source material the author sites.

m
Memawrayne
Jul 25, 2018

Naturally exceptional with the author being who it is. It is amazing that our country cycles through these types of divisive periods every so often, but somehow our country survives because of good people and our laws. Always be thankful for our Constitution and the forethought of the men who wrote it.

h
henniepenny
Jul 18, 2018

Exceptional writer. Extensive research. Speaks to today. Couldn’t put it down.
henniepenny

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cknightkc
Apr 15, 2019

“The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That’s the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.”—FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
The Epigraph

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cknightkc
Apr 15, 2019

“In our finest hours, though, the soul of the country manifests itself in an inclination to open our arms rather than to clench our fists; to look out rather than to turn inward; to accept rather than to reject.” - p. 8

c
cknightkc
Apr 15, 2019

“The story of America is...one of slow, often unsteady steps forward. If we expect the trumpets of a given era to sound unwavering notes, we will be disappointed, for the past tells us that politics is an uneven symphony.” - p. 103

c
carlinarivera
Jun 12, 2018

So what can we, in our time, learn from the past, even while we're getting knocked in the head? That the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. That compromise is the oxygen of democracy. And that we learn the most from those who came before not by gazing up at them uncritically or down on them condescendingly but by looking them in the eye and taking their true measure as human beings, not as gods.

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pink_dolphin_3025
Feb 13, 2019

pink_dolphin_3025 thinks this title is suitable for 7 years and over

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