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Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 2009

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.

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 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.

©2008 Jon Meacham (P)2008 Random House

Critic reviews

"A master storyteller, Meacham interweaves the lives of Jackson and the members of his inner circle to create a highly original book." (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
"American Lion is a spellbinding, brilliant and irresistible journey into the heart of Andrew Jackson and his unforgettable circle of friends and enemies." (Michael Beschloss)
"What passes for political drama today pales in the reading of Jon Meacham's vividly told story of our seventh president....Reading "American Lion" one is no longer able to look on the gaunt, craggy face on the $20 bill without hearing the tumult of America in the making." (Tina Brown)

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • John M
  • 05-01-09

Unlikable Old Hickory

There have been some truly remarkable presidential biographies written fairly recently (including David McCullough's masterful works John Adams and Truman as well as Goodwin's Team of Rivals) but American Lion suffers in comparison - both in the eloquence of the writing and the subject itself.

The author indicates in his introduction that the book is not intended to be about the "Age of Jackson" but directly about Jackson himself. It is too bad as the changes that happened during Jackson's presidency are incredibly interesting: the election of a "common man" from the West, more popular participation in politics, nullification crisis as a prelude to the Civil War 30 years later, and the evolution of the Office of the President as the most powerful branch of government.

Unfortunately when one gets too close to Jackson himself it is hard to get too excited about the man given the amount of effort Jackson put into the petty social squabbles of the day, battling the central bank at every turn, his general grumpiness, and his unabashed support of slavery (though it is certainly not uncommon at the time).

The biography itself was also a bit hard to follow as it was perhaps too tightly constrained to the Jackson presidential years, but still jumped around chronologically. This meant, for example, we got only a limited mention of Jackson's role in the War of 1812 but pages and pages of the Washington social scene. I also felt there was too much reliance on including text from the vast amount of correspondence between the different parties. Obviously you need some first-hand accounts, but the flow of the narrative suffered.

If you are a dedicated presidential biography reader then this certainly could fill a void in your library, but there are better ones out there. This was the unabridged version - perhaps the abridged version (especially for only one credit!) would be a better bet.

45 of 50 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Darwin8u
  • 21-05-18

When the time for action has come, stop thinking.

"Jackson was a transformative president in part because he had a transcendent personality"
- Jon Meacham, American Lion

A solid history of a complicated man. One of the more influential Presidents, Jackson can and should be both praised and condemned. In many ways, he epitomized our young nation. Problematic, in the extreme, in regards to Native Americans and slaves, energetic, complicated, narcissistic, driven, and not to be trifled with. Jackson is often revered by Presidents who want to appear both populist and strong. Jackson, however, is no Trump. With obvious blind spots (Slavery and Natives) he typically acted according to an inner guide. He felt our nation needed a stronger executive to protect the people from the tyranny of bureaucracy and moneyed interests. He was brutal to anyone who stood in his way.

Meacham doesn't shy away from Jackson's failings, but also spends a bit too much time (in my opinion) in dealing with Jackson's family. After reading a bunch of Caro, I was afraid I would be severely disappointed with Meacham (like I was with the most recent Walter Isaacson book, Leonardo da Vinci). It was, however, better than I expected.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Kate Reynolds
  • 04-07-09

An informed portrait

I've read reviews that were not as favorable to this book as I am. Different expectations may account for the discrepancies of opinion. I found the book highly entertaining. To dismiss the social battles of Washington in those years as petty and not central to the more interesting events of the day shows a more superficial understanding of what is meaningful in history. The social battles were but the surface of shifting social custom and much deeper human events. Meacham intended a balanced and highly personal portrait of Jackson. His account accomplishes this, showing the paradoxes of Jackson's character and that of the character of the country of that time. It is a close personal look at a man that manages to be great in spite of serious flaws, and so identified with the country at the time that after reading it, one again must consider what it means to be an American. I really enjoyed this book.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • David I. Williams
  • 26-04-13

Excellent book. Brings the Subject Alive

Andrew Jackson is one of the most important and one of the most controversial presidents in American History. During his lifetime the United States came into being and gained large new tracts of territory. Much of that territory was rough and wild, as were the people who lived there. Andrew Jackson became a lawyer and judge in Tennessee. He met and married his beloved Rachel. Their relationship was controversial at the time because they were married before her divorce from her prior husband had come through. For the rest of their lives allegations of Rachel's character would haunt them. At least one man was killed by Jackson in a duel over this. As a military leader Jackson twice invaded Spanish Florida chasing Creek raiders who raided into George and Alabama and escaped to Florida. As a military commander he is most known as the US commander at the Battle of New Orleans. At that battle a ragtag group of regular soldiers, militia, volunteers, Choctaw warriors, and Baratarian pirates defeated a large British army.

The book covers these issues, but it is focused on his two terms as president. Jackson won a contentious election. Over the next eight years he would confront many controversies. He sought to bring more prestige and power to the office of the President. An opposition party would form to battle his policies. They called themselves Whigs after the British party that opposed royal authority. Jackson despised the idea of a National Bank and did everything he could to not only block the re-chartering of the Bank, but to bring it down ahead of it's time. When the South Carolina legislature claimed it had the authority to nullify a federal law Jackson was ready to invade the state to assert Federal authority. In fact Lincoln would cite Jackson's example in the early days of his administration. The act that would be remembered the most in future generations was the Indian Removal Act. This act forced native people to sell their land (often at cut rate prices) and move west of the Mississippi. The mostly ended up in Oklahoma. The suffering encountered by these people would be remembered as the Trail of Tears.

Meacham paints a fascinating portrait of this complicated man. You may or may not like Jackson after you read this book, but you will have a better understanding of this important man. Perhaps like every other person in history we should learn how to admire the good things that a man does while disapproving of the bad. This is a great book and is well worth reading.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • PMDobie
  • 28-04-17

Narration so obnoxious I could not focus on book!

What would have made American Lion better?

A different narrator. I could not finish this book because the narration is so obnoxious. If anyone ever remembers William Shatner lampooning himself as the Captain Kirk character, McGonagle's narration is worse. Almost Every Other Word is spoken with EMphasis on one SYLlable or the Other (place over-emphasis where I've capitalized and you'll get it). McGonagle has a great voice and if his narration was conversant rather than theatrical, I would probably enjoy listening to him.

Would you be willing to try another one of Richard McGonagle’s performances?

Never!

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Suzanne
  • 22-01-09

American Lion

Informative about our seventh President. It could have used more editing--dragged in some places.

9 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
  • STEPHEN
  • 07-03-09

Horrible!

I don't usually write reviews. I have listened MANY audible biographies. This was one of the worst (stike that-- the worst). It's organization was terrible and it focused on Washington society while ignoring what REALLY made Jackson interesting. RUN AWAY FROM THIS BOOK!

15 of 28 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-07-18

Amazing parallel to today's headlines.

Meacham hits another one out of the park. He reminds us that history repeats itself.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • NYC girl
  • 21-06-18

unbelievably relevant

Our country will survive our current calamity. Jackson's life is proof. This book is the most important political biography to have been written in years, bar none.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jack W.
  • 25-05-18

Meacham delivers yet again.

Definitely with listening to more than once. Meacham has become my personal favorite for historical figure biographies. The narrator keeps your attention and gives the language of Jackson the weight it deserves.