The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

by Jon Meacham


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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.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399589829
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/30/2019
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 10,541
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

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.

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Excerpted from "The Soul of America"
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Copyright © 2018 Jon Meacham.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: To Hope Rather Than To Fear 3

1 The Confidence Of The Whole People: Visions of the Presidency, the Ideas of Progress and Prosperity, and "We, the People" 32

2 The Long Shadow Of Appomattox: The Lost Cause, the Ku Klux Klan, and Reconstruction 78

3 With Soul Of Flame And Temper Of Steel: "The Melting Pot," TR and His "Bully Pulpit," and the Progressive Promise 114

4 A New And Good Thing In The World: The Triumph of Women's Suffrage, the Red Scare, and a New Klan 154

5 The Crisis Of The Old Order: The Great Depression, Huey Long, the New Deal, and America First 218

6 Have You No Sense Of Decency?: "Making Everyone Middle Class," the GI Bill, McCarthyism, and Modern Media 282

7 What The Hell Is The Presidency For?: "Segregation Forever," Kings Crusade, and LBJ in the Crucible 336

Conclusion: The First Duty Of An American Citizen 412

Author's Note and Acknowledgments 445

Notes 451

Bibliography 635

Illustration List and Credits 695

Index 703

Customer Reviews

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The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
ocs More than 1 year ago
A disturbing event occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017. Twenty-first century Klansmen, white nationalists and neo-Nazi gathered there, and David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Klan, there said they were going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump and that is why they voted for him. The group was opposed by others who gathered. President Trump’s assessment soon afterwards was that there had been an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Price winning author, was moved by these events to write an article for Time magazine that led to this 2018 book of 272 pages. It portrays several prior American periods of public dispiritedness with a reassurance that they are survivable. In the best of moments, witness, protest and resistance can intersect with the leadership of an American president to lift us to higher ground. [Pages 1-4]. Meacham chose to consider the American soul more than its creeds because of the significant difference between adherence to a set of beliefs and acting upon them. Creeds find concrete expression only when individuals in the arena choose to side with “the better angels of our nature” of which President Abraham Lincoln spoke in his first Inaugural Address. Our soul is generally accepted as a central and self-evident truth that makes us us as a person or nation. [6-7]. Temperament derives from the Latin meaning of due mixture; it involves intuition and impression. Franklin Roosevelt’s temperament was first rate; he balanced the shaping of public opinion without becoming overly familiar or exhausting. He projected strength and resolve in moments that threatened to give way to weakness and despair. [37-8]. Another President with temperament, Abraham Lincoln, evolved during his Presidency. His first priority was to save the Union even if slavery would remain where it was. A few years later at his Gettysburg Address, he viewed the civil war as necessary to endure so that the nation under God should have a new birth of freedom. His Second Inaugural Address then strove to bind up the nation’s wounds, confront the legacy of slavery and press on through shadow and twilight. [32]. Perfection is impossible; greatness is reserved for those who manage to move forward in an imperfect world [34]. I obviously disagree with the two earlier negative reviews. President Tromp was only mentioned a few times; the emphasis was instead on how our nation can recover from bigotry if more of us act according to the better angels of our nature.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A historical masterpiece much needed in this current time of trial. Reading it helps reawaken the spirit our country was founded on and brings through the acknowledgement of past trials the fortitude and wisdom to face this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoughtful review of our greater and lesser angels.
the_curious_reader More than 1 year ago
If you are disheartened by today's politics, read this history of our worst and best and you will not abandon hope. We have, as a nation, been down before and have risen and will do so again.
Abesbiggestfan 25 days ago
Wow! It was amazing to walk through history with Jon Meacham and compare where we have been, to where we are now. It was great!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
oldwarden More than 1 year ago
This book should be required reading for everyone. Today we think that America is a horrible mess, and cannot possibly find a way forward. And that the divisions among us are insurmountable. Meacham reveals that this is not the end, that we have found ourselves in similar predicaments many times in the past. And we persevered and came out the other side stronger. Today's problems are just a bump in the road, and we will survive. Many thanks to the author for making me feel better and confident than I did before reading the book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago