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
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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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By John M on 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.

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45 of 50 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Darwin8u on 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.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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