The Soul of America
The Battle for Our Better Angels
#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
America's centuries-long struggles about race, gender, and immigration are viewed through the lens of presidential calculation and convictions in this sonorous but shallow study. Vanderbilt historian Meacham (Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power) examines presidential leadership on issues of civil rights and equality, from Ulysses S. Grant's vigorous action to protect freedmen from Ku Klux Klan attacks during Reconstruction to Lyndon Johnson's moral and political dynamism in enacting civil rights legislation in the 1960s. In between, he surveys presidential vacillations that mirrored the nation's contradictory moods: Theodore Roosevelt awkwardly married white supremacism with progressive stances on race and women's suffrage; Franklin Roosevelt defended democratic values against fascism but allowed the racist internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; Eisenhower was largely missing in action in the fight against Joe McCarthy's inflaming of anti-foreign sentiment. Meacham's gracefully written historical vignettes don't break new scholarly ground, but they do highlight patterns that resonate with today's controversies over immigration and white nationalism. (In the 1920s, he notes, Klan membership numbered in the millions, and one nativist demagogue called for a "wall of steel" against immigration from southern Europe.) Unfortunately, Meacham's focus on presidents as moral exemplars and embodiments of America's political soul feels more like mysticism and anti-Trump panic than cogent analysis. Photos.
This is a great book to read.
Reading this gave me hope that my country will survive. I highly recommend reading it.
Eloquent, timely, poignant, and prescient.
I continue to reread passages of this book to give me hope for our fragile and very often, taken-for-granted democracy. In addition I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s Franklin and Winston and marveled at his insight into these very courageous and human leaders. These stories cannot be told enough, but to have them revealed so thoroughly by someone with such insight is not only a wake-up call but a captivating read. And given the perplexing times we think we are living in, this book provides reassurance that, as Jon Meacham reminds us, “The past is never dead; it’s not even past.” William Faulkner. And for me, when reviewing our past, it reminds me that the trajectory within our democracy moves forward while ever so slowly upward. Thank you Jon Meacham for this inspiring work.