The Soul of America

The Soul of America

The Battle for Our Better Angels

Book - 2018
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"The current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America, Meacham shows us how what Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" have won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and others, 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 Communist witch hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson's crusade to finish the fight against Jim Crow. In each of these dramatic, crucial turning points, the battle to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear, was joined, even as it is today. While the American story has not always or even often been heroic, and the outcome of that battle has never been certain, in this inspiring book, Meacham writes, "The good news is that we have come through darkness before," as time and again, Lincoln's better angels have found a way to prevail"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2018]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9780399589812
0399589813
Characteristics: xii, 402 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

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DeanFord
Feb 12, 2021

An absolutely remarkable book about the human condition from the perspective of a brilliant writer. John Meacham writes with solemn gravitas.
This book is a collection of reflections on key individuals from American history. Each chapter can be read on its own, out of order depending upon your interests.
The last chapter on President Johnson, a Democrat from Texas, whose mission to get the Civil Rights Act is particularly relevant given current events in the USA and the world.
Well worth signing out, read a few chapters if that’s all the time you have. Better yet, consider buying it for your own personal library. You will forever enjoy it.

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IntrovertReader
Nov 18, 2020

I almost always have one nonfiction book on the go that I read exclusively before bed. I’m primarily a fiction reader so I don’t usually fall into the “one more chapter” trap that keeps me awake way past my bedtime if I follow this plan. This was not a great book for that. It’s intelligently written, presented, and argued, but the brain power I had left at the end of the day wasn’t quite up to absorbing everything Mr. Meacham had to say. Under those circumstances, the book had almost the exact opposite effect that it intended: I was depressed that we’re still fighting so many of the same battles that we’ve been fighting for so long. Equality of all kinds–why is that still so difficult for us?

After struggling through about 25% of the book, I finally put down my fiction books and focused on this one exclusively, no matter the time of day. Reading it while I was actually awake and functioning put me in a much better frame of mind to both follow the argument presented and to see it as the hope the author intended it to be. Yes, we do keep addressing many issues over and over again, but if you step back and look at the big picture, we’re tacking in the right direction. It’s a wobbly course, but we’re getting there.

I enjoyed the last half of the book so much (I think the actual text stopped at 43% and the rest was the bibliography, etc.), that I’m tempted to go back and start over. I recommend this for thoughtful readers who need some hope in today’s political climate.

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Dino789
Sep 07, 2020

Offensive, hateful, fascist, racist posts by people who haven't read the book are harmful to the dialogue that should be part of a library website.
Slavery was the cause of the Civil War.
The war was started by the south, and their illegal activities are responsible for the enormous loss of life.
Best and worst presidents ought to be determined on a rational basis, not a racist one.
Russia has tampered in American elections with the knowledge and support of the Trump administration and will continue to do so.
Unthinking Trump supporters advocate force and violence against whom they disagree and are a threat to our democracy.
Comments that are unrelated to the book should be removed based on irrelevancy.
Threatening, racist, fascist comments should be banned for promoting violence.

d
DF1233
Sep 06, 2020

AQUILEA777 writes, "I haven't read this book, but . . ."

Read some more of his comments to get an understanding of a Trump partisan (or, more likely a Russian troll.) I doubt that this person ever read anything. His post is mass of vicious, anti-historical nonsense. On the other hand, his comments may have been simply a bad joke; they have been removed since he posted. Nobody could be as ignorant as his post suggests he is.

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mariannelcurtis
Feb 17, 2020

What a delightful writer! Jon Meacham has written a book that educates, inspires and illuminates the human foibles of those who have led and impacted our country and our democracy. He gives hope at this time of crisis for our country. He makes history interesting and enjoyable all the while weaving in our current "condition".

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KellyLatimer
Jun 12, 2019

An enlightening and informative look at America’s past divisions over the issues of racism, xenophobia and socialist paranoia. The author discusses historical conflicts as well as the inspiring actions of the various presidents who led the country through them in order to advance as a nation. This novel gives hope for those who worry about the current direction of the U.S.; illustrating that while they’ve struggled in the past with equality, decency has always won out in the end.

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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.

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c
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

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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

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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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