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Publisher's 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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Well written, but focused on court intrigue

Very well written book. If you enjoy reading about things like who was accused of sleeping with whom, you’ll really enjoy this book. I found myself wishing the book was more focused on Jackson’s policies and impact on the world at that time.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A Review With Contrast to His Life & Times

I’ll first say that Mr. McGonagle’s reading was splendid. His deep and rich voice added to the majestic sense of strength to the life and character Meacham portrays as a “lion”.

I much enjoyed the reading. There were a couple of places where the subject matters dragged a bit for me, but I think in large part that was because they were stories I didn’t find that interesting in general. I suppose that is always the struggle of a historical writing.

Since the book focused on Jackson’s presidency, I had hoped it would cover a wider number of the events of his presidency than the biography His Life and Times which covers his whole life and then-some. Instead in covered similar events but more in depth; although at least one situation, Texas/Mexico, was covered less in Lion than in Life & Times. I do walk away from this with a greater sense of the surrounding characters of Jackson’s presidency - the supporting cast if you will. Also I have a deeper sense of Jackson’s sense of family - a key theme of the book. This book also provides a much larger view of Jackson’s religious beliefs - Life & Times only discusses one letter of Jackson’s on the subject- and, being a man of faith myself, I found this particularly interesting.

While Meacham seems to have a somewhat idolized view of Jackson, he does paint a more condemning picture regarding Jackson’s views on race, especially in regards to Native Americans - their removal from the south being a topic Lion covers in depth. Whereas Life & Times portrays him as a reluctant compromiser succumbing to the rights of the state of Georgia, Lion convicts him as a man who saw removal necessary regardless, States rights being a politically convenient excuse.

Overall I thought Meacham let Jackson be Jackson: the good and the bad. In general, I think the General is an interesting person to read about. Whatever the righteousness and wickedness of his deeds, he is an entertaining character. American Lion is definitely to interest those who enjoy U.S. history; especially that of the presidency. Also, for those like me who enjoy the English writing of the early 19th century, this book provides many delicious quotes.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Adds a New Perspective to "The Union"

It got bogged down with the discussion and constant references to the Eton affair near the beginning but once through them, it really is clear why they are there.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Interesting, But Not Intriguing

Of the Presidential Biographies I've done so far (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Quincy Adams) as well as historical events that tangentially cover Presidents, I'm overwhelmingly unimpressed with Andrew Jackson as a President and/or John Meacham as a historian. Had this been my first taste of a US President, I might have been more positive with this review. But comparing this book - against Ron Chernow's books on both Washington and Hamilton or the great David McCullough with John Adams - leaves me longing for a better telling.

Jon Meacham attempts to sell Jackson as the most powerful occupant of the White House up to that point (and he might have been), but the narrative is lackluster and I was left seeking more than he was willing to provide. The book begins with Jackson's wife's death just prior to him actually swearing into office and essentially ends (minus an epilogue) with the end of his second term and only a minor mentioning of his post-presidency life. Really everything prior to his election comes in small, unpalatable bites. Throughout the book I felt there was more attention given to the Donaldson's and the Eaton's than of Jackson himself. Although they were incredibly significant to a Jackson biography, I felt lost in a 'he said, she said' soap opera with President Jackson as only a minor character caught in the middle of it all.

I really didn't have any issues with the narration, but didn't really love it either. I listen at 3 x speed and had no problems with this narration. In reference to the title of this review, there were definitely points in the book I liked, but overall I didn't really look forward to listening every day the way I usually do with books.

I'll be looking for another biography on Jackson to either confirm or counter this review and I might listen to this one again in a year or two, but I'm not looking forward to either prospect right now.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

One of the more poorly written histories I've read

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Something to do with ending several chapters in the book with the phrase "in the Jackson presidency" as a form of foreshadowing. Cheap and theatrical is what it comes across as. Most of the actual history is good and the performance by the reader was well done. Just couldn't get past the poorly constructed narrative. Perhaps the writer had a subconscious problem with his subject? For a more interesting narrative see Steve Inskeep's book on the same subject with the indian problem drawn front and center of the story. Makes for much better reading.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Andrew Jackson - Misunderstood Hero

The history books often downplay and often minimize both his contribution and his magnetism. Jackson, like Lincoln, lived the Union above all else. Without either, we would have had neither! Andrew Jackson was a man of his time! Well read and researched. A must!

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Fascinating man, spotty account

This book primarily deals with Jackson's presidency, but unfortunately fails to capture his brilliance and complexity in any formidable way. Absurd focus on the Petticoat affair coupled with a lack of emphasis on monumental achievements like the SC rebellion diplomatic wrangling a make this a mediocre title for a colossus of a president. We are told he is great, but never do we feel his greatness in the writing.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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The Trump Of His Time...

Loud-mouthed, pistol-wielding and brash, this anti-establishment president sought to make America great again after the debacle of John Quincy Adams' single term. Much hated--or loved, his wife unfairly maligned, and his own moral character questioned, he reconnected the presidency to the people while asserting his own executive powers freely in order to realize the will of the people. A book for our times.

3 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • DONALD
  • United States
  • 02-22-15

Excellent!!!

John Meacham, as read by Richard McGonagle, is always a winning combination, and hard to top.

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  • Benjamin
  • Nashville, TN, United States
  • 02-19-13

Meacham is always impressive

Would you listen to American Lion again? Why?

No.
Jefferson was so much better in my view.

What was one of the most memorable moments of American Lion?

the fact that the Civil War could have started in Jackson's administration.

What about Richard McGondale’s performance did you like?

I thought he was very good- although not excellent

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

American Lion is the perfect description

1 of 2 people found this review helpful