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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.
37 of 41 people found this review helpful
I've read reviews that were not as favorable to this book as I am. Different expectations may account for the discrepancies of opinion. I found the book highly entertaining. To dismiss the social battles of Washington in those years as petty and not central to the more interesting events of the day shows a more superficial understanding of what is meaningful in history. The social battles were but the surface of shifting social custom and much deeper human events. Meacham intended a balanced and highly personal portrait of Jackson. His account accomplishes this, showing the paradoxes of Jackson's character and that of the character of the country of that time. It is a close personal look at a man that manages to be great in spite of serious flaws, and so identified with the country at the time that after reading it, one again must consider what it means to be an American. I really enjoyed this book.
9 of 11 people found this review helpful