The Soul of America

Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, (New York: Ramdom House), 2018

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I suppose that the times in which we live are not really harder than those faced by previous generations of citizens of the United States. But there are days when it seems that the fundamental principles that established our nation are under constant attack and that democracy is slipping from our fingers and the lives of our grandchildren. John Meacham has set out to put our current political situation in context by examining the administrations of several previous presidents and the crises they faced along with the crises they precipitated.

While Meacham clearly concludes that American democracy is resilient and well able to withstand the personalities of those who lead with less than competence, knowledge and skill. The attacks against our country from those within and without have been resisted and the fundamental commitments of freedom and justice have survived. I must admit that I was far less persuaded by his arguments than some of my colleagues with whom I discussed his book. Despite his assertion that ours is a time that fits into the flow of history, I still have a sense that the threats to our way of life are unique and especially dangerous.

The profiles contained in the book are well-researched and soundly written. Meacham has done his homework and it is refreshing to read an historian who has made an attempt at objectivity. The characters of those he profiles are mixed and some chapters are more compelling than others. I jokingly commented after reading the book that it seems that one thing that all presidents have had in common is insomnia. Many chapters begin with the things that are keeping the president from sleeping.

This is a solid and well-written book. It is well worth reading. It would be an excellent text for an overview of American History.