From “The Star-Spangled Banner” to “Born in the U.S.A.,” Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham and country superstar Tim McGraw take readers on journey through eras in American history and the songs that came from each, exploring the circumstances of their composition as well as their artistry and appeal.
The magic of this book comes not just from Meacham’s artful delivery of the nation’s history in only 230 pages ... [McGraw] dissects 37 landmark songs, communicating his full patriotic and moral fervor to deepen readers’ reflections on the tunes ... What sets off the fireworks in Songs of America beyond Meacham’s tight narrative and McGraw’s engaging commentary are the iconic photographs interspersed throughout. Readers will surely feel lumps in their throats ... school superintendents should make Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw’s book their new go-to text.
Songs of America is a history primer that emphasizes music’s role as both a reflection of social change and its instrument ... Meacham and McGraw move as gingerly through the spirituals of the Civil War years as two white men might be expected to ... In one of the book’s strongest passages, McGraw, who contributes sidebars while Meacham handles the bulk of the narrative, grapples with the role of 'Dixie' in his own Southern upbringing ... Songs of America otherwise moves briskly through history ... McGraw is at his best when unraveling the technical aspects of a song—how difficult it is to sing, how its arrangement contributes to its emotional force. Songs of America does its best work when uncovering lesser-known figures ... Meacham is an unshowy and empathetic writer who hails from the Doris Kearns Goodwin school of vaguely comforting, it’ll-be-okay-we’ve-been-here-before historical scholarship. To him, our American songbook, in all its sprawling messiness, unites more than it divides.
A Pulitzer prize-winning biographer, a Grammy Award-winning country-music star, lavish illustrations on glossy, coated stock: It all makes for such an impressive package that the contents of Songs of America, though fitfully compelling, are somewhat disappointing ... draw[ing] occasionally on Mr. Meacham’s previous books and articles on U.S. history and...studded with Mr. McGraw’s thoughts about individual songs, the book is perhaps inevitably uneven. Mr. Meacham plucks captivating details from his sources ... Some chapters, particularly the one covering the Civil War, which gives Frederick Douglass the first and last words, are artfully organized and eloquent. But others are a hodge-podge ... Songs of America omits great swatches of American history ... And the selection of songs is idiosyncratic.