The Pulitzer Prize winning historian reviews the United States' long battle against racism, nativism, and sexism to make the case that similar struggles roiling contemporary politics can be defeated now as they have been in the past.
Meacham’s book arrives at a time when much about the American political system seems broken. People are angry, ambivalent, anxious. But Meacham, by chronicling the nation’s struggles from revolutionary times to current day, makes the resonant argument that America has faced division before — and not only survived it but thrived ... Ultimately, Meacham believes the nation will move beyond Trump because, in the end, as they have shown on vital issues before, Americans embrace their better angels. This book stands as a testament to that choice — a reminder that the country has a history of returning to its core values of freedom and equality after enduring periods of distraction and turmoil ... Gripping and inspiring, The Soul of America is Jon Meacham’s declaration of his faith in America.
Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America, though it intends to uplift, nonetheless offers a necessary and sobering corrective. America’s past is 'more often tragic' than otherwise, the historian writes, 'full of broken hearts and broken promises, disappointed hopes and dreams delayed.' In times of fear, our leaders 'can be as often disappointing as they are heroic.' And if the soul of America is found in those attempts to expand the space for more people to live freely and pursue happiness, Meacham also points to a 'universal American inconsistency' — even as we uphold life and liberty for some, we hold back others deemed unworthy ... Such historical awareness can comfort, especially if you believe, as Meacham does, that every generation considers itself under siege and that, with the right leadership, Americans usually find a way forward rather than back.
He is a man who has studied history in depth and who is able to recognize its echoes in the present day ... So does the book accomplish what it sets out to do? Yes, but not without a couple of major caveats ... this book is too ambitious for its own good. Because Meacham tries to weave together an overarching narrative that demonstrates the conflict between fear and hope, he is forced to skip around American history to the points where that conflict is most obvious. The result is a book that contains large chunks of fascinating analysis that are strung together by dizzyingly quick summarizations of the periods in between ... Despite this choppiness, the book is a captivating read. It is incredibly well researched, and the prose is always vivid and clear. The book also displays an impressive use of primary sources ... Readers may feel that Meacham has copped out by not directly addressing the fearmongering of President Trump, but I would argue that he has instead written a book that will be relevant long after this president’s term is up.