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.
...engaging and troubling ... Meacham widens the field of historical influence to include activists and intellectuals usually deemed outside the mainstream, above all W. E. B. Du Bois ... What’s troubling is the continuing history, amply if less fully documented in the book, of another abiding element of the American 'soul,' an authoritarian politics that is absolutist, oligarchic, anti-egalitarian, demagogic and almost always racist ... He is effective as ever at writing history for a broad readership. A journalist and presidential biographer who won a Pulitzer for his life of Andrew Jackson, he has seen how American politics works close up, as most academic historians have not, yet he has remained uncynical. He is an adroit and appealing storyteller ... Unfortunately ... there is virtually nothing about how the well-documented right-wing radicalization of the Republican Party paved the way for Donald Trump ... The book concludes with some worthy injunctions about getting active in politics, rejecting tribalism and respecting facts. But these fail to convey the profound depth of the crisis.