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The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  3,698 Ratings  ·  795 Reviews
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment in American politics and life by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame division and fear.

Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" have repeatedly won
Kindle Edition, 372 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by Random House
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Liz A friend recommended it and lent it to me. As horrible and depressing as the state of our union is now, the book helped me to see that not only has…moreA friend recommended it and lent it to me. As horrible and depressing as the state of our union is now, the book helped me to see that not only has this country had its share of challenges, but that they have been overcome by action, voting, engagement, persistence.(less)
Doninaz Dave, thanks for your thoughtfulness...
Perhaps a little of both. A portion of the population believed that things moved ahead and left them behind,…more
Dave, thanks for your thoughtfulness...
Perhaps a little of both. A portion of the population believed that things moved ahead and left them behind, perhaps more in a material sense. When things are not going well in one’s life, it’s easy to become bitter, resent those who are progressing, and strike out against change. Had things been better for them personally, some might have been more tolerant of social change.

Another portion of the population sees not an aberration, but things developing as they had hoped. They might be willing to tolerate a degree of economic pain. Will that opinion hold as the unintended consequences of the administration’s actions begin to bite? Time will tell – for all of us.

But, is this an aberration? At halfway through the book, Meacham described individual periods that could be termed aberrations. And at conclusion, history is not seen in a smooth progression. We have had good and bad periods, many being consequences of their predecessors. What is unique about the present situation is our ability to influence it.

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Bill  Kerwin
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics

”The past is never dead; it is not even past.”—William Faulkner

In August of 2017, after the deadly alt-right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Time’s editor Nancy Gates called up Jon Meacham and asked him if he had any thoughts on the subject. The Pulitzer prize-winning historian—and son of the South who grew up on Missionary Ridge, battlefield of the Civil War—began to reflect on the words of Faulkner, and how the “American battles over power and race and history” have, “with astonishing regu
Michael Ferro
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels should be required reading for every American in these divisive times. Now more than ever we need to not only recognize just how deep our societal division is, but remember that we have been in times like this before (though it's hard to remember) and come out a stronger nation... well, most of the time.

Of particular interest to me was the study of the mythical "Lost Cause" and the pathos that resulted in the resulting one hundred years of r
Elizabeth George
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If there were a six star category, I would give this book six stars. It's a book that should be read by every thinking American who is worried, concerned, or devastated by what is going on and has gone on in our country since Donald Trump was elected President. Yet....this is a hopeful book. Meacham posits that we have been in desperate situations before as a country, and we have survived. He covers everything from the Civil War to the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan to the McCarthy hearings t ...more
David Eppenstein
"I've got the the biggest brains, I'm going to be the biggest man in the United States." Sound familiar ? Think you recognize the speaker? I thought so too. I was wrong. The speaker was a man named David Stephenson who was a major leader of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's who was subsequently arrested for kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young woman but was convicted of second degree murder. This book is full of quotes like this from historic figures we will all recognize as well as many ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio, overdrive
This author is considerably more hopeful and inspirational about the current state of our country than many of the books I have read recently. I hope that he is correct that leaders of character will emerge to appeal to our better natures, but they certainly aren't emerging in the White House or Congress at the moment. He examines many times in which we have been tested and actually managed to survive the test and make things better for people, rather than taking giant steps backwards.

The book
Oct 29, 2018 is currently reading it
I have delved into Fire and Fury, Fear (by Woodward) and Comey’s book. I find no further need to plumb the depths of our Fearless Leader’s soul. But, having said that, doing the same for the USA’s soul holds some attraction.

Journalists almost always have to have a focus on the immediate, providing facts and context so we can understand the events of the day. Historians can cast their nets wider.

I am liking Meacham’s approach very much. He uses a great deal of original source material to provid
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels is a beautiful book written to give one hope in these troubled times by veteran historian Jon Meacham. Basically, it recounts the struggles that this country has had from its beginnings and how many American presidents have risen to the occasion, as well as this country's influential activists, striving to keep this democracy alive and in the "search for the better angels of our nature."

"We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies
Casey Wheeler
I received a free Kindle copy of The Soul of America by Jon Meacham courtesy of Net Galley  and Random House, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.

I requested this book as I have read a number of books (all biographies) by the author and the description made it very interesting. 

Meacham describes accurately
May 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
My only complaint about this book, and it’s not minor, is it’s reactionary tone to Donald Trump. It’s as if only the rise of Trump gave rise to this book, and that weakens the message. The Soul of America and indeed the humanity that Meachum describes, is in all of us, American or not, no matter who is president. No matter the era.

Make no mistake: The message is a good one for the national freak out currently in progress. Things have been much much worse. And good people, and even bad people wh
Scott S.
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"He . . . understood people, and when it came time to make decisions, he was willing to take the responsibility . . . He had a good head and a great brain and a kind heart . . . He was the best kind of ordinary man. I mean that as high praise, not deprecation . . . He's one of the people and becomes distinguished in the service that he gives other people." -- Harry S. Truman on Abraham Lincoln

Author Meacham details various moments in U.S. history when certain presidents (Lincoln, both of the Ro
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2018
This beautiful book uses the prism of American history to present the case that 'we've been here before' and 'this too shall pass'. Did it make me feel better? Sort of. The quotes from past presidents and historical figures of note are insightful, inspiration and, in some cases, moving. I can see Meacham's argument that this division and turmoil is nothing 'new', but has there ever been such an absence of moral leadership? Has there ever been a leader so untethered to facts, so unversed in conve ...more
May 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is easy perhaps in 2018 with the frequent vulgar twitter outbursts, invectives against enemies real and otherwise, and attempts to delegitimize the basic fabric of government coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (or Florida I suppose), that the American project is facing the greatest crisis it has ever faced.
The author acknowledges that things are bad but he sees in America’s history that this moment is far from unique. From wars, to crippling depressions, to internal strife, America is no
David Huff
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible,” the theologian and thinker Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1944, “but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” We try; we fail; but we must try again, and again, and again, for only in trial is progress possible. -- Jon Meacham

This was a fascinating and a timely read, filled with both historical insight and hope. There are in our current times any number of reasons for Americans to react when they read the news, and to feel not j
Michael Austin
May 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2018
Jon Meacham's The Soul of America is this week's entry in what has become a major genre: a well-known academic or public intellectual writes a scholarly book for a popular audience that demonstrates just how much of an outlier--historically or politically--Donald Trump is. Among the books I have recently read in this genre are Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die, Robert Reich's The Common Good, Cass Sunstein's #Republic, Amy Chua's Political Tribes, Madeline Albright's Fasci ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I watched Jon Meacham on the Real Time by Bill Maher. He talked about how he is hopeful for the future and trump is nothing new in American history. I decided that I needed to read this book because I needed something uplifting to read. As I listened to this audiobook, I did not feel reassured nor hopeful. I still feel fearful of the future of America. Most of this book is a recounting of history from the civil war, reconstruction, the rise of the Klan, Jim Crow laws, McCarthism, the internment ...more
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is such an important book to read if you have concerns regarding what the implications may be resulting from positions taken and rhetoric spoken by our current administration. Meacham speaks to times such as this throughout American history when we have faced dark days, but we have triumphed and those darker impulses have been rebuked. He speaks to numerous divisions at various times in our history and how we have healed afterwards. This book helps me to continue my vigil as "dissent does n ...more
Joseph Sciuto
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jon Meacham's "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels" is a must read, especially for those among us who are not familiar with the racism that has infested our great nation since the time of the American Revolution. Thankfully, as Mr. Meacham has so poignantly pointed out, with each infestation there have been men and women who have stood up to such evil and kept our nation on a path toward righteousness from Presidents Lincoln, Grant, TR, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, John ...more
Chris Carson
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Meacham is a superb storyteller, historian and Presidential scholar. His book is timely as our country faces the most (disgusting) unusual ascendency of a candidate to the office of President since Andy Jackson.

The United States has survived and thrived because the majority of its citizens have followed the course of its “better angels.” Hopefully this abnormal interlude will end soon and the values that truly make our country great throughout the world will once again be the standard.
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a really hopeful book, but also a little boring. The end passage is the most vital. Things are not worse than they have been and we can get over it. The message may be more optimistic than is my usual leaning, but he does show how racism, xenophobia, corruption, etc have always been with us and so have the drives toward equality, acceptance, and reform.
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
The story of America is thus one of slow, often unsteady steps forward. If we expect the trumpets of a given era to sound unwavering notes, we will be disappointed, for the past tells us that politics is an uneven symphony.

Meacham attempts to reassure us that though these times seem fraught with disaster there have been numerous moments in the past where we have been able to rise above and push through to better times.

Every generation tends to think of itself as uniquely challenged and under sie
Barbara Hale
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: our-library, audible
I don't generally read non-fiction, other than memoirs, but this book was an excellent reminder of the struggles our country has gone through in the past, and how those struggles were handled by our leaders, some great, and some not so great.

Historian Jon Meacham starts with the Constitutional Convention, takes us through the Civil War, Reconstruction, the rise of the KKK, World War 1, the Depression, The New Deal, World War II, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, to present day. He shares l
Brian Willis
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We live in scary times, with erratic and sometimes dangerous leadership, and with nearly everybody dissatisfied with leadership in Washington. International relations are on eggshells with the possibility of a major crisis.

Several of my favorite American biographers are releasing books this year which are rather manuals on how to be an effective leader in these times of crisis: David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Joseph J. Ellis. This is Meacham's turn, and his book is a series of vignet
Peter Mcloughlin
Racial demagogues and people fighting for justice are part of the American story. Trump is playing notes that have been playing since colonial days. It is maddening that we are still playing this game and that we can't seem to move forward on this issue in this country. The same bigots seem to come at us with the same stupidity over and over again as if the worst of American history is recycled in slightly different (sometimes more menacing) packaging every generation. When are we supposed to ov ...more
Steven Z.
Jun 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Reading Jon Meacham’s latest historical work, THE SOUL OF AMERICA: THE BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS at the same time as the federal government is separating immigrant families into “relocation centers” reminiscent of Japanese internment camps during World War II is extremely disturbing. It is not a stretch to label the Trump administration’s immigration policies as racist when one considers the language and comments of those like Steven Miller and company, especially the president. However you d ...more
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
Jon Meacham is an author, historian, professor, and commentator. He has the long view on the politics of today’s world. And he explains what that means in his latest book, The Soul of America.

His premise is that our country has had many previous bouts of unrest, with politicians making unpopular decisions. There’ve been many previous movements to topple legislators and other leaders with discriminatory policies. And, quoting Abraham Lincoln, “the better angels of our nature” win out.

So, fundamen
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a book to give people hope when for many Americans the election of Donald Trump heralds a very low point in the nation's history. Some wonder if our democracy can survive. The author wants readers to know that the course of a nation is never smooth, swinging from times we would rather forget to others we are proud to recall. Have courage, hope and don't give up Jon Meacham tells us.

Specifically mentioning Trump, Meacham wants us to know that there have been bad times before and America h
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am no great student of American history, so there is much in this book that I didn't know. I found out--with a chill--that Lee surrendered to Grant on Palm Sunday of 1865, and Lincoln was shot five days later on Good Friday. I have never read such a thorough description of the way racism, fear, and hatred have warped our history--how the south may have lost slavery in 1865, but it was determined (and still is) not to lose white supremacy or state's rights. As Robert Penn Warren said, the Confe ...more
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jon Meacham takes the long view of American history in an attempt to put our current turmoil in context. While it is painful to remember just how awful previous historical periods were, he also reminds us that we climbed out of those low valleys. And although his overall construction is one of two steps forward, one step back, he does remind us that the overall trajectory over time is that we have improved.

I generally accepted his thesis, with one big caveat. The most comparable disruptors and
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
The main message of this book is not to despair if you think we are going through dark times in American politics these days. The author points out that America has gone through many dark times in its history, and the demagoguery that appears today has appeared in the past as well. Despite this, America has always recovered from these periods. While there is a message that it is up to individuals to become more politically active to hold back the tide of darkness, the book itself focuses on prof ...more
Donald Powell
An American history book about some of our most profound progressive heroes and a few villains. It is written in the context of the quest for freedom, overcoming oppression by the powerful few of the many. His many quotes are a precious compendium of rich and meaningful reminders of the constant, never ending, quest to obtain a form of governance which truly honors the language used by the founders of the United States of America. This is a very valuable book and I cannot understand what took me ...more
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Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek, a Pulitzer Prize winning bestselling author and a commentator on politics, history, and religious faith in America.
“Extremism, racism, nativism, and isolationism, driven by fear of the unknown, tend to spike in periods of economic and social stress—a period like our own. Americans today have little trust in government; household incomes lag behind our usual middle-class expectations. The fires of fear in America have long found oxygen when broad, seemingly threatening change is afoot. Now, in the second decade of the new century, in the presidency of Donald Trump, the alienated are being mobilized afresh by changing demography, by broadening conceptions of identity, and by an economy that prizes Information Age brains over manufacturing brawn. “We are determined to take our country back,” David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, said in Charlottesville. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. And that’s what we gotta do.” 6 likes
“The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That’s the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership. —FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT” 6 likes
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