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The Soul of America
Cover of The Soul of America
The Soul of America
The Battle for Our Better Angels
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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...
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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...
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  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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.

    ONE OF OPRAH’S “BOOKS THAT HELP ME THROUGH” • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • The Christian Science Monitor Southern Living

    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 the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history. He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women’s rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson’s crusade against Jim Crow. Each of these dramatic hours in our national life have been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear—a struggle that continues even now.
    While the American story has not always—or even often—been heroic, we have been sustained by a belief in progress even in the gloomiest of times. In this inspiring book, Meacham reassures us, “The good news is that we have come through such darkness before”—as, time and again, Lincoln’s better angels have found a way to prevail.

    Praise for The Soul of America

    “Brilliant, fascinating, timely . . . With compelling narratives of past eras of strife and disenchantment, Meacham offers wisdom for our own time.”—Walter Isaacson
    “Gripping and inspiring, The Soul of America is Jon Meacham’s declaration of his faith in America.”Newsday

    “Meacham gives readers a long-term perspective on American history and a reason to believe the soul of America is ultimately one of kindness and caring, not rancor and paranoia.”USA Today

Excerpts-

  • From the cover one

    The Confidence of the Whole People

    Visions of the Presidency, the Ideas of Progress and Prosperity, and "We, the People"

    Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. —Alexander Hamilton, The New-York Packet, Tuesday, March 18, 1788

    I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. —Words popularly attributed to Sojourner Truth, the Woman's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851

    Dreams of God and of gold (not necessarily in that order) made America possible. The First Charter of Virginia—the 1606 document that authorized the founding of Jamestown—is 3,805 words long. Ninety-eight of them are about carrying religion to "such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God"; the other 3,707 words in the charter concern the taking of "all the Lands, Woods, Soil, Grounds, Havens, Ports, Rivers, Mines, Minerals, Marshes, Waters, Fishings, Commodities," as well as orders to "dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold, Silver, and Copper."

    Explorers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought riches; religious dissenters came seeking freedom of worship. In 1630, the Puritan John Winthrop, who crossed a stormy Atlantic aboard the Arbella, wrote a sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," that explicitly linked the New World to a religious vision of a New Jerusalem. "For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill," Winthrop said, drawing on Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. (Forever shrewd about visuals, Ronald Reagan added the adjective shining to the image several centuries later.)

    We've always lived with—and perpetuated—fundamental contradiction. In 1619, a Dutch "man of warre" brought about twenty captive Africans—"negars"—to Virginia, the first chapter in the saga of American slavery. European settlers, meanwhile, set about removing Native American populations, setting in motion a tragic chain of events that culminated in the Trail of Tears. And so while whites built and dreamed, people of color were subjugated and exploited by a rising nation that prided itself on the expansion of liberty. Those twin tragedies shaped us then and ever after.

    As did basic facts of geography. There was a breathtaking amount of room to run in the New World. The vastness of the continent, the wondrous frontier, the staggering natural resources: These, combined with a formidable American work ethic, made the pursuit of wealth and happiness more than a full-time proposition. It was a consuming, all-enveloping one.

    For many, birth mattered less than it ever had before. Entitled aristocracies crumbled before natural ones. If you were a white man and willing to work, you stood a chance of transcending the circumstances of your father and his father's father and of joining the great company of "enterprising and self-made men," as Henry Clay put it in 1832.

    The next year, President Andrew Jackson appointed one such man to be postmaster of Salem, Illinois. Though a Whig at the time—Jackson was a Democrat—Abraham Lincoln was happy to accept. His rise from frontier origins became both fable and staple in the American narrative. Lincoln understood the power of his story, for he knew that he embodied broad American hopes. "I happen, temporarily, to occupy this big White House," Lincoln told the 166th Ohio Regiment in the summer of 1864. "I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has."

    No understanding of American life and...

About the Author-

  • Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer. The author of the New York Times bestsellers Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Franklin and Winston, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, and The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, he is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, a contributing writer for The New York Times Book Review, and a fellow of the Society of American Historians. Meacham lives in Nashville and in Sewanee with his wife and children.

Reviews-

  • AudioFile Magazine A dual narration such as this one--with the author beginning and concluding the audiobook--can be tricky. The voice of the author settles independently on the listener. The tone of the work is carried on by the narrator. In this case, the hand-offs come off smoothly, and both author and narrator gracefully deliver the theme that we've been through dark times before (Alien and Sedition laws, the Civil War, the rise of the KKK, McCarthyism) and prevailed. Fred Sanders is a compelling narrator who brings these foundational American stories to life with admirable poise. He is especially good at reading famous texts as though they were new. His storytelling style enhances the meaning of Meacham's prose. This is an audiobook to listen to, absorb, and contemplate. A.D.M. � AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine

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