Genre: Nonfiction – Politics/History
Summary: Jon Meacham takes the reader through America’s historical contradictions. The Soul of America looks critically at events panning from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, examining the events through the lens of pragmatic optimism.
Meacham continuously acknowledges America’s mistakes and greatest triumphs. He acknowledges the amazing strides that were made by the Emancipation Proclamation and the freeing of slaves, while noting the failure of the Reconstruction movement. He discusses the gains made in the Progressive Era, championing the women who fought for equality and the right to vote, while noting he acquiescence by Woodrow Wilson and others with the resurgence of the Ku Klux Clan.
“So what can we, in our time, learn form the past, even while we’re getting knocked in the head? That the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. That compromise is the oxygen of democracy. And that we learn the most from those who came before not by gazing up at them uncritically or down on them condescendingly but by looking them in the eye and taking their true measure as human beings, not as gods.”
The subtitle for this book is “The Battle for Our Better Angels” and it certainltly strikes the right chord, at least with me, in this new year with a new president. Others can fight and debate of the legacy of President Trump and fight and debate about President Biden’s new agenda. This book doesn’t fight. It’s a measured look at our history and is hopelessly optimistic about America’s future. It believes in its people and after so many years of fighting and my experiences personally in government, of being disappointed or let down by politicians or people, I needed a book like this to remind me what I fight for and what I believe. It’s striking in its simplicity – it simply takes a glimpse at history to show us who we have been and what we can be.
Technical Summary: While officially 400 pages, the book has a sizable notes, bibliography, and index section that takes up 100 pages plus. Each new chapter begins with a photo from a historic moment of the era and pictures are throughout the novel of important moments or figures in history. Each chapter encapsulates a time period and the conclusion wraps up Meacham’s charge for the future. For history buffs it is a lovely read but for those new to the genre it packs an easy and understandable glow on well-known events but with more nuance than a history textbook.
Author: Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer. He is a contributing writer for The New York Times Book Review and a professor at Vanderbilt University.
Lover of the written word.