Book: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
Author: Jon Meacham
1. Date- Coming amidst the 2008 Presidential election, Meacham’s book was hailed as a work covering one of the most dynamic presidencies in history. Jackson holds a special place in the American story, gracing the twenty dollar bill and glaring down Lafayette Square. The result is that there is a plethora of Jackson biographies available to those attempting the Project ranging from brief surveys to in-depth masterpieces. The biggest advantage of this particular work is it is the most recent of the “cradle to grave” narratives. For the time being, this is the most up to date biography on the seventh president.
2. Scope- Through seeking to be an updated and fresh “biography,” this work weighs extensively on the presidency of Jackson. There is coverage throughout his life to be sure, but the first 40 pages briskly cover a turbulent Revolutionary coming of age, a heroic flair at New Orleans, and then a failed Presidental bid. Barely a tenth through the work, Jackson is decades into his life and already sworn in as President. On the opposite side of the life balance, the post-presidency and death narrative are mere footnotes, barely clocking in at 20 pages. There is nothing wrong with Meacham writing a work about the dramatic and thrilling Jackson Presidency, but in calling it a biography of Andrew Jackson, the man falls very short of a complete portrait.
3. Author- Mr. Meacham brings a fresh and relatively youthful approach to this Presidential biography. Under 40 when completing this work, Meacham holds such lofty titles as Executive VP of Random House and former Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek. As an authority on contemporary views, Meacham writing a biography of the 19th century President initially raised questions. These questions were quickly squashed and culminated with a Pulitzer Prize victory. His take on Thomas Jefferson is featured in Art of Power and can be reached earlier in this blog via https://andrewcordisco.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/thomas-jefferson-1801-1809-2/.
4. Length- This work fits perfectly for an individual attempting to complete the Presidents Project with shorter biographies. Despite being lean on the pre- and post-presidencies, this work definitely covers the life of Jackson in a comprehensive fashion and never gets too dense or too scholarly for the average reader. It is simply a well-written work that never feels overly long or grandiose. It does not approach the length of the Jackson epics that have come before it, but it never claims to be them and instead strives to be the shorter companion with all the important events covered.
5. Mission- Early in the introduction, Meacham claims that he is not attempting a history of the Jacksonian Era nor the antebellum era in particular. Indeed, however, the lack of total biographical coverage concludes with a work that feels like a history tome more than a biographical piece. In fact, the title of the work mentions Jackson’s oversized personality in the White House. Many of the events of that time period are covered in great detail, suggesting that perhaps Meacham’s main mission was to create more of a history book above all else, even above his actual goal of a biography. The result is not a total success nor failure of a biography but a work that hovers between the two genres that creates an ultimately unfulfilled mission overcome by an overall extraordinary piece.