American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

December 10, 2009

american lion Summary: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House is the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the seventh president of the United States penned by Jon Meacham. Because of the Pulitzer and some good reviews I’ve read, I decided to read this book. I went into it without any special interest in Jackson or any extra knowledge of him. I knew he was a two-term president and I knew he was from Tennessee. That’s it. So I was looking forward to gaining a bunch of insight into the man.

But that simply didn’t happen with Meacham’s book. As the title suggests, the author only covers Jackson’s time in the White House. That was fine with me, as I didn’t want an endless tome like McCullough’s John Adams. What I did expect, however, was for the author to provide some analysis or insight into what was happening during Jackson’s presidency. That’s what a biographer is supposed to do, right? Otherwise we could just get the facts from an encyclopedia entry.

But Meacham failed to provide any interesting takes on Jackson’s presidency, nor did he even attempt to show modern readers why some of the issues Jackson faced were important. In other words he didn’t give much context along with the biographical information. That might be ok for people who are somewhat familiar with Jackson, but it left someone like me completely lost.

So even though Meacham covered the Eaton affair, slavery, Indian removal, and South Carolina’s nullification bid, I still understand very little about the issues or what Jackson did or didn’t do about each one.

Liked:

  • I liked that Meacham didn’t go with a birth-to-death biography. A president’s most important years, arguably, are the ones spent in the White House. More biographers should employ this format, IMO.
  • I enjoyed glimpses into Jackson’s personal life. For instance, I didn’t know that he was uneducated or that he walked around with a bullet in his shoulder for most of his life. Those points were pretty interesting.

Disliked:

  • As mentioned above, the author failed to put the issues into context, so unless you already know a lot about this period in history, you probably won’t be able to make much sense of what was happening at the time.
  • The coverage was pretty boring. Meacham spent A LOT of time on the Eaton affair, which was something I’d never even heard of before. It seemed like a dumb thing, too, what with the whole scandal basically boiling down to some of the Washington wives not approving of Eaton’s wife. Without perspective from Meacham? Big effing deal.
  • I can’t believe the author didn’t even bother summing up Jackson’s presidency to tell which legacies were good and which were bad. Isn’t that the least that biographers are supposed to do?

Rating:
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham is one of the worst biographies I’ve ever read. I barely know any more about the former president after reading the book than I did before, which makes the whole exercise seem kind of pointless. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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