July 2009

Title: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

Author: Jon Meacham

Pages: 512

Release Date: April 30, 2009 –  Random House Trade Paperbacks

ISBN:  978-0812973464

Jon Meacham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House is a biography of Andrew Jackson that concentrates on his time in the White House while giving some coverage to the time before and after.  Meacham concentrates on the personal relationships between Jackson, his advisors, and his cabinet.  These relationships played a surprising role in determining public policy.

Many of the features of the presidency that we take for granted had their start with Jackson.  He believed the power of the Presidency should be expanded at the expense of the legislative branch. While the details have changed this seems to be an ongoing effort that continues today. The more I read about America’s early days, the more I find they were very similar to today.

I did have one issue with the book, the footnotes.  I am a big believer in footnotes and have a hard time reading non-fiction without them.  I did not like the way Meacham’s notes were done.  The actual notes were at the end of the book and were used primarily for direct quotation.  The reader is forced to determine which of several quotations they are looking for, as the only reference is the page number, with several notes for each page.  There was nothing in the text to indicate there was a note for it.

Overall, I enjoyed reading American Lion and would recommend it to anyone interested in American history between the Revolution and the Civil War.  It may not be for those with more intimate knowledge of the period, but for the rest of us it serves as a good introduction to both Andrew Jackson and the people around him.

I received a review copy of this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.


The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon

ByJohn Ferling

464 Pages

Release date: May 26, 2009 – Bloomsbury Press

ISBN: 978-1596914650

Every American knows who George Washington was and even though few still believe Parson Weems’ story of his life (does anyone still believe he chopped down a cherry tree?) most Americans have an idealized portrait of Washington in their minds.  In The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon, John Ferling portrays a different and much more human version of Washington.

Ferling, who has written extensively about the American Revolutionary period, discovered a Washington who was, “Madly ambitious and obsessed with recognition and renown,” he emerged a hero from two wars, in which he achieved only insignificant individual success and committed dreadful blunders.   He was a genius at shifting the blame for defeat on to others and engaging in self-promotion.

In spite of these failings, Ferling maintains Washington was a great American icon and the country was extraordinarily fortunate to have had him as its first president.  For while much of the aura that surrounded Washington in life and death was mythological, legendary heroes and mythical tales are essential for the creation and maintenance of a new nation.

Political leaders of the past have often been made into mythological figures that can never be imitated.  The reader can never achieve the same greatness nor does he expect it from his current leaders.  The fact that these past leaders were great but human, with human flaws is lost.  This diminishes their accomplishments by making it appear they were something more then normal men.

The Ascent of George Washington serves as a reminder that we are all human, even George Washington.

I received this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewer Program.