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Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  223 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
America experienced unprecedented expansion and turmoil in the years between 1815 and 1848. In Waking Giant, Bancroft Prize-winning historian and literary critic David S. Reynolds illuminates the period's exciting political story as well as the fascinating social and cultural movements that influenced it. He casts fresh light on Andrew Jackson, who redefined the presidency ...more
Hardcover, 466 pages
Published September 30th 2008 by Harper
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Nov 17, 2008 Aaron rated it did not like it
This might be the first book since the civil rights era to vilify Conscience Whigs while glorifying hard money Democrats and Cotton Whigs. It is still possible to write a good history that sides with Jacksonian Democracy (see “The Rise of American Democracy”) but it is almost unconscionable to write a history of the antebellum era that chooses to gloss over Federal Indian Removal and slavery, while linger on how John Tyler reformed the Postal Service (good rule of thumb, if Polk or Tyler are her ...more
Apr 16, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing
In aptly titled, Waking Giant, David Reynolds takes on the very difficult task of writing a biography of an era. It is reminiscent of the now classic, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s that brings that era to life.

This chronicle of the "era of the common man", helps to fill a gap for general readers. A check of Pulitzer Prize winners for history suggests that there is a trend for revisiting the Jackson Age. There is a winner in 2008What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of Amer
Michael T.
Aug 02, 2011 Michael T. rated it liked it
This is more what I was looking for when I read American Lion, a biography of Andrew Jackson. (Although, in truth, they both inform one another). The bio focused a little too exclusively on Jackson's presidential years, without providing the larger backdrop on which his presidency played out. Waking Giant provides that backdrop, including the years leading up to Jackson's presidency and the years immediately following it. My interest was filling in the blank spot (for me, at least) of the transi ...more
Lauren Albert
Nov 18, 2009 Lauren Albert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-american
A great example of history for non-specialists. Coming from a literature background, Reynolds is particularly attuned to the cultural/social side of history though he doesn't neglect politics or economics. You learn about everything from the political fights over a national bank to the country's momentary fascination with mesmerism. Well written and engaging.
David Lucander
Mar 04, 2014 David Lucander rated it really liked it
Like the author's John Brown biography, this is an excellent cultural history. Like many other readers, I did Waking Giant pretty much alongside Meacham's "American Lion." Taken together, these two books give an excellent overview of antebellum American life. Reynolds does very well with the popular and religious culture stuff - he really has a handle on how culturally & politically dynamic America was at the time. I like how this guy writes, it's dense with facts but still very readable and ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Reynolds history resuscitates Jackson's reputation and places his presidency in the political, cultural, and religious context of the "Age of Jackson" (roughly 1820 to 1850). As with all histories that cover a specific time scope, the selection is somewhat artificial, but Reynolds' account does a good job of setting the stage for Jackson's entrance (the Revolutionary generation growing old, the country growing west, the culture growing up, and religion growing wild), and pointing the spotlight o ...more
Jun 14, 2012 Tim rated it really liked it
David Reynolds is known for his literary history and his biographical writing, especially about antebellum America. In writing social and cultural history and capturing that history in wonderful personal vignettes, this history excels. But when he takes on Daniel Walker Howe's marvelous book (which is pro-Whig and anti-Jackson overall), as Reynold's prologue blatantly does, he ventures on to ground that is a lot less sure. Especially since in taking that ground he has to offer a defense of Andre ...more
Jul 17, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it
David is an old friend from New York who has made a big name for himself in the world of American literature, with a series of books on American culture in the 19th Century; this one is a very accessible, readable and un-stuffy narrative of America between the war of 1812 and the immediate prelude to the Civil War. The contributions and character of the key political figures of the time drives the story, but the focus is on their relationship to the American populace, and how they reflected and ...more
Kater Cheek
Sep 06, 2016 Kater Cheek rated it liked it
If you want a general overview of life in the early 19th century in America, this is a good book for you. Comprehensive and informative, it covers a broad swath of subjects, from politics to religion to health and medicine. Reynolds also includes quite a bit of biographical detail from Andrew Jackson, Van Buren, and Polk.

I was warned by the person who lent me this book that because Reynolds covers the period of time by subject rather than chronologically, there'd be a bit of overlap and repetiti
Sep 11, 2009 Jack rated it really liked it
Fantastic. Interesting overview of the politics of the Jackson era. Surprisingly intriguing discussion of religion and utopian societies. The art stuff was not very interesting to me, but I guess it was necessary.
Bill F.
A quick read, David Reynolds' Waking Giant is an excellent primer in early-to-mid-19th century American political, cultural and social history. Whether it is the interesting factoids surrounding some common expressions [for instance, "O.K." came from Martin Van Buren's 1840 reelection campaign against Whig William Henry Harrison. Known as Old Kinderhook, the Democratic convention shortened that "Down with the Whigs, boys, O.K." Another example - ironically also from that 1840 campaign - is "keep ...more
Jun 02, 2014 Jimmy rated it really liked it
I wanted to read this book to get to know more of a period in American history that I know so little about. This book covers the period of 1815 through 1848. My curiosity of that era was sparked after reading a biography of the president Andrew Jackson. No doubt reading this book gave me more of a context in understanding Andrew and his times. The focus of this book is an exploration of how this moment in American history was an unprecedented time in American history of growth and the shaping of ...more
Jan 07, 2016 Greg rated it it was amazing
Outstanding! I will preface this to say that if the reader wants a complete view of "Jacksonian America" David Reynolds' wonderful survey, "Waking Giant: America In The Age of Jackson", should be balanced with Charles Sellers' "The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America 1815-1846", Daniel Walker Howe's "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848" and Arthur M. Schlesinger's classic "The Age of Jackson". Each takes a slightly different angle on the period and the whole form a ...more
Ron Tenney
Mar 15, 2015 Ron Tenney rated it liked it
Shelves: stopped-reading
I bought this book a few years ago when I was in a Jacksonian America phase of reading. It is hard not to contrast this book with “What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848” by Daniel Walker Howe.
When I began reading, I found myself making negative comparisons to this book by contrast. Thankfully, I pressed on. In terms of information, this Waking Giant is not as complete or exhaustive a history. There are some stories that Reynolds tells better than Howe.
The real benefit
Sep 10, 2012 Ben rated it really liked it
Excellent survey of political trends, religious and cultural changes in America from the end of the War of 1812 to the end of the Mexican-American War. The period was dominated by Andrew Jackson and the populism of the Democratic Party. Reynolds covers the political and economic challenges of a nation transitioning from a North Atlantic Republic to a Continental Empire. Religious and philosophical trends are given thorough treatment, including the rise of evangelical protestantism, the dynamic g ...more
Sep 01, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
The stuff on religion is excellent. Also, the Graham diet, the Astor Place riots about acting styles. All the social history is brilliant and well worth the read. The political history that bookends it is not nearly as interesting and not original. If you know most of that already, I guess you can just read the middle. I find the political parts interesting though because they show how liberals like Reynolds and Sean Wilentz are essentially soft on slave-holding criminals like Jackson because of ...more
Feb 13, 2013 Susan rated it liked it
Reynolds examines the chaotic constantly changing years between 1815 to 1848. It’s a bunch of stories wrapped up in one. It’s a fun political story of Andrew Jackson, the first everyman’s president. It seems he was the first president to actually campaign for the job, and the populace loved him. Reynold’s also writes about the cultural, social, intellectual and artistic currents running through the nation. Many different things were happening all at once. President James Monroe observed that a g ...more
Jorge Castillo
Nov 20, 2012 Jorge Castillo rated it it was amazing
short review.
This is a good book if you like american history. I love american history and I am NOT american. I like american history because they had the courage to stand up and go their own way (good or bad) and did not necessaraly agreed with the damn ruling brits.
I like the insight of politics of the day. I like the insight of how people lived, what they ate, drank, at what times they drank. How they dressed how they regarded each other, how politics was carried out. Even though I do not li
Jul 22, 2009 David rated it really liked it
I was somehow expecting this to be more a biography of Andrew Jackson - I guess I didn't pay attention to the title. It did provide some of that, but much more. Jackson was president of the US from 1829 to 1837, but the book covers much of the first half of the 19th century. The author examines the "age of Jackson" and the transitions encountered during that era from a variety of angles: political, intellectual, religious, cultural, social, philosophical, artistic, etc. I found each separate are ...more
Jason Page
Mar 14, 2011 Jason Page rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating book that not only told the story of Jackson's rise to power and his 8 years in office, but the story of his successors as well. I gained a new appreciation on a group of US Presidents that I had a limited background on, and found a lot to like about these men and gained a new appreciation on there contributions to the country.

The book also surveyed many of the sociological, technological, religious, and medical accomplishments of the era. Jackson is considered to be the
Christopher Sturcke
Apr 11, 2016 Christopher Sturcke rated it it was ok
A pretty good yet very basic survey of America after the War of 1812 and during the period of "Jacksonian democracy". The book's synopsis is that this was a time when America was coming into its own following the grit that the U.S. showed against Great Britain in the war but particularly the actions of Jackson's men et New Orleans. The author seems to idolize Jackson a little too much and exaggerate his influence (just a tad) on everything that went on in America during the time between his vict ...more
Jan 27, 2016 Hundeschlitten rated it really liked it
Wow! Reynolds does an excellent job conveying the dynamism of these 33 years, from a dramatic expansion of our borders to the cultural heavyweights walking the landscape. Whitman, Melville, Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Cole, to name a few: It was an era of deep thinkers that casts a wide shadow even today. War and conquest, religious revival, slavery, abolitionism, the early roots of the suffragette movement, all taking place concurrently within a social cauldron of a young nation sewing its oats. Rey ...more
Nov 26, 2008 Nick rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A look at the United States between 1820, roughly, and 1848, this book convinced me of the continuity of many aspects of American society, from negative campaign tactics to experimentation with cults and alternatives to the standard family. There are startling facts here and there, but the book examines the stew that was America during the Jacksonian era, everything from the painting of Washington Allston to the origins of phrases like "manifest destiny" and even "O.K."
Jun 22, 2011 Sheila rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was interested in reading this book because I thought it would give me more insight into Jackson's presidency and it did, however, the book spent more time on the social reforms and economic boon of the time. i found the chapters about consumption of alcohol quite interesting. Overall,I was enlightened and reminded of this time period. Did you know Jackson was the last president to have a balanced budget with no deficit.
May 10, 2012 Brian rated it it was ok
I did listen to this book. Actually most of it. It was a little much for me in some areas. I wish he would've focused more on things that weren't related to how crazy religions were in the day and the various acts that they did when they were 'in the spirit.' To me it seemed that the author generally put a lot of focus on sex. That is why I didn't finish the book.
Jan 23, 2009 Ben rated it it was amazing
I love books that connect many different cultural things that occur at the same time - who knew the intercontinenatl railroad went broke because the Suez canal opened? I remain convinced that the deaths of Beethoven and Schuman combinbed with the election of Andrew Jackson mark the downturn of Western civilization.
Sep 09, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing
Terrific book on the cultural context of Antebellum America. This is a must read for anyone who wants to better understand the milieu in which Adventism was formed. The chapters on social reforms and religious ferment (chapters 4 & 5) are gems.
May 26, 2009 Arithmomaniac rated it really liked it
An excellent book on 19th century America, almost exactly the right length. It is thorough, entertaining, and incisive. Its only weakness is too much time studying cultural and political movements (such as temperance and the Hudson River School).
Jul 06, 2009 Steve rated it liked it
an uneven portrait of the 'age of jackson', with some sound narrative and insights, and many tales of an era that seems more distant than the colonial period, especially the oddities in the public's 'taste'. Not completely convincing in its view of Jackson nor of the Whigs.
Mar 18, 2009 Paul rated it really liked it
Very good overview of a lesser-known period of US history (i.e., not the American Revolution or the Civil War). A bit textbook-like, but not in a bad way, just a comprehensive history of both the political and cultural times. Colorful characters and fascinating details of the key 1820-1845 era.
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David S. Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at the City University of New York. His works include the award-winning Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, Walt Whitman's America, and John Brown, Abolitionist. He lives on Long Island in New York.
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