Erik Simon's Reviews > American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

American Lion by Jon Meacham
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Jan 23, 09

This is by far one of the biggest piles of crap I've ever read. The writing is bad in numerous ways:

1. Doesn't tell enough. Meachem tells me that Jackson's father died unexpectedly, then he takes a long sentence to tell me that during the funeral, the body actually got lost. So why couldn't he tell me how exactly the guy died? This mistake is common throughout. He keeps not telling me things he ought.

2. Tells me too much. I am not exaggerating when I say he spends just as much time, just as many words, talking about the baptism of his neice's child as he does the pivotal election of 1824. Now, I know this book is about Jackson in the White House and that the guy didn't win until 1828, but come fucking on, man: that 1824 election set the stage for everything. I can't get more information on it than I get on a baptism?

3. There's a consistent painful linkage of bad, bad metaphors. For instance, in one scene, Meacham feels the need to tell us of an evening wherein Jackson advised someone during a chess game. He sets the scene up with great detail, all so he can get to the larger metaphor of how politics, for Jackson, was like a chess game. First off, bad writing. Second off, no shit. I'm sorry, Mr. Meacham, but is there a major political figure who doesn't view politics as a game of strategy?

4. Lastly, there's no overarching vision in this book. Meacham lurches from chunk of information to chunk of information with little obligation to coherence. One can almost see him reading a bunch of stuff in the morning then, in the afternoon, writing a page to summarize what he read that morning, then doing it all over again the next morning. This is the way in which it seems obvious that Meacham (editor of Newsweek) is more of a magazine guy. He seems incapable of thinking past four pages.

Where oh where is there a good book on Jackson? Can anyone tell me? Schlesinger's book is unreadable; his prose could kill a healthy moose. Besides which it completely elides that pesky Indian problem, which was only a MAJOR part of Jackson's Presidency. The new book out by David Reynolds is okay, if you're in fifth grade. I wasn't able to do Remini's bio on Jackson, but maybe that was my fault. The best stuff I've read on Jackson tends to be books about other things in which he plays a key role, such as Sean Wilentz' amazing book THE RISE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY. So please, goodreads friends, if you know of a good read on Old Hickoy, do tell.

Meanwhile, I feel compelled to relate that some years ago, while I visited his house, The Hermitage, I lucked out and happened to go on the one day of the year that it was free--his birthday. It is a lovely home, and the grounds are lovelier, but I still tend to think of Jackson as 20% right and 80% pan fried ass hole.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 51) (51 new)

message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, I was going to read this too. Thanks for the tip, Herr Simon.

message 2: by brian (last edited Jan 23, 2009 01:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

brian   erik simon! you saved me. i've been waiting for a great book on andrew jackson and thought this might be the one. thanks for setting me straight.

sean wilentz's the rise of american democracy devotes a bunch of pages to the man, as you pointed out, but i've also been wanting to read something more in depth. guess this isn't the one...

message 3: by Matt (new)

Matt Jackson is in my opinion the worst President America has ever had. Some, but not many, were more incompotent. Some, but not many, were more crooked. But Jackson was not only incompotent and crooked, but down right evil - a description frequently tossed around these days, but which I would apply to probably no other President.

It's amazing how his Presidency has been whitewashed, and I say this as someone who generally thinks we shouldn't castigate the founding father's just because its fashionable and who has a measure of respect - sometimes deep respect - for most of them. The only President I can think of that's similarly incompotent and which has been similar whitewashed is Truman.

Both Truman and Jackson regularly show up on Top 10 greatest President lists. All the reasons I can imagine why this is so are very unflattering.

For example, one of the things that I think can ink the two is Jackson was involved in 'redeeming' America from its first nasty military adventure via the Battle of New Orleans, and Truman was there when we won WWII. I conclude from that that history eventually whitewashes everything someone does after they win a war (or in Jackson's case, at least allow Americans to believe that they won the war).

I'm not at all surprised the book is crap. Anyone that admires Jackson loses a huge amount of respect from me, which in and of itself would be enough to make me disregard this book.

message 4: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon Matt, I could not agree with you more. I think Jackson, as I said in my review, was an ass hole, and I still don't understand the reverence for him. And I've always thought Truman was an idiot ass hole, too. Seriously, man, these guys were half-wit train wrecks. That said, I'm with you, Brian: will anyone ever write a decent bio on Jackson? Jesus, fuck, we've had almost 200 years to do it.

message 5: by Monica (new)

Monica I spotted an excellent copy of Parmigianino's "Portrait" of Christopher Columbus while visiting The Hermitage. I say it was a copy because I couldn't believe they're'd be an original Parmigainaino sitting there and the guide didn't know anything about it other than it was a gift to Jackson, I forget from whom. Aren't there a couple of Andrew Jacksons? Was his nickname Stonewall? I'll go to Wiki to see if they haven't whitewashed him too much to know more about why you despise him. He sure had a nice house, though!

message 6: by Matt (new)

Matt Yes, his house is nice.

'Stonewall' Jackson is a different person. Stonewall Jackson was a Confederette Civil War general, famous for his courage and for being Lee's most trusted advisor.

Andrew Jackson's nickname was 'Old Hickory', because of his legendary physical toughness.

message 7: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon But Stonewall was just as much a crazy ass hole as Andrew. But Andrew's house is nice--one of the boons of slavery: you could make a pretty good dollar with someone else doing the hard work.

message 8: by Monica (new)

Monica I read his wiki page and can't fault him for his hatred of the British. I guess if he didn't fight them, the Spanish, and the Indians, someone else would have.

message 9: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon Yes, but he was also a fierce defender of slavery at a time when many people weren't. And he was singlehandedly responsible for the indirect slaughter of thousands upon thousands of Native Americans with his executive order to move them west. And it wasn't the type of thing everyone wanted. In fact, he has staunch opposition in Congress on that issue.

message 10: by Matt (new)

Matt Jackson's actions with regard to the Cherokee represent a uniquely vile betrayal, because the Cherokee had been American military allies and in fact had helped Jackson personally in his earlier military campaigns. It wasn't as if he was doing this to faceless strangers.

Plus, the Cherokee were one of the few tribes that had adopted a policy of adopting European ways. By the time Jackson uprooted them, they were living in cabins, building churches and schools, square dancing with their neighbors and intermarrying. It wasn't as if he was dealing with an intransigently hostile group of murderous hunter gather nomad. There was no bad excuse of a clash of incompatible cultures that can be blamed on ultimate bad treatment of the Cherokee. This was a highly civilized people who were making the transition to the new reality as well as any native people on the continent.

Jackson's fiscal policies are the direct cause of America's first great depression (1837).

Jackson also set up a 'good old boy' network in the white house that kept America locked in a succession of corrupt and incompotent cronies on both sides of the Mason-Dixon right up until the surprise election of Abraham Lincoln.

It's really hard to understand Jackson's popularity in the light of what he did in office. I think a good portion of it comes from the mythic aura he had created around his person. Old Hickory really was tough, and this together with his military adventures and his status as a frontiersman gave him something of hero worship. But down at the bottom of that, what you are dealing with is a man whose resume rested on the strength of the murders that he had committed. This was a man who came to power at the business end of a dueling pistol and who often got his way because people were literally and with good reason scared of him.

message 11: by Monica (new)

Monica Eeew. What a dog. Thanks for letting me know. Another sort of Francisco Pizzaro...

message 12: by Monica (new)

Monica And why not add to his wiki page what really happenend??

message 13: by Matt (new)

Matt Wiki pages are dominated by the person's who have the most personal interest in the subject matter. I don't care enough to get in an editting war over Andrew Jackson. I'll leave that to a subject matter expert whose actually willing to put up with dealing with the pro-Jackson subject matter experts.

message 14: by Brad (last edited Jan 27, 2009 08:21AM) (new)

Brad Erik: Excellent review. I will steer clear now. I really had considered reading this.

Matt: I do not joke when I say this. I always enjoy your comments and your point of view. You should write a bio of Jackson. I would read that.

All: A bit of useless trivia, but fitting: Charlton Heston, in his autobiography In The Arena (but this is from memory, and I read the book only once over a decade ago, so I may be inaccurate), professed to be a big Jackson fan, and claimed it was one of his favourite roles. The thought of that makes me smile.

message 15: by Monica (new)

Monica C. Heston, a violence lover, NRA advocate...In one of Michael Moore's films Heston justified the right to bear arms by saying America has a violent history. I'll add the flic Heston did as Andrew Jackson to my queue.

message 16: by Matt (new)

Matt Hmmm...

Let's play connections...

Andrew Jackon founded the Democratic party to protect and continue the institution of slavery. After the civil war, the armed wing of the Democratic party - the so called Klu Klux Klan - was founded to terrorize newly freed blacks, Republicans, and other white sympathizers. The NRA was founded in direct response to this by Ulysses S. Grant and other union officers to ensure that rifles would remain in the hands of newly freed blacks despite efforts of Southrons to limit access to firearms to blacks. The NRA was later chaired by Charleston Heston, who was famous for breaking with the Democratic party over the Vietnam War and even more famous for intensely melodramatic acting, including playing Andrew Jackson twice - once in the 1953 biopic 'The General's Lady' about Jackson's stormy courtship of another man's wife and again in the critically panned highly fictionalized 1958 movie 'The Buccaneer'.

Either of which would actually be less fictional than any documentary by Michael Moore.

message 17: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon But wait! Where's Kevin Bacon?

brian   message 16: great post matt. hysterical.

message 19: by Monica (new)

Monica So I guess you're saying don't rent the Heston movies.

I'm looking for a Gary Cooper flick about the Spanish civil war in the 1930s. This is not related to a goodreads book, just part of my current interest in Spain and South America.

message 20: by Monica (new)

Monica The other day I watched a 1/2 hour preview of a series of five films coming out very soon on PBS, one of which is called Trail of Tears. I'm sorry I can't find a link to the new series. There is an older one which was an eight part documentary, an episode had the same name. The new films look fascinating, part drama, part documentary, and I can't wait. I know some of them will air in April. The series may begin in March."Red" is in the title. If someone finds the info please let us know.

message 21: by Matt (new)

Matt "Also, weren't Jackson's actions in the Trail of Tears in violation of a Supreme Court ruling?"

Not directly. The States were using essentially 'Jim Crow' laws aimed at Indians to make life so intolerable for them that they would consider leaving their land preferable to continued existance under the burden of unfair laws. Essentially, the States were pressuring Indians to exchange their property for their freedom. In 'Worcester v. Georgia', Marshall held that States did not have the right to infringe on the sovereignty of lands held by Indian tribes.

The decision was essentially ignored, and Jackson refused to enforce it. Instead, he became the first American President to order ethnic cleansing and create concentration camps. It was probably the sorriest episode in American history.

But it just goes on and on. It's not just that which makes him so thoroughly dislikable. He's a President most of us know solely though myth and Hollywood, and if that's all you know of him then I'll forgive you for your ignorance. But really, the more you dig, the more horrible he seems.

(Hollywood shouldn't be trusted in anything, but for some reason people seem to forget that when Hollywood validates what they want to believe. It's a common human failing. We only hear what we want to hear.)

message 22: by Monica (new)

Monica Better we know the truth. Adding a few corrections to Wiki would help .

Joeji Is it possible to get Jackson off the $20 bill? Why is he even on there? It's insulting to this country.

Good review. Cuts right to why this book is a stinker.

message 24: by Monica (new)

Monica oooh good point. If anyone has time they should let the Obama administration know.

message 25: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Don't worry. Before Obama is through, he'll probably put his pic on all our bills.

Joeji Alex wrote: "Don't worry. Before Obama is through, he'll probably put his pic on all our bills."

Get over it and grow up.

message 27: by Monica (new)

Monica Alex shame on you!

message 28: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon Hey, Alex. You're from Noblesville. I have a brother who teaches and coaches in Carmel. Meanwhile, Obama won't do that. To even have money is far too capitalistic, right? I mean, by the time he's done, we'll be so thoroughly socialist that we'll all be bartering our trades to each other, ever eliminating the need for money. I know that will be tricky for retirees, but those panels he plans to set up should take care of them, at least most of them. There will probably be a few geriatric hangers on, maybe some hiding in the attics of their children, but it shouldn't be too tough to sniff them out.

message 29: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Joe wrote: "Alex wrote: "Don't worry. Before Obama is through, he'll probably put his pic on all our bills."

Get over it and grow up. "

I'm amazed at how people can't take jokes.

And get over what exactly?

(Oh, and I agree this book is a stinker. I'm 1/3rd through and am dreading the last 2/3rds. So dull.)

message 30: by Gypsy Lady (new)

Gypsy Lady In response to Erik Simon's question:

Where oh where is there a good book on Jackson?

Andrew Jackson : His Life And Times by H. W. Brands
ISBN: 9780385507387


Choice Reviews
In this well-written, sympathetic biography, which highlights many aspects of Andrew Jackson's personal life and public career, Brands (Univ. of Texas, Austin) supports the common views of Jackson as the most colorful and controversial political figure in the antebellum US. The author contends that Jackson can only be understood if one recognizes the underpinnings that sustained him throughout his career. Unfortunately, Brands's emphasis on Jackson's pre-presidential years results in a less than adequate discussion of several important national issues. In particular, Brands's discussion of Jackson's program to move the eastern Indians to lands west of the Mississippi offers no substantive discussion of the guile, craft, and force exercised in carrying out that program. Brands omits discussion of the president's desire to censor antislavery publications that he labeled incendiary, nor does he mention the sack of several post offices by antiabolitionists. Hopefully, this book will engender a much-needed discussion of Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian Democracy. It should be read in conjunction with Michael Rogin's Fathers and Children (1975), Edward Pessen's Jacksonian America (1969), and Russell B. Nye's Fettered Freedom (1949). Summing Up: Recommended. Public, general, and undergraduate libraries. Copyright 2006 American Library Association.

message 31: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon Thank you, gypsy lady.

message 32: by David (new)

David I just saw this review, Erik Simon!

We must have another one of our rare divergences of opinion... I loved this book! I thought it was one of the most entertaining, informative non-fictions I've read in a long time...

message 33: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon You were in it for the sex, David. You still can't shake the image of those 19th century dames lifting those petticoats.

message 34: by Tony (new) - rated it 1 star

Tony Robert Remini's three volume work on Jackson is both meticulous and riveting. Highly recommended. In fact, while I'm at it, Remini's Henry Clay, in my opinion is the single best one-volume biography.

message 35: by Tony (new) - rated it 1 star

Tony Oh, I absolutely agree with your review of Meacham's piece of crap.

message 36: by Marsha (last edited Apr 21, 2011 12:21PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Marsha Thompson Way late to conversation but..
Message 21...I agree that Jackson was a scoundrel and it was why I wanted to read something on him. This book was so disappointing because it barely covered Jackson at all and glanced over important decisions that he made and didn't cover the controversies at all. I saw a documentary on Jackson where an Indian said they would accept $20 because Jackson was on it. I agree with them (although I still accept $20)

Message 25 and 28....What a hoot but I agree with these.

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads There's a good bit about Jackson (much of it not positive, except for his behavior in the Nullification Crisis) in Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.

message 38: by Mattias (new)

Mattias I thought Howe's book very concise on Jackson, Wilentz own book all about Andrew Jackson is far better than Meacham's, thought it ends rather in awe of what he did for expanding the power of the presidency

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Does he hero-worship him as much in that one as he did in The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln?

message 40: by Mattias (new)

Mattias Susanna wrote: "Does he hero-worship him as much in that one as he did in The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln?"

Lets just say it is not very similar to Howe's section.

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I didn't appreciate the attempted whitewash of the Trail of Tears in Rise of American Democracy, that's for sure.

message 42: by Ryan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ryan Thanks for the comments, I haven't finished the book yet but so far you are spot on :-(

message 43: by Mark (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mark Shafranski I thought Meacham was lazy. Almost like he got his hands on some correspondence and thought he'd knock off a book. I agree with all of your criticisms and have many more of my own.

For what it's worth, his Jefferson book is much, much better.

message 44: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon Lazy was a good assessment, Mark, but I also think he suffered from a desire to try to find something incredibly new to say, and all that shit with his wife seemed like that thing. It's interesting you say that about his Jefferson book. I was actually at Monticello earlier this week with my son, and even though I hated Meacham's Jackson book so fiercely, I couldn't take my eye off the potential of buying his Jefferson book. But then I figured that given the sublime historical work of Ellis, Gordon Wood and others, I couldn't imagine what Meacham would possibly have to say about TJ, so I demurred.

message 45: by Mark (last edited Aug 31, 2013 07:26AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mark Shafranski I am overloaded with books so I've started using the library again. Great system here. You can order online and they deliver to your door.

I have noticed Meacham running through areas that deserve more attention in the Jefferson book as well. The Louisiana Purchase was THE major accomplishment of his presidency and deserves more than a couple of pages. Same for the botched election of 1800. He DOES give Sally Hemings LOTS of coverage.

Another problem I have is with his footnotes. I am one of those geeks who actually reads the footnotes. He has no numbering system in his text so it's really not feasible to read them concurrently, and as I discovered in his Jackson book, there was solid information there - some of which should have been in the main text.

Basically my conclusion at this point is that Meacham is more of a historical gossip columnist than a serious scholar. In fact, in the introduction to the Jackson book he evens says it is NOT intended to be a scholarly work. Than why bother?

message 46: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Simon That's it: historical gossip columnist. Thus all the Sally Hemmings stuff, and if you really want the full skinny on Hemmings, get Annette Gordon-Reed's book.

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads "Historical gossip columnist": fabulous.

message 48: by Alex (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex Macd If you haven't read it, What God Hath Wrought has some excellent portions on Jackson. A reader interested in Jackson would be better of just reading the parts of that book that discuss him than reading Meacham's subpar effort.

message 50: by Monica (last edited Jan 10, 2014 10:15PM) (new)

Monica I have the good fortune of staying in New Orleans for a couple weeks and this thread came to mind during a visit to The Civil War Museum. We visited Destrehan, the nearest plantation named after the former owner appointed by Thomas Jefferson to write the constitution for Louisiana. It was a revelation to see a copy of the Louisiana Purchase and that it was written in French. In 1811 there was a revolt in the region that left 21 slaves dead, 45 tried and executed, 22 imprisoned and 27 missing. The men who were found guilty were executed by firing squad. Their heads were then displayed on pikes at that plantation.

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