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The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  11,632 ratings  ·  1,991 reviews
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment in American politics and life by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame division and fear.

Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" have repeatedly won
Kindle Edition, 372 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by Random House
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Liz A friend recommended it and lent it to me. As horrible and depressing as the state of our union is now, the book helped me to see that not only has th…moreA friend recommended it and lent it to me. As horrible and depressing as the state of our union is now, the book helped me to see that not only has this country had its share of challenges, but that they have been overcome by action, voting, engagement, persistence.(less)
Gregory Alterton I say this as a Republican voter my entire adult life, who didn't vote for Trump, and left the GOP when it became clear Trump would be the nominee....…moreI say this as a Republican voter my entire adult life, who didn't vote for Trump, and left the GOP when it became clear Trump would be the nominee....Trump's election was in large part due to a reactionary vote. Not a conservative vote, but a reactionary one. But, there was a lot to be reactive against: a largely stagnant economy; a greater concern for gender-neutral public restrooms (and other PC goals) than concern about Middle Americans falling behind; the sense that people who kept the rules, where raising their families, who held to traditional values were being disdained by the ruling elites. Whether any of this was true, this was the perception.

I don't disagree with the substance of most of Trump's agenda. But he is a bombastic, demagogic opportunist who doesn't have a coherent view of governance, doesn't inspire much more than simply reaction and fear, who when the polls start to tank goes on the road to hold a rally to crank up his base. In short, he isn't a decent leader and doesn't appear to be a decent person. Meacham has said (quoting Harry Truman, I believe) that America gets the President it deserves. When the Democrats nominate one of the most corrupt sociopaths ever to run for national office (and not a "better angel" as Meacham might suggest), and the GOP is taken over by angry voters who just want to smash the status quo, then yes, Trump is something of an aberration. "Experts" are, once again, predicting a "Blue Wave" this November, but to my way of thinking, if they want to replace Republican control of Congress, they need to offer an appealing alternative, not a rehash of a failed ideology which brought ruin to hundreds of millions in the 20th Century. Both parties are way too extreme.

Meacham offers some hope, that Americans have navigated rough waters before, and I'm looking forward to reading his take on how that happened. But once Trump destroys what's left of traditional conservatism and the Republican Party, and the Democrats kick most Americans in the teeth with new taxes, new regulations, and favorable deals for their tribalist constituencies, I wonder who, actually, will be steering the ship of state.(less)

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Bill Kerwin
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics

”The past is never dead; it is not even past.”—William Faulkner

In August of 2017, after the deadly alt-right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Time’s editor Nancy Gibbs called up Jon Meacham and asked him if he had any thoughts on the subject. The Pulitzer prize-winning historian—and a son of the South who literally grew up on the Missionary Ridge battlefield—began to reflect on the words of Faulkner quoted above, and how the “American battles over power and race and history” have, “with aston
Elizabeth George
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If there were a six star category, I would give this book six stars. It's a book that should be read by every thinking American who is worried, concerned, or devastated by what is going on and has gone on in our country since Donald Trump was elected President. Yet....this is a hopeful book. Meacham posits that we have been in desperate situations before as a country, and we have survived. He covers everything from the Civil War to the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan to the McCarthy hearings t ...more
Michael Ferro
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels should be required reading for every American in these divisive times. Now more than ever we need to not only recognize just how deep our societal division is, but remember that we have been in times like this before (though it's hard to remember) and come out a stronger nation... well, most of the time.

Of particular interest to me was the study of the mythical "Lost Cause" and the pathos that resulted in the resulting one hundred years of r
Diane S ☔
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nfr-2020
I read somewhere that Meacham was helping in writing speeches for Biden and after reading this I can see where the positive messages prevailed. The soul of America, our better Angels, our country under assault from nefarious politics forces, truer than ever even months after the election. Meachams book show the many different times in our history, from Revolutionary times to the present, that our democracy, our nation has been threatened. Yet, we've always prevailed. Interesting reading, loved t ...more
David Eppenstein
"I've got the the biggest brains, I'm going to be the biggest man in the United States." Sound familiar ? Think you recognize the speaker? I thought so too. I was wrong. The speaker was a man named David Stephenson who was a major leader of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's who was subsequently arrested for kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young woman but was convicted of second degree murder. This book is full of quotes like this from historic figures we will all recognize as well as many ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio, overdrive
This author is considerably more hopeful and inspirational about the current state of our country than many of the books I have read recently. I hope that he is correct that leaders of character will emerge to appeal to our better natures, but they certainly aren't emerging in the White House or Congress at the moment. He examines many times in which we have been tested and actually managed to survive the test and make things better for people, rather than taking giant steps backwards.

The book
J.L.   Sutton
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Blog | Professional Public Speakers | Motivational Business ...

In The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, Jon Meachum explores dark partisan divides in the U.S. including the Civil War/Reconstruction (and birth of the 'Lost Cause'), iterations of the Ku Klux Klan, McCarthyism as well as the forces that gathered to fight the Civil Rights movement. Meachum's thesis is that courage and decency (Abraham Lincoln's 'better angels of our nature') will win the day. With great research and a well-crafted narrative, Meachum further argues that progres
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is time to put The Soul of America on the shelf for a while. I keep on coming back to sections such as his discussion of the iterations of the KKK. Meacham is a fine historian and this may be his finest ever. IT IS THE BEST BOOK THAT I READ IN 2018. He can acknowledge where we have fallen short but describes with precision and passion what brought us back from disaster as a democracy.

I have delved into Fire and Fury, Fear (by Woodward) and Comey’s book. I find no further need to plumb the dep
May 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
My only complaint about this book, and it’s not minor, is it’s reactionary tone to Donald Trump. It’s as if only the rise of Trump gave rise to this book, and that weakens the message. The Soul of America and indeed the humanity that Meachum describes, is in all of us, American or not, no matter who is president. No matter the era.

Make no mistake: The message is a good one for the national freak out currently in progress. Things have been much much worse. And good people, and even bad people wh
Michael Austin
May 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2018
Jon Meacham's The Soul of America is this week's entry in what has become a major genre: a well-known academic or public intellectual writes a scholarly book for a popular audience that demonstrates just how much of an outlier--historically or politically--Donald Trump is. Among the books I have recently read in this genre are Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die, Robert Reich's The Common Good, Cass Sunstein's #Republic, Amy Chua's Political Tribes, Madeline Albright's Fasci ...more
The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels is a beautiful book written to give one hope in these troubled times by veteran historian Jon Meacham. Basically, it recounts the struggles that this country has had from its beginnings and how many American presidents have risen to the occasion, as well as this country's influential activists, striving to keep this democracy alive and in the "search for the better angels of our nature."

"We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies
Casey Wheeler
I received a free Kindle copy of The Soul of America by Jon Meacham courtesy of Net Galley  and Random House, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.

I requested this book as I have read a number of books (all biographies) by the author and the description made it very interesting. 

Meacham describes accurately

3.5 Stars

Listened to the audiobook. Narration was good, not great.
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I watched Jon Meacham on the Real Time by Bill Maher. He talked about how he is hopeful for the future and trump is nothing new in American history. I decided that I needed to read this book because I needed something uplifting to read. As I listened to this audiobook, I did not feel reassured nor hopeful. I still feel fearful of the future of America. Most of this book is a recounting of history from the civil war, reconstruction, the rise of the Klan, Jim Crow laws, McCarthism, the internment ...more
"The message of Martin Luther King Jr.... dwells in the American soul, so does the menace of the Ku Klux Klan."

This book is a direct response to the Trump era and it was written in light of the events of Charlottesville, VA in 2017. Meacham makes the argument that our current moment may be dark but history shows we can rise above it.
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A gripping and informative analysis of the pivotal moments in American history and the courageous individuals who made a difference.

Author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment in American politics by looking back at critical times in our past when hope overcame division and fear. Meacham proclaims that our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and he shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” have repeatedly won the day.

America has ge
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a really hopeful book, but also a little boring. The end passage is the most vital. Things are not worse than they have been and we can get over it. The message may be more optimistic than is my usual leaning, but he does show how racism, xenophobia, corruption, etc have always been with us and so have the drives toward equality, acceptance, and reform.
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
A timely book by a man who speaks as eloquently as he writes. The book is inspired by events in Charlottesville, where I was fortunate enough to hear him speak in mid-June, 2018, shortly after I finished the book. Mr. Meacham revisits U.S. history reminding us that though the American soul has both bright/good parts and dark/bad parts, its "moral arc" bends, as MLK said, towards justice. ...more
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is nothing new under the sun. I believed this for years, until the 2016 election. I have watched with shock and despair the path our country has taken under the current leadership. Surely, nothing like this has happened in this country . And if it has, not to the precipice that we find ourselves teetering on.
Enter Jon Meacham, veteran historian. Page by page I was taken on a journey through our political/social past. Through the eyes and words of presidents from our distant and recent pa
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've watched Jon Meacham on cable TV and liked his lectures, so I gave his history book a read and found it interesting and enlightening. He discusses U.S. presidents and their handling of major problems. He includes lots of quotes and footnotes. It made for a nice change of pace for my reading list.

Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"He . . . understood people, and when it came time to make decisions, he was willing to take the responsibility . . . He had a good head and a great brain and a kind heart . . . He was the best kind of ordinary man. I mean that as high praise, not deprecation . . . He's one of the people and becomes distinguished in the service that he gives other people." -- Harry S. Truman on Abraham Lincoln

Author Meacham details various moments in U.S. history when certain presidents (Lincoln, both of the Ro
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is such an important book to read if you have concerns regarding what the implications may be resulting from positions taken and rhetoric spoken by our current administration. Meacham speaks to times such as this throughout American history when we have faced dark days, but we have triumphed and those darker impulses have been rebuked. He speaks to numerous divisions at various times in our history and how we have healed afterwards. This book helps me to continue my vigil as "dissent does n ...more
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish Jon Meachum would narrate all his audiobooks; his voice is wonderful to listen to. Excellent books, perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about history and our politicians foibles.
David Huff
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible,” the theologian and thinker Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1944, “but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” We try; we fail; but we must try again, and again, and again, for only in trial is progress possible. -- Jon Meacham

This was a fascinating and a timely read, filled with both historical insight and hope. There are in our current times any number of reasons for Americans to react when they read the news, and to feel not j
May 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is easy perhaps in 2018 with the frequent vulgar twitter outbursts, invectives against enemies real and otherwise, and attempts to delegitimize the basic fabric of government coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (or Florida I suppose), that the American project is facing the greatest crisis it has ever faced.
The author acknowledges that things are bad but he sees in America’s history that this moment is far from unique. From wars, to crippling depressions, to internal strife, America is no
Joseph Sciuto
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jon Meacham's "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels" is a must read, especially for those among us who are not familiar with the racism that has infested our great nation since the time of the American Revolution. Thankfully, as Mr. Meacham has so poignantly pointed out, with each infestation there have been men and women who have stood up to such evil and kept our nation on a path toward righteousness from Presidents Lincoln, Grant, TR, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, John ...more
Oct 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, John Meacham, author; Fred Sanders, narrator*
This author chose to read, in his own voice, the first hour and last half hour, or so, of his book. He narrates what seems to be an effort to smear the right side of politics and buoy up the left. In an innocent, almost pained tone of voice, he presents his opinion about the state of politics and government in the current White House. He is obviously disappointed and unhappy about who won the elec
Chris Carson
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Meacham is a superb storyteller, historian and Presidential scholar. His book is timely as our country faces the most (disgusting) unusual ascendency of a candidate to the office of President since Andy Jackson.

The United States has survived and thrived because the majority of its citizens have followed the course of its “better angels.” Hopefully this abnormal interlude will end soon and the values that truly make our country great throughout the world will once again be the standard.
Steven Z.
Jun 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Reading Jon Meacham’s latest historical work, THE SOUL OF AMERICA: THE BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS at the same time as the federal government is separating immigrant families into “relocation centers” reminiscent of Japanese internment camps during World War II is extremely disturbing. It is not a stretch to label the Trump administration’s immigration policies as racist when one considers the language and comments of those like Steven Miller and company, especially the president. However you d ...more
Kym Moore
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing

I have been reading a variety of history books throughout the years and the historical accounts in this book by Jon Meacham are like we are currently reliving the past wearing new clothes with the same attitude. While this book contained a plethora of information to digest, here are a few revelatory takeaways that are critical alarms and reminders of the past that we see surging in our present. History truly does repeat itself and in so many cases, as listed in this book, t
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Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek, a Pulitzer Prize winning bestselling author and a commentator on politics, history, and religious faith in America.

Articles featuring this book

  A comforting balm. A much-needed diversion. Time spent with an old friend. Childhood memories and annual traditions. We asked the...
50 likes · 23 comments
“In our finest hours, though, the soul of the country manifests itself in an inclination to open our arms rather than to clench our fists;” 15 likes
“The coward, then, is a despairing sort of person; for he fears everything,” Aristotle wrote. “The brave man, on the other hand, has the opposite disposition; for confidence is the mark of a hopeful disposition.” 14 likes
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