Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson
David S. Reynolds, Harper, 466 pp., $29.95.
This Bancroft Prize winner (Walt Whitman’s America) weaves a richly suggestive picture of the period’s fascinating social and intellectual history. This was a riotous, explosive time fired by supercharged cultural dynamics. Filling the broad stage are the Transcendentalists and Hudson River School, P.T. Barnum, and the Second Great Awakening, along with a goggle-eyed cast of reformers, abolitionists, temperance pushers, mesmerists, prostitutes and humbugs. The result: The whiplash changes and conflicts in the nation’s mores and morals come alive in a well-paced, entertaining narrative.
Jon Meacham, Random House, 483 pp., $30.
Andrew Jackson seemed emotionally volcanic, but as often as not, he was using his outbursts to get what he wanted. Here the editor of Newsweek and bestselling author of Franklin and Winston and American Gospel peers deep into Old Hickory’s inner circle to track his pivotal presidency. Abetted by fresh archival material, Meacham manages against the odds to illuminate Jackson’s psyche and shed new light on his paradoxical personality, relationships, policies and politics.
Originally published in the April 2009 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.