Emily Post (Random House, $30) began life in the world of Manhattan’s bluebloods, but after a painful, humiliating scandal due to her husband’s indiscretions, she inventively found new skills—including those of a novelist—to become self-supporting. Etiquette had always been a lively interest in America, as a nation of immigrants from class-hardened European societies anxiously sought guidelines for how to behave in a classless society. Books on manners were already plentiful by 1922 when Emily Post’s Etiquette appeared, but her book soon became a bestseller, and the name “Emily Post” attained the same brand recognition as Victrola phonographs and Kodak cameras. Laura Claridge’s new biography follows the doyenne of manners as she expanded her interests beyond social strictures to social justice, becoming a passionate advocate for immigrants and women.
Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek and author of Franklin and Winston, says of Jackson that “the virtues and vices of this single man tell us much about the virtues and vices of our country.” American Lion (Random House, $30) is Meacham’s portrait of Jackson’s years in power. He draws on previously unavailable letters of Jackson’s intimate circle. Jackson was born in the Carolina backwoods; his father died before his birth, and he was orphaned at 14. He received little formal schooling, and when Harvard bestowed an honorary degree on him in 1833, John Quincy Adams refused to attend Harvard’s “disgrace in conferring her highest honor upon a barbarian who would not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.” Jackson assumed the presidency in 1829 amid ongoing secessionist crises. He advocated extending freedom and democracy to the poorest whites and he worked to expand the powers of the presidency in ways that Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt would follow. A champion of the common man, he was also the first president to insist upon deference due the chief executive.
As the roster of journalist-historians grows, the world of academic historians increasingly regards them as doctors see chiropractors. Although the academics may grumble, Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, demonstrates in American Lion (Random House, $18) that he knows how to research new primary sources and gather the fruits for a fresh assessment of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Because Meacham heavily invokes character and setting, he is regarded as a “popular historian”; thus The New York Times described this biography as “enormously entertaining.” But Meacham finally received the respect he deserves for this monumental study: it won the Pulitzer Prize. The Jackson he describes was a rich contradiction of kind and brutal, populist and haughty—in short, a colorful character who defies easy definition.
For Our Lincoln (W.W. Norton, $27.95), one of the nation’s leading historians, Eric Foner, assembled a group of scholars to rethink Lincoln in light of contemporary scholarship. Some have already written about Lincoln, and others are those “whose work sheds new light on nineteenth-century America.” Many will be familiar to P&P readers: David Blight, James Oakes, Harold Holzer, and Sean Wilentz, and, of course, James McPherson. The implication is that we need Lincoln as much now as ever. In his introduction Foner notes that as long as issues such as “presidential leadership, constitutional liberty in wartime, the relationship between religion and politics remain unresolved challenges… Lincoln will remain central to an understanding of ourselves as a nation and a people.”