Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard and Lincoln Professor of History, has written five studies of the slave-holding South.  Her new history, This Republic Of Suffering (Knopf, $27.95), examines the omnipresence of death throughout the country during the Civil War. Some 620,000 American soldiers died—roughly equal to the number of American combat deaths in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War combined.  By the end of the Civil War, this massive scale of shared suffering helped override any differences still standing between North and South. Faust notes that the Civil War determined how military deaths are handled today, as primary responsibility for recovering and identifying bodies passed from the family to the nation.   Faust’s book is a finalist for the National Book Award in non-fiction.

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Vintage Civil War Library) Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9780375703836
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Published: Vintage - January 6th, 2009

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.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780812973464
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Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - April 30th, 2009

David Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, won the Bancroft Prize in American History for Walt Whitman’s America.   His new book, Waking Giant (HarperCollins, $29.95), looks beyond the Jackson presidency to the social and cultural movements of the years between 1815 and 1848.  Reynolds argues that this era is the richest in American history—a bold assertion, but his narrative of this brash and bumptious period, rife  with social ferment and literary and artistic flourishing, well supports his claim.  The elitist Anglophiles from the Hamilton and Adams years were pushed out, and in came the excesses of the gambler and duelist Henry Clay and a president, Andrew Jackson, whose chest was pockmarked from bullets taken in brawls and duels.  In the background throughout this period were ominous rumblings from the southern states, which would burst into the foreground in the savagery of the Civil War.

Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (American History) Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780060826574
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Published: Harper Perennial - September 29th, 2009

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