American Lion

american-lionThe last few weeks of the semester are a bitch.  You never have enough time to do what you enjoy (reading, drinking, carousing, relaxing, etc) and there’s always a load of work that seems soul-crushing.  Sometimes, though, you luck out with one of the assignments.  I had to “read a Presidential biography” for The American Presidency.  I love politics, I love the Presidency, but I just had the feeling that any book I read would end up putting me to sleep with its lofty prose and its blustery scholarship.  Instead, I ended up finding one of the best biographies I’ve ever read – Jon Meacham’s American Lion.

Andrew Jackson is a rather divisive figure in American politics – when I told my uncle Ron that I was excitedly reading this book, he went off about how Jackson the person is such a repulsive figure that he didn’t see how anyone could appreciate him otherwise.  It turns out, though, that Jackson isn’t so repulsive after all.  I mean, yes, he did kick out the Indians (to the point of essentially having committed genocide) and he was a violently tempered individual.  He was also, though, fiercely loyal and loving, especially to “his” people.  He loved his family and above all he loved this country.

The book is pretty short for a bio – but that’s because it glosses Jackson’s early (and, indeed, later) life.  This is a book mainly about his Presidency.  As a result, it is more focussed.  It works because it moves at a pretty rapid pace.  It never gets bogged down in aggrandizing scholarly prose and it just sounds like a much more accessible work.  The “plot” (such as it is) moves quickly and the tension around Jackson’s (successful) attempt to pull the Presidency to the center of American life is palpable.  I mean, you know how it ends (even if you don’t, you know the President today is REALLY POWERFUL and its made clear that he wasn’t back then) and yet you’re still fascinated by how its going to work out.  Part of this is that magnetism that Jackson apparently exuded to everyone he came in contact with… but part of the credit must go to Meacham for writing it so effectively.

That doesn’t mean it keeps your interest for the entire time – I’m not a big biography person let alone American history biographies (which is strange, considering I’m all about politics, or at least I was.  but that’s neither here nor there – probably better served to read about that on the Tumblr….) – and as a result, you’ll definitely find yourself putting the book down and moving on without much impetus. Like, literally, something shiny might go by and you end up putting the book down and doing sixteen other things before you come back.  It isn’t a grabber, that’s for sure…. and yet, when you have the time to sit and read it, you find yourself engrossed.

This dichotomy, however, doesn’t detract.  It is a good read and when I am reading it, I find myself moving through it pretty quickly.  It just took me longer to finish than I expected because, well, I just found other things to do.  Speaking of other things to do, now that classes are done and I’m just studying for finals… a whole month of pleasure reading is right around the corner.  Stephen King, the other new Olive Editions, 2666, Christmas presents… here I come!

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