Books reviews are entirely my opinion and I am not editor. Please take them with a pound of salt. If you are looking for an in depth review, this is not it.
‘American Lion’ focuses on President Andrew Jackson’s years in the White House, though it does cover his life start to finish. I became interested in the book after the author’s lively interview on the Daily Show. Then I forgot about it until I saw it lying on a friend’s shelf. He graciously lent me the book.
The most fascinating part of the book dealt with the South Carolina Nullification crisis during Jackson’s time in office. The crisis was adverted, but the legal standing of a state’s right to nullify federal laws was not resolved. The Nullification crisis & its roots laid much of the legal groundwork for the American Civil War. The South made many arguments about the ‘intents of the Framers’, to support their position, much like modern American politicians do today.
Monroe, a Founding Father (a Framer, former President, author of the ‘Virginia Resolutions’ cited in legal support of Nullification) was alive and vocal that the ‘Virgina Resolutions’ did not extend to nullification and nullification of federal laws was not intended by the Constitution. He was roundly ignored by the South.
I found I learned more about the politics swirling about in the early days of America than about Jackson himself. I had heard of the Eaton affair in AP American History class, but was unaware of its impact on national politics. It caused Jackson to expel his niece for awhile from the position of White House Hostess (now understood the be the duties of the First Lady), determined who would be Jackson’s party’s successor(the next President), and even led one Cabinet minster to attempt to murder another.
On Style & Presentation:
I was expecting a lively and engaging narrative style was severely disappointed in that regard. Large swatches of the book are exceedingly dry, and not good about conveying why I should care about its current topic. Some sections were so disjointed that I lost the narrative thread entirely. However, there were a couple chapters that I could not put down.
I also felt he told me about Jackson’s character more than demonstrating Jackson’s character. There are some vignettes to support his opinion of Jackson’s personality. They occurred much later in the book, after I had become annoyed at the overuse of adjectives and under use of examples. I wish he had held off his view of Jackson’s until the supporting narrative had a chance to appear.
I also wish it had come with a family tree of Jackson’s relations. The many similar names often made it hard to follow who was whom, especially when citing family sources. Which Andrew wrote this particular quote? The man himself, his adopted son, his nephew, or one of his more distant relations?
- Did I learn something?
- Yes, about the legal origins of the American Civil War.
- I did not learn as much about Jackson’s inner workings as I expected.
- Did I enjoy the time spent reading it?
- I would say I enjoyed about a third of the book. My friend did not bother finishing it.
- Would I recommend it?
- To someone trying to understand the evolution of the American presidency and capable of skimming, yes.
- To anyone else, no.