Book: The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

Author: Jon Meacham

Review by: Jorge Fernandez, vice president of global commerce, Metro Atlanta Chamber

Jorge Fernandez

The essence of this book is an examination of the American socio-political history through the prism of our internal conflicts as Americans, and what effects this has on the broader whole of our republic.

Author Jon Meacham calls this the “contest that unfolds in the soul of each one of us as Americans that most of times chooses to side with the angels, but at times our souls’ darker forces win out over the noble ones.”

The book is a thorough introspection of the soul of the American state, a republic comprised of the sum of its parts — where we are the state and the state is us, where we elect the leadership from those among those us.

Meacham posits that while America is founded on liberty, it is essential that this liberty must be founded on virtue. Leadership based on persuasion, conciliation, education and patience depends on this, and he argues that a state founded on virtue makes good governance possible, regulating corrupted citizens and curbing the tendency toward tyranny.

Our American history is one of constant struggles that have divided us many at times, and yet, we have persevered because we have kept freedom as our foundation. 

Meacham walks us through an analysis of the dynamics that shaped the tumultuous periods of slavery, the Civil War, the ensuing reconstruction period and the rise of the KKK. Later he looks at the struggle for women’s suffrage and ongoing fears of immigration, foreign languages, the “rising tide from color” and the supposed encroachment of Judaism, Catholicism and other “different” religions.

The book challenges us to accept that the only way to make sense of our struggles is to shoulder the responsibility for them, to acknowledge that we own them. And that means we must understand the history that shapes us.

As we welcome 2019, this is a must-read book for those of us that “struggle” to make sense of the hubris shaping the current political conjuncture in America.

Read Mr. Fernandez’s previous reviews:

Books 2017: Complex Family Histories After Fleeing Nazi Germany for the Americas

Books 2016: Three Warnings Against Absolute Power

Books 2015: Understanding China’s World War II Experience

Books 2013: Murder, Intrigue and Architecture at the Chicago World’s Fair

Editor’s note: This review is part of Global Atlanta’s annual project asking influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued each year since 2011. Purchases through the Amazon affiliate links at top will provide a commission to Global Atlanta. All reviews were written independently with only mild editing from our staff.

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