three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
By: 
H. W. Brands
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0

His Life and Times

A-AndrewJacksonFresh from his success with The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, critically acclaimed historian H. W. Brands turns to Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) in this lengthy but engaging biography of our seventh president. Filled with the political intrigue and captivating details that cover the time from Jackson’s humble birth to his presidential tenure (1829–37), the biography illustrates how the iron-willed Jackson helped change the nature of the presidency through his populist ideologies, bank and tariff policies, and preparation for a possible civil war. Brands spares no details about Old Hickory’s brutality toward Native Americans, support of slavery, and expansionist tendencies. He concludes, however, that Jackson preserved the Union and defended democratic values and liberties.
Doubleday. 640 pages. $35. ISBN: 0385507380

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"In his revealing new biography … H.W. Brands provides a masterful, detailed account of Jackson’s life and his contributions to the nation. Thoroughly researched and thoughtfully told … Andrew Jackson recounts the perils that threatened the United States in its early decades, and Jackson’s role in preserving the Union and defending the liberty and lives of its citizens." Bob Van Brocklin

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"Repeating his well-established and successful gambit of offering a new look at old subjects as he did in Lone Star Nation and the much ballyhooed The First American, University of Texas historian H.W. Brands applies his sometimes folksy prose style to a thorough and detailed life of Andrew Jackson. … In spite of annoying punctuation errors throughout, this new biography of Jackson presents a highly readable and entertaining story of a nation trying to shape cloudy abstractions into concrete realities and to test the veracity of philosophical ideals." Clay Reynolds

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"With a focus on Jackson’s hardscrabble beginnings and the growth of post–Revolutionary War America, Brands’s work is by no means a comprehensive look at Jackson and his impact on the country. … In general, the book aims to present a straightforward narrative of Jackson’s life, but Brands does indulge in one interesting compare-and-contrast analysis. While historians usually set Old Hickory against his Senate opponents—the Great Triumvirate of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun—Brands prefers to focus on Jackson’s erstwhile ally, presidential predecessor and finally bitter enemy, John Quincy Adams." Joshua Spivak

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Andrew Jackson may be the most important American not yet exhumed in the rush to learn from the leading lights of our early history. … Brands is drawn toward the dramatic and serves up everything you might expect in a ripping yarn: murderous duels, savage Indian raids, equally savage counterattacks and a lot of detail about Jackson’s scorched-earth campaigns in Louisiana and Florida." Ted Widmer

Critical Summary

Critics agree that even though there’s mild interest in the life of President Andrew Jackson, the author who could spark a forest fire of curiosity would be acclaimed biographer, H. W. Brands, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. In tackling the life and times of Jackson, Brands doesn’t overlook any of the controversial aspects of "Old Hickory" and his history. Who remembered that Jackson killed a man for disrespecting his wife, was fiercely protective of his honor, and adored veto power (Brands claims he vetoed more bills than the previous six presidents combined)? While critics praised Brands for placing Jackson squarely within the context of the republic’s formative years, they faulted him for offering scant new material and focusing more on Old Hickory’s military career than his influential political one. Still, this warts-and-all biography will engage readers interested in the nation’s early history.

The Classic

The Age of Jackson | Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1945): Award Star Pulitzer Prize. In this influential, controversial history of the early republic, Schlesinger sketches the conflicts and personalities that shaped modern American democracy.