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Examining The Fiery Legacy Of Andrew Jackson

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

A certain war-grizzled maverick has inspired a flurry of popular interest over the past few years, and it's easy to understand why. Something about Andrew Jackson seems to speak to this era's political sensibilities. The country's first true up-by-the-bootstraps president reshaped the executive branch and changed the process of electioneering. He was pragmatic, confrontational and canny, fiercely loyal and occasionally brutal.

Jon Meacham's biography, American Lion, delineates the path of a man molded by conflict. Orphaned by the American War of Independence, Jackson became a prisoner of war at the age of 13. When he refused to clean a British officer's boots, the soldier slashed him across the forehead with his sword, scarring him for life. From frontier lawyer, he became a war hero, planter and politician. The political elite generally found Jackson to be impossible and he relied on a populist approach to gain traction in his career.

As editor of Newsweek and the author of a book about Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, Meacham brings a nuanced perspective to Jackson's fiery battles, which ranged from the debate over a national bank to the social acceptability of the wife of his secretary of war. He seems to have fought nearly all of them with equal vigor.

Jackson consolidated presidential power, enhancing the strength of his veto and using it early and often. And while he passionately opposed a federal bank in the belief that it was his duty to protect the masses from the rich and corrupt, he displayed precious little compassion for the masses who were black or American Indians. Jackson sent the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.

The Houston Chronicle described American Lion as "the most readable single-volume biography ever written of our seventh president." Meacham's discussion of American Lion took place in January 2009 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.