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Jon Meacham: Biography

Research guide that explores the work of Jon Meacham

Video Interviews with Jon Meacham

The following are video interviews with Jon Meacham in which he discusses major American historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson and  Andrew Jackson.

Biography

PERSONAL INFORMATION: Born May 20, 1969 in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Education: University of the South, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1969.
Addresses: Office: Newsweek, 251 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
 
CAREER: Journalist and writer. Chattanooga Times, Chattanooga, TN, journalist, 1991-92; Washington Monthly, Washington, DC, journalist, 1992-95; Newsweek, New York, NY, writer and national affairs editor, 1995-98, managing editor, 1998-2006, editor, 2006--. Member, U.S. Council on Foreign Relations; judge, Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; former member of the board of trustees and of the board of regents, University of the South; vestry member, Trinity Church Wall Street; member, Leadership Council of the Harvard Divinity School; board of trustees, Churchill Centre.
 
AWARDS: National Magazine Award for General Excellence, 2001, for Newsweek; named World Economic Forum Global Leader of Tomorrow; Book of the year, Los Angeles Times, Emery Reves Award, Churchill Centre, 2005, and Book of the Year Award, William H. Colby Military Writers' Symposium, all for Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship; Pulitzer Prize for biography, 2009, for American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House; Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Medal, Anti-Defamation League. Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Berkeley Divinity School, Yale University.
 
WORKS:

WRITINGS:

  • (Editor) Voices in Our Blood: America's Best on the Civil Rights Movement, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
  • American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
  • American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Random House (New York, NY), 2008.

Contributing editor to Washington Monthly; contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Book Review, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and Smithsonian.

 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH:

Jon Meacham was just turning thirty in 1999 when he was named a managing editor at Newsweek. As editor of Voices in Our Blood: America's Best on the Civil Rights Movement, Meacham uses his gift for seeing the whole story to gather together what Edward G. McCormack called in the Library Journal "a solid collection of acclaimed 'voices' narrating the environment, origin, and progress of the Civil Rights movement." The book includes essays and book excerpts focusing on writers' personal experiences with race issues during the 1950s and 1960s and includes such acclaimed authors as James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and William Faulkner. "Since Meacham is a journalist ... he includes the works of his personal heroes--older journalists with a keen eye for the characters, ironies, and the outright deceptions of race relations in American life," wrote Juan Williams in the Washington Monthly. Williams called Voices in Our Blood the "perfect antidote to any childish version of civil rights history" and noted: "Acting as a maestro for an orchestra of gifted writers, Meacham succeeds at transporting the reader to the confused heart of American race relations, down to the core of the misunderstandings, the invitations to hate and the violence." Ann Burns and Emily Joy Jones, writing in the Library Journal, commented that "this diverse collection illuminates the history of that decade." Black Issues Book Review contributor Glenn Townes noted that "Meacham ... is to be commended for launching and editing such an absorbing and stellar tribute to our struggle."

Meacham focuses on another important time in history with his book Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship. Meacham delves into one of the most important relationships in the twentieth century as U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill formed a strong political alliance during World War II. On his Internet home page, Meacham described the book as "the first full-scale biography of the emotional connection between Roosevelt and Churchill." Meacham traces the evolution of this "connection" from the pair's first meeting at a banquet in London in 1918 to Roosevelt's death in 1945. Over the course of their correspondence during the war, the two wrote approximately two thousand letters to each other, with Roosevelt composing his final letter the eve before his death. In addition to letters between the two, Meacham's sources included new collections of papers, such as the papers of Pamela Churchill Harriman and unpublished letters of Roosevelt's secret love. Meacham also interviewed several people who worked with the world leaders and helped shed light on their complex relationship, which included intense mutual respect and affection as well as the intrigues and deceptions inherent on a world stage.

Writing in Campaigns & Elections, Ron Faucheux called Franklin and Winston "a book about leadership at a time when leadership mattered most" and also noted that the book "is a joy to read." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "All in all, he does a wonderful job of capturing not only the friendship between the two men, but also the tensions that build as the world turns to war." Writing in Time, Lance Morrow called the book "a close-focus historical tracking shot of the two men, very human, heroic and imperfect, moving along through--and making--great history." New York Times Book Review contributor David Walton maintained that Franklin and Winston is "written with grace and conviction."

In his next book, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, Meacham examines America's history in relation to Americans' views on God and religion, especially as these views relate to politics and government. The author chronicles the differences and early theological battles between various religions in the United States, such as the Quakers and the Anglicans. He also examines the conundrum of slavery and presents his case that religion within the newly formed United States was sectarian in nature and not ecumenical (that is, interested in fostering unity among different religions). Writing in America, R. Bentley Anderson commented that the author "challenges the common notion of the role religion has played in the history of the nation, specifically by those promoting a particular interpretation of our religious history for social and political purposes."

Commenting on the Washington Post Online about why he decided to write the book, the author noted: "It was one day ... when in a single edition of the New York Times a Nobel laureate in science was quoted ... saying one could not be a believer and be a scientist and, deeper in the paper, Pat Robertson was reported to have called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez--hardly the most Christian of utterances. My sense ... is that most Americans are far more moderate than either of those two extremes, and that the great good news about the country ... is that religion shapes the life of the nation without controlling it or strangling it."

In a review of American Gospel in First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, Michael Novak commented that he thought the book is "surprisingly congenial, thoughtful, and informative." William F. Buckley, Jr., writing in the National Review, noted that "Mr. Meacham's invaluable book serves as a lodestar for original thought on--the American gospel."

For his next book, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Meacham presents a biography of the seventh president of the United States. While biographies of Jackson abound, Meacham's is unique in that he had access to some of Jackson's previously undiscovered letters. In addition, the biography explores Jackson's successful plan to lend the presidency greater political power, as well as Jackson's amorally realistic views on slavery. Peter Lewis remarked in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Meacham marvels at Jackson's unheralded political savvy. He was frequently rash, but knew how to contain the damage. He understood the value of amends and reconciliation." The book, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for biography, was almost universally praised. According to Janet Maslin in the New York Times, American Lion, "Meacham's carefully analytical biography, looks past the theatrics and posturing to the essential elements of Jackson's many showdowns." She added: "Mr. Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, dispenses with the usual view of Jackson as a Tennessee hothead and instead sees a cannily ambitious figure determined to reshape the power of the presidency during his time in office (1829 to 1837). Case by case, Mr. Meacham dissects Jackson's battles and reinterprets them in a revealing new light."

Lewis was also impressed with the biography, and he observed that "most gratifyingly, Meacham concentrates his energies upon Jackson as president, rather than on all the honk and incidence that preceded his presidency--what marked his tenure in office as singular, what endured." To Andrew Cayton, writing in the New York Times Book Review, "American Lion is enormously entertaining, especially in the deft descriptions of Jackson's personality and domestic life in his White House." Still, he also complained that "Meacham has missed an opportunity to reflect on the nature of American populism as personified by Jackson." In a more glowing assessment, however, Houston Chronicle contributor Douglas Brinkley reported: "Meacham gives us the most readable single-volume biography ever written of our seventh president," adding that he "offer[s] fresh analysis on the central issues of [Jackson's] presidency." Brinkley thus concluded: "While in the hands of a lesser writer this economics-laden history might glaze a reader's eyes, Meacham skillfully brings to life ... long-forgotten characters." As Boston Globe reviewer Rich Barlow pointed out, "Barack Obama and John McCain battled mightily for the presidency because the job matters. Meacham has produced a readable reminder for a new generation of Jackson's part in investing the office with such influence. He titles his epilogue, 'He Still Lives.' He does indeed."

 Excerpted from:
"Jon Meacham." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 30 Aug. 2012.
 
Access the full biography by visiting the "Literature Resources from GALE" database on the Alabama Virtual Library: www.avl.lib.al.us.