The best books about Andrew Jackson’s bizarre, violent, divisive – but still very significant – life

Sean Patrick Adams Author Of A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson
By Sean Patrick Adams

Who am I?

I’ve been a historian of the period for more than two decades, and I am still fascinated by Andrew Jackson. He captures the attention of my undergraduate students and his name offers one of the best ways to start a shouting match at an academic conference. As I sifted through the various accounts of Jackson for this book, I was amazed at the range. Writers dealing with the same individual concluded that he was either a product of his age, a hero, the founder of American democracy, a populist, a racist, or a monstrous psychopath. All of these interpretations might have some merit, which made the project, in my opinion, all the more interesting. 


I wrote...

A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson

By Sean Patrick Adams,

Book cover of A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson

What is my book about?

Andrew Jackson’s story mirrored that of the United States; from his childhood during the American Revolution, through his military actions against both Native Americans and Great Britain, and continuing into his career in politics. As president, Jackson attacked the Bank of the United States, railed against disunion in South Carolina, defended the honor of Peggy Eaton, and founded the Democratic Party. This edited collection features more than thirty original essays by leading scholars and historians that consider various aspects of the life, times, and legacy of the seventh president of the United States. Topics include Jackson’s impact on politics, race, religion, and culture; the rise of the Democratic Party; Native American removal; the Panic of 1837; the birth of women’s suffrage, and much more.

The books I picked & why

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The Age of Jackson

By Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.,

Book cover of The Age of Jackson

Why this book?

The O.G. of works on Andrew Jackson, Arthur Schlesinger’s book not only won the Pulitzer Prize, but went a long way towards rehabilitating Jackson’s legacy in the eyes of Americans. Although the historical analysis is dated now—not surprising for a book written in the 1940s—Schlesinger’s prose is beautiful, nearly poetic at times. So long as you take the assumptions about race, gender, and ethnicity in the context in which it was written, it’s a great read. I finished it wishing that historians still wrote with prose like this, albeit with different conclusions. 

The Age of Jackson

By Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Age of Jackson as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The outgrowth of a series of lectures entitled 'A reinterpretation of Jacksonian democracy' delivered at the Lowell Institute in Boston in the fall of 1941."--Acknowledgements.


The Passions of Andrew Jackson

By Andrew Burstein,

Book cover of The Passions of Andrew Jackson

Why this book?

If you find Schlesinger’s account a bit troubling, this book is your antidote. Burstein engages in a blistering account of Andrew Jackson’s turbulent life; his personalization of political conflicts, his propensity for violence, and his cultivation of populist politics. In the end, the Jackson that emerges is a great deal less heroic than most accounts; certainly more psychotic than earlier ones. That said, Burstein’s book is a great read and shows up on this list because it is a great way to understand how many Americans regard Andrew Jackson these days. 

The Passions of Andrew Jackson

By Andrew Burstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Passions of Andrew Jackson as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Most people vaguely imagine Andrew Jackson as a jaunty warrior and a man of the people, but he was much more—a man just as complex and controversial as Jefferson or Lincoln. Now, with the first major reinterpretation of his life in a generation, historian Andrew Burstein brings back Jackson with all his audacity and hot-tempered rhetoric.

The unabashedly aggressive Jackson came of age in the Carolinas during the American Revolution, migrating to Tennessee after he was orphaned at the age of fourteen. Little more than a poorly educated frontier bully when he first opened his public career, he was possessed…


American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

By Jon Meacham,

Book cover of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

Why this book?

Meacham offers a beautifully written account of the Jackson presidency. As a journalist and biographer outside the edicts of academic rigor, he can skirt quite deftly among the more controversial aspects of Jackson’s actions and offer a fair and balanced account. I grabbed this book right before a long flight and although I was expecting a dated list of paeans to Jackson’s “feistiness”—other popular accounts of Jackson’s life fall squarely into this boring and tired trap—I found Meacham’s book to be one of the better examples of political biography done right. It kept me reading all the way through the flight, even when we hit turbulence. 

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

By Jon Meacham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Lion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive biography of a larger-than-life president who defied norms, divided a nation, and changed Washington forever

Andrew Jackson, his intimate circle of friends, and his tumultuous times are at the heart of this remarkable book about the man who rose from nothing to create the modern presidency. Beloved and hated, venerated and reviled, Andrew Jackson was an orphan who fought his way to the pinnacle of power, bending the nation to his will in the cause of democracy. Jackson’s election in 1828 ushered in a new and lasting era in which the people, not distant elites, were the guiding…


The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House

By John F. Marszalek,

Book cover of The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House

Why this book?

One of Jackson’s earliest—and most critical—biographers wrote in 1860: “the political history of the United States, for the last thirty years, dates from the moment when the soft hand of Mr. Van Buren touched Mrs. Eaton's knocker.” This earnest statement has not aged particularly well, but the significance of the Peggy Eaton Affair, in which Andrew Jackson risked an enormous amount of political capital defending the honor of one of his Secretary of War’s spouse, still fascinates. Marszalek reconstructs the world of gender, respectability, and the inner workings of Jackson’s White House with skill and grace.  

The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House

By John F. Marszalek,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Petticoat Affair as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This account of the Eaton Affair describes the story of how Peggy O'Neale Eaton, the wife of President Andrew Jackson's secretary of war, was branded a "loose woman" and snubbed by Washington society. The president's defence of her honour fuelled intense speculation and a scandal began.


Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian

By Michael Paul Rogin,

Book cover of Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian

Why this book?

If you ever thought to yourself, “Wow, Andrew Jackson would be a great candidate for psychotherapy, but no historian would ever actually try to view his life through Freudian analysis,” well, think again.  Psychohistory enjoyed a brief moment in the sun during the 1970s and Rogin’s posthumous placement of Jackson on the couch was one of its shining examples. This book examines Jackson’s childhood trauma and fatherless upbringing as a major factor in his attitude and treatment of Native Americans throughout his life. Readers might find the analysis that dominates the second half of the book to be a bit dated in psychological terms, but Rogin offers a provocative way to explain Jackson’s confusing blend of patronizing and pathology towards Native Americans in the Early American Republic. 

Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian

By Michael Paul Rogin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fathers and Children as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rogin shows us a Jackson who saw the Indians as a menace to the new nation and its citizens. This volatile synthesis of liberal egalitarianism and an assault on the American Indians is the source of continuing interest in the sobering and important book.


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