The best books on Jacksonian democracy

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Jacksonian democracy and why they recommend each book.

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Andrew Jackson

By H.W. Brands,

Book cover of Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

My first novel, Redcoats’ Revenge, an alternative history of the war of 1812 was a break from the lockstep writing of non-fiction and a relief, in a way. But it became a whole new challenge. A primary character in the book was Andrew Jackson, a man without bounds. I read extensively to find his soul and there it was in Brand’s book.  From his backwoods beginnings to his firebrand speeches in the congress, Bill Brand captures the heart of that warrior. Jackson, a leader we must all emulate, stands out in every crowd as a trailblazer, a warrior, an American frontiersman we all think of when building our own stories. At the end of this volume, you will say to yourself, “what a man”.


Who am I?

I am a retired Army Colonel, paratrooper, and aviator who served four tours in Vietnam as a platoon leader of combat photographers in the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade and later as a communication officer in the 1/10 Cavalry Squadron, 4th Infantry Division. Subsequently, I commanded six ties and operated the Moscow Hotline for three Presidents. On retirement, I lectured at the National Archives, Library of Congress, U.S. Naval Museum, and National Army Museum London England. I was also the guest lecturer at the Napoleonic fair, London. I conducted four one-hour television programs on my six books for C-Span Television and appeared on Fox News Network. I was awarded the Distinguished Book Prize from the US Army Historical Foundation and was granted the Military Order of Saint Louis by the Knights Templar, the priory of Saint Patrick, Manhattan, NY for contributions to Military Literature.


I wrote...

The Spy on Putney Bridge: A Mystery Novel of Espionage, Murder, and Betrayal in London

By David Fitz-Enz,

Book cover of The Spy on Putney Bridge: A Mystery Novel of Espionage, Murder, and Betrayal in London

What is my book about?

It is presumed that during WW I the British caught all of the German spies and either turned them or shot them. I believe you never get all of anything in war.

My book tells the saga of two German spies, a mother, and a son, who went undetected. Their story is unique but not impossible. How they did it will surprise; It was done from the inside out. It started with hurt feelings and when it was over there was a trail of blood outside of the battlefield. It couldn’t happen you think, after all, a real German spy was caught in Putney England by a dry cleaner on the high street. But these spies didn’t wear German clothes.

Laboratories of Virtue

By Michael Meranze,

Book cover of Laboratories of Virtue: Punishment, Revolution, and Authority in Philadelphia, 1760-1835

This is one of the first books on prisons I ever read and it’s the one that got me hooked. It’s not just about prisons, though. Laboratories of Virtue is about the period during and after the American Revolution when the US moved away from colonial-era punishments into the beginnings of what we have today. It was a moment when we could have gone in a lot of different directions, but Meranze shows how we ended up with long-term incarceration as our go-to punishment for serious (and some not-so-serious) crimes.

He brings in developments in society generally, explaining how anxieties about theatre and crowds contributed to middle-class and elite reformers’ growing distaste for capital punishment and a preference for privately meting out punishment. This book is a great introduction to how punishment and penal trends are the products of changes in society and perceptions of crime, rather than a direct…


Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.


I wrote...

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

What is my book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system – the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier.

Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light anxieties and other challenges of nineteenth-century prison administration that helped embed our prison system as we know it today.

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party

By Michael F. Holt,

Book cover of The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

A lifetime of research on and writing about the latter span of America’s formative years yield Michael Holt’s masterpiece, a detailed, lively look at the resurgence of federalist philosophy and its consequences. In a fascinating exposition, Holt fashions something resembling Shakespearean tragedy wherein the most well-intentioned politicians cannot stem the tide of sectionalism.


Who are we?

We have been researching and writing about the Early Republic since graduate school and began collaborating on the period with our first co-authored book, Old Hickory’s War: Andrew Jackson and the Quest for Empire. Though we have occasionally ventured beyond the enthralling events that occurred during those years, mainly by editing books on the Civil War and other topics, we always return to them with relish. We hope you will find the books on our list entertaining as well as informative, thus to whet your appetite for the sumptuous banquet that awaits!


We wrote...

Henry Clay: The Essential American

By David S. Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler,

Book cover of Henry Clay: The Essential American

What is our book about?

He was the Great Compromiser, a canny and colorful legislator whose life mirrors the story of America from its founding until the eve of the Civil War. Speaker of the House, senator, secretary of state, five-time presidential candidate, and idol to the young Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay is captured in full at last in this rich and sweeping biography.

The authors reveal Clay’s tumultuous career in Washington, including his participation in the deadlocked election of 1824 that haunted him for the rest of his career, and shine new light on Clay’s marriage to plain, wealthy Lucretia Hart, a union that lasted fifty-three years and produced eleven children. Featuring an inimitable supporting cast including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay is beautifully written and replete with fresh anecdotes and insights. 

The Education of Henry Adams

By Henry Adams,

Book cover of The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography

I didn’t want to read a 1907 autobiography about someone I’d never heard of who uses a humblebrag title to tell me about his life as a genius. But it won the Pulitzer and made Modern Library’s list of top 100 nonfiction books of the 20th century – the hardest century to make the list in – for a reason. To my great shock it’s a fun, well-written page-turner. The son of the last of the dignified founding father presidents, John Quincy Adams (and grandson of John Adams) rails against Jacksonian populism in the time of Grant. You can skip the last section on his excitement about dynamo steam engines. 


Who am I?

I started worrying about populism in 2008, when vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin chastised the elitists, whom she defined as “people who think they’re better than anyone else.” Meanwhile, she thought she was so much better than anyone else that she could serve as backup leader of the world despite the fact that she believed that the political leader of the United Kingdom is the queen. After she lost she vowed, “I’m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I’m not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I’m going to fight the elitist.” She was unaware that there is a third option: to study so that you know more than the next person. 


I wrote...

In Defense of Elitism: Why I'm Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn't Buy This Book

By Joel Stein,

Book cover of In Defense of Elitism: Why I'm Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn't Buy This Book

What is my book about?

To find out how The New Dark Ages started and usher in the Intellectual Restoration, I spent a week in the county with the highest percentage of Trump voters. I went to the home of Trump-loving Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams; talked to Tucker Carlson; got lessons in obfuscation from a fake news kingpin; reproduced the experience of being an inexperienced government official by acting as mayor of L.A. for a day and interviewed members of secret organizations trying to create a new political party. All while wearing a cravat. 

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