The best books on Jacksonian democracy

Who picked these books? Meet our 6 experts.

6 authors created a book list connected to Jacksonian democracy, and here are their favorite Jacksonian democracy books.
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Laboratories of Virtue

By Michael Meranze,

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

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

From the list on the origins of American prisons.

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.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

Discover why each book is one of Ashley's favorite books.

Why did Ashley love this book?

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…

By Michael Meranze,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Michael Meranze uses Philadelphia as a case study to analyze the relationship between penal reform and liberalism in early America. In Laboratories of Virtue, he interprets the evolving system of criminal punishment as a microcosm of social tensions that characterized the early American republic. Engaging recent work on the history of punishment in England and continental Europe, Meranze traces criminal punishment from the late colonial system of publicly inflicted corporal penalties to the establishment of penitentiaries in the Jacksonian period. Throughout, he reveals a world of class difference and contested values in which those who did not fit the emerging…

Book cover of The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography

Gregg Easterbrook Author Of It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

From the list on hope for the future.

Who am I?

As an author, I write both serious nonfiction and literary fiction. As a journalist, I have lifelong associations with The Atlantic and the Washington Monthly. I didn’t plan it, but four of my nonfiction books make an extended argument for the revival of optimism as intellectually respectable. A Moment on the Earth (1995) argued environmental trends other than greenhouse gases actually are positive, The Progress Paradox (2003) asserted material standards will keep rising but that won’t make people any happier, Sonic Boom (2009), published during the despair of the Great Recession, said the global economy would bounce back and It’s Better Than It Looks (2018) found the situation objectivity good on most major issues.

Gregg's book list on hope for the future

Discover why each book is one of Gregg's favorite books.

Why did Gregg love this book?

Finished in 1907, this famed book is worth rereading today for awareness that its pervasive pessimism proved totally wrong. Adams declared that western democracy was doomed, that freedom had no chance if forced into war versus dictatorship, that the pace change was overwhelming, that the U.S. educational system could not possibly teach science. A century later, democracy prevailed in both world wars, free nations out-produce dictatorships 10 to 1, and America has won more Nobel prizes in the sciences than the next five nations combined. Pessimism has long been with us – and almost always been wrong.

By Henry Adams,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Education of Henry Adams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic autobiography includes accounts of Adams's residence in England and of his "diplomatic education" in the circle of Palmerston, Russell and Gladstone.

Andrew Jackson

By H.W. Brands,

Book cover of Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

David Fitz-Enz Author Of The Spy on Putney Bridge: A Mystery Novel of Espionage, Murder, and Betrayal in London

From the list on war and warriors.

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.

David's book list on war and warriors

Discover why each book is one of David's favorite books.

Why did David love this book?

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”.

By H.W. Brands,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestselling author of The First American comes the first major single-volume biography in a decade of the president who defined American democracy • "A big, rich biography.” —The Boston Globe

H. W. Brands reshapes our understanding of this fascinating man, and of the Age of Democracy that he ushered in. An orphan at a young age and without formal education or the family lineage of the Founding Fathers, Jackson showed that the presidency was not the exclusive province of the wealthy and the well-born but could truly…

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

Jeanne and David Heidler Author Of Henry Clay: The Essential American

From the list on the USA in its formative years (1789-1845).

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!

Jeanne's book list on the USA in its formative years (1789-1845)

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Why did Jeanne love this book?

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.

By Michael F. Holt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The political home of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Horace Greeley, and the young Abraham Lincoln, the American Whig Party was involved at every level of American politics-local, state, and federal-in the years before the Civil War, and controlled the White House for eight of the twenty-two years that it existed. Now, in The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, Michael F. Holt gives us the only comprehensive history of the Whigs ever written-a
monumental history covering in rich detail the American political landscape from the Age of Jackson to impending disunion.
In Michael Holt's hands, the history of…

James Kent

By John Theodore Horton,

Book cover of James Kent: A Study in Conservatism, 1763-1847

Joseph A. Ranney Author Of Bridging Revolutions: The Lives of Chief Justices Richmond Pearson and John Belton O'Neall

From the list on the role states played in American law and history.

Who am I?

I'm a retired trial lawyer and a legal history professor and fellow at Marquette Law School in Wisconsin. As a young lawyer, I was struck by how much Americans focus on federal lawmakers and judges at the expense of their state counterparts, even though state law has a much greater effect on people's daily lives than federal law. The scholar Leonard Levy once said that without more study of state legal history, “there can be no … adequate history of [American] civilization.” I want to help fill that need through my books and articles, and I enjoy sharing this fascinating world with my readers.  

Joseph's book list on the role states played in American law and history

Discover why each book is one of Joseph's favorite books.

Why did Joseph love this book?

Although he is virtually unknown today, New York chancellor James Kent ranks as one of America's greatest state judges. Kent was an old-time Federalist, a believer in government by gentlemen. During his lifetime his views steadily lost ground to Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy, but he made a permanent imprint on American law. Among other things, he authored the first general treatise on American law and arranged for national circulation of New York judicial decisions, thus giving his state an outsize role in shaping American law, and he helped preserve the central place of federal authority and protection of private property in the law. Kent deserves a modern biography, but until one is written, readers interested in New York history and legal history will find John Horton's older 1939 biography a lively and easy-to-read book, well worth their time.

By John Theodore Horton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Reprint of the first and only edition. Originally published: New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., [1939]. xi, 354 pp. Well-annotated, with a thorough bibliography and index.