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The Passions of Andrew Jackson Hardcover – February 4, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book will not endear its subject to readers, even if the author is correct in the claim that he's made Jackson more "knowable." Burstein (Sentimental Democracy; America's Jubilee) writes fluidly and argues energetically. But that can't overcome the fact that, in his hands, the seventh president turns out to be an implacable, humorless, self-righteous, rage-filled zealot (all Burstein's words). Nor will the book make us think well of a man who, in the author's view, always acted on the margins of the law, constantly broke friendships, took politics as a means of righting personal wrongs and governed by letting loose fears. Burstein hopes that his work will counterbalance that of the many historians who have "missed" Jackson's true "character and impulses" because of the dazzling halo of his reputation as a great democrat. Acknowledging that the hero of New Orleans was a "significant" if "avenging" president, he also judges the Tennessean to have been "a man of platitudes, a mediocre intellect with a glamorous surface appeal" and a democrat for white men only. While tattering Jackson's repute more successfully than most of the president's 19th-century enemies, Burstein succeeds at two other things. Showing how Jackson strove to preserve the moral order that he knew, he makes Jackson something of a conservative. The author also clears up long uncertain facts about Jackson's marriage to Rachel Donelson. But it's not for the solution to scholarly puzzles that this book will be noted, nor for its spirited, sometimes convincing arguments, nor for Burstein's strained effort to make Jackson a tragic figure in the Shakespearean mold. Instead, it will win readers by stirring up controversy. 17 illus.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Andrew Jackson remains one of our most fascinating and frustratingly enigmatic presidents. He was the first president from the trans-Appalachian region and the first to come from humble origins. He had a passionate determination to represent the "common man," and he undoubtedly advanced the democratic transformation of our nation. Yet, by background and temperament, he was an unlikely Democrat. Subject to awesome rages that frequently exploded into physical violence, he often displayed contempt for those who lacked his physical strength, and his disdain for Native Americans and African Americans was extreme even by frontier standards. Burstein, a professor of history at the University of Tulsa, has written an excellent personality study that examines Jackson's ideas, loves, and hatreds without indulging in psychobabble or engaging in unwarranted speculations. He views Jackson's personal and political development within the context of his family background, upbringing, and the political culture of the newly settled West. This is a solid work of historical inquiry that adds to our knowledge about one of our national icons. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (February 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375414282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414282
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,263,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By John B. Maggiore on June 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
First and foremost, THE PASSIONS OF ANDREW JACKSON is compelling. This short book moves along at a quick pace. While the early life stories of some historic figures are dull necessities in larger biographies, Jackson's early life is the action-packed focus of this biography. The story of Andrew Jackson is a story of violence, sex scandal and adventure. Author Andrew Burstein does a good job of maximizing the drama of the story, and I enjoyed reading it very much.
Yet, while on the whole, THE PASSIONS OF ANDREW JACKSON is an enjoyable book, it also contains a major disappointment: Burstein's treatment of Jackson's presidency. Burstein set out to write a book about Jackson's character with an emphasis on exploring his friendships. He explicitly did not intend to chronicle Jackson's presidency, so his brief treatment of that part of Jackson's life was not especially surprising. It was, however, disappointing for a number of reasons.
To begin with, Burstein hurls the gauntlet in his introduction at other Jackson biographers, especially "the reigning Jackson authority," Robert Remini. His basic criticism of Remini, who wrote a three-volume biography of Jackson, is that Remini bought into Jacksonian mythology a bit too much. By contrast, Burstein sets as his goal writing about Jackson as he really was. I found the assault on Remini to be odd and out of place. Remini's last volume was published in 1984, so I'm not sure why Burstein felt the need to justify writing a new book. More importantly, by contrasting his own book with Remini's, Burstein suggests a parallelism that doesn't really exist. THE PASSIONS OF ANDREW JACKSON is much more limited in scope than Remini's work. Its focus is almost exclusively on who Jackson was rather than what he did.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Barnes and Noble Junkie on May 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
While the book was a pretty enjoyable read, I am not really sure that Burstein accomplished what he set out to do.

It seems en vogue nowadays to go against the grain when writing biographies, and Burstein's effort is no exception. I decided to read this book after seeing an hour-long documentary of Jackson on the History Channel.

I was particularly interested in the executions of Ambrister and Arbuthnot. Ironically in a book filled with anti-Jackson material this event wasn't covered in as much detail as I figured it would be.

While it doesn't appear that Burstein set out to discredit Andrew Jackson's image, the book definitely trends toward the negative. Burstein uses a lot of Jackson's own words, and in many cases they aren't pretty. Burstein also keeps a running count of all of the duels, scuffles and scrapes that Andrew Jackson was drawn into to protect his honor. Burstein DOES discuss Jackson's devote love towards Rachel Donelson Robards, (even if the events leading up to the marriage are rightly questioned) and as well as his acts of charity, but the majority of the books serves to tear down Jackson's image.

Burstein does try to account for Jackson's flaws by discussing the political and social environment of the times, as will as addressing the fact that Jackson was the first President from 'the frontier', however I was left with the impression that Jackson was an extremist, when it came to protecting his honor. With Jackson there were no middle grounds, it was a personal affront to him to disagree with him politically.

Some of the book reads more as a general history book with Jackson as the main character rather then a biography.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on January 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Biographies concentrate on many subjects - detailed analysis of actions and their motives, character studies, descriptions of times and events or, as in this case, an examination into what motivated the seventh president of the United States to do and say what he did. I sympathize with reviewers who castigate the author for skimming historical events, but he plainly states that the purpose of this book was an explortaion of the early 19th century mindset and what makes it so "American" and even compelling to this day.

As a Tennessean, where AJ takes on demigod status, I judged the author to be harsh but in the end, just. The question persists - were his "passions" atypical of the times? One must remember that Jackson's life encompassed the most important years of the nation. A Revolutionary War incident forever soured his view of Britain. He witnessed the founding of the Republic, the settling of the West, the coming of age of the body politic. He may be a grand - even great - figure but his flaws are legendary and it is these upon which Burstein dwelled.

Whether it was slavery, duels, treatment of Indians, inability to compromise, hot temper or pattern of blaming others for his own mistakes, AJ fares poorly. What is missing is that inner self so brilliantly illuninated in recent books on Franklin, Hamilton and Adams. What caused his monomania over the US Bank, why could he never accept criticism, keep friends? In a sense, he was a "modern" politician - opponents were not simply mistaken but instead were morally corrupt.

It is the politics that is missing. I mean, he was President for two terms through sheer force of will. A diehard Jeffersonian, a believer in an agrarian American, a populist, a foe of "special interests", a defender of states rights. His ideas changed once in office and that in itself would have made for good reading. All in all, a good overview.
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