What We Are Reading Today: The Soul of America — The Battle for Our Better Angels

Updated 23 June 2018

What We Are Reading Today: The Soul of America — The Battle for Our Better Angels

In a bid to reveal the essence of America, historian and journalist Jon Meacham documents the words and actions of presidents and other historical figures who helped shape the nation’s culture and politics, making the US the country it is today.

The subject of race is at the core of Meacham’s treatise. He notes that in 1619, long before the nation was formed, a Dutchman brought 20 captive Africans to Virginia — the first chapter in the saga of American slavery.

The book arrives at a time when much about the American political system seems broken. America’s greatness, Meacham believes, stems from the fact that “what Abraham Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature' have prevailed just often enough to keep the national enterprise alive.”

Meacham believes the nation will move beyond Donald Trump because, in the end, Americans embrace their better angels. This book stands as a testament to that choice — a reminder that the country has a history of returning to its core values of freedom and equality.


What We Are Reading Today: Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 by Joseph Frank

Updated 03 April 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 by Joseph Frank

The term “biography” seems insufficiently capacious to describe the singular achievement of Joseph Frank’s five-volume study of the life of the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. One critic, writing upon the publication of the final volume, casually tagged the series as the ultimate work on Dostoevsky “in any language, and quite possibly forever.”

Frank himself had not originally intended to undertake such a massive work. The endeavor began in the early 1960s as an exploration of Dostoevsky’s fiction, but it later became apparent to Frank that a deeper appreciation of the fiction would require a more ambitious engagement with the writer’s life, directly caught up as Dostoevsky was with the cultural and political movements of mid- and late-19th-century Russia. Already in his forties, Frank undertook to learn Russian and embarked on what would become a five-volume work comprising more than 2,500 pages. The result is an intellectual history of 19th-century Russia, with Dostoevsky’s mind as a refracting prism.

The volumes have won numerous prizes, among them the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association.

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