Political biographies are not what they once were. Often these days they are as indigestible as meticulous scholarship, uninspired by intellectual daring, can manage. There are not many of us, I suspect, who turn to them the way Harry Truman is said to have turned to Plutarch: in order to understand a friend or enemy by learning to read his soul.

Robert V. Remini’s biography of Andrew Jackson, now complete with a third volume, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy: 1833-1845, seems to me a partial exception to this.[1] Remini’s work is as fine as any the contemporary historical establishment can claim. It is fair-minded, colloquial, urbane, and up to the best standards of scholarship. What is more, Remini has a large point to make about Jackson and about American history. Certainly if any one recent work allows us to ask what keeps...

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