Pulitzer Prize-winning author speaks at Hauenstein Center

Courtesy GVSU Facebook

Courtesy GVSU Facebook

Rachel Matuszewski

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On Thursday, Jan. 10, the Hauenstein Center presented Pulitzer Prize winning author, presidential historian, contributing editor of TIME magazine and writer for the New York Times Book Review, Jon Meacham. 

Meacham spoke about his newest novel, “The Soul of America: The Better Angels of Our Nature.” This event also served as the third anniversary of the Hauenstein Center, honoring the Presidential Studies’ eponym, Ralph Hauenstein. 

Meacham’s newest novel promotes the importance of change in our country and the power of resilience.

“As my friend David McCoullough likes to say, no one walked around in the past saying, ‘My, the past is very interesting.’” Meacham said. 

“There’s never been a moment in the history of the world since the first chapter of Genesis where people have said, ‘You know what? Everything’s great. I hope nothing ever changes.’ It doesn’t work that way. Everything’s a struggle.” 

Meacham mentioned that despite studying a host of heroes throughout history, people don’t do enough to honor and support those who have given up so much to make America a better place.

“We don’t do justice to the people who brought us here, to this moment and to this hour,” Meacham said. 

“To have something worth defending. We don’t do justice to the boys who stormed the beach of Normandy or to Rosa Parks who wouldn’t get up. There are an infinite number of examples of people whose names we may not know. (Those) who have said they wanted the country to be a place where our better angels have an opportunity to prevail.”

“The Soul of America: The Better Angels of Our Nature” is Meacham’s seventh published novel. It expands on Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” and how America’s presidents and activists have helped our country advance. His work has appeared in numerous publications outside of his novels, such as The New York Times’ op-ed page, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair and Garden & Gun. He is also a regular guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” 

Meacham has also served as a previous editor for Random House, Newsweek and The Washington Monthly. He is now chair of the National Advisory Council of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University and is a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University. 

Meacham’s presentation was followed by a tribute to one of Michigan’s own “better angels,” — journalist, philanthropist and Army veteran, Ralph Hauenstein. 

“(Ralph) provided us with the North Star by which we calibrate our compass,” said Hauenstein Center Director Gleaves Whitney. 

 included a sermon and a celebration of the center’s founder, making for an inspiring and moving 

Whitney embraced Meacham’s ideologies taken from the past and emphasized how they can be interpreted in our lives today. 

“Meacham shows how past generations of Americans have thrown themselves into the battle of stark polarities. Polarities like good and evil, justice and racism, truth and lies. (There are also) good qualities we have to struggle with. Think of liberty and equality, justice and mercy, nature and industry, individual right and community needs. This too is a challenge for us Americans. Jon’s book urges us to exercise our civic muscle, and do what we can to shape the American soul, not just let it reflect us.”