Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America

For those who are worried that we have entered dark days as country and are uncertain what the future might hold, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and presidential historian Jon Meacham explores other eras in America’s history, pointing out that in the end, by following “our better angels” we became a stronger and better America.

“Lincoln got it wrong before he got it right,” says Meacham whose most recent book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels (Random House 2018; $30). “Woodrow Wilson supported women’s suffrage but got a lot of other things wrong.”Meacham_author photo_(c) Heidi Ross

Meacham points out that Lyndon Johnson had a very mixed record but when it came to Civil Rights he was the one who convinced Governor George Wallace, a virulent segregationist, to ask federal troops to come in to integrate the public schools by playing on how he wanted to be remembered. To do so, Johnson asked him, “George, when you’re gone, do you want there to be a scrawny pine saying ‘George, what do you want left behind? Do you want a great big marble monument that says ‘George Wallace: He Built’? Or do you want a little piece of scrawny pine lying there along that hot caliche soil that says ‘George Wallace: He Hated’?”

“Johnson understood something that I hope our incumbent president comes to realize,” says Meacham, whose previous books include biographies of George H.W. Bush, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. “What will people say when they look at my portrait?”

Meacham’s hope is we tweet “hate” less and “like” more.

Using history as a guide, Meacham is hopeful.

“There are forces in our country like the press, the courts, the rule of law, Congress, the president and the people that control the outcome and if we can get three or so of the forces to come together, we’ll be okay,” he says. “Right now the press is doing a great job, I think we can take the presidency off the table and Congress is falling off the edge but the courts are doing a good job, the rule of law is holding and we need people to come together. We have to listen to the people we don’t agree with on the chance they might be 1% right about something that we can work on together. We have to resist tribalism. There’s room in the American soul for Martin Luther King and the KKK but  the question is which one do we celebrate.”


What: Jon Meacham talk and book signing with former Assistant US Attorney Dan Purdom moderating.

When: Sunday, May 27 at 2:30 p.m.

Where: Ratio Hall (Wentz Science Center), 131 S. Loomis St. on the campus of North Central College, Naperville IL

FYI: Event tickets are available at, at the store or by (630) 355-2665.




Michael Koryta in Chicago to Talk About His New Book

Michael Koryta, the New York Times-bestselling author of 12 suspense novels of including Those Who Wish Me Dead and Rise the Dark talks with writer Jane Simon Ammeson about his just released “How It Happened” (Little Brown 2018; $27).Michael Koryta

“How It Happened” starts off with the so chilling confession and then suddenly we’re wondering okay, was it true? Is your book based on one specific case or did statistics from Project Innocence help shape the story for you or what shaped the story in your mind?

The confession in the book was inspired by a false confession that was given during the investigation of the disappearance and murder of Jill Behrman, who was a 19-year-old Indiana University freshman when she vanished on a bike ride on a beautiful spring morning in a small college town. Her bike was found near my childhood home, and I was 17 when that happened, and then I was 19 when I began to write some police beat articles about the case for the local newspaper. There was a search going on at that time based on a confession. Those memories are profound and tragic to me.

“How It Happened” is complex just like all your novels, do you plot everything in advance or does it more just flow? 

I don’t know how to outline, but I do know how to rewrite! I do many, many drafts.

And do you ever find yourself caught up in the feel of it all so that you’re where your characters are and experiencing what they’re experiencing rather than sitting at a desk writing about it? And do your characters take on a life of their own or are you in control of them?

If you don’t feel caught up in it, then it won’t be any good. If the desk doesn’t vanish, and if you don’t disappear into the story to join your characters, then how will the reader be able to have that experience? I don’t want to have any control over my characters so much as I want them to explain the story to me, and for them to surprise me. That’s the joy of it.

You’re books are so atmospheric, your characters haunted in many ways and there’s often a combination of the natural—caves, mountains, rivers, now Maine and the ghostly or the unknown. I’m familiar with Bloomington as that’s where I went to Indiana University and I love French Lick/West Baden, those marvelously restored early 20th century resorts in Southern Indiana. All this makes me  curious about how you look at these places and what makes them so haunting as if they’re characters themselves? And how/why did you choose Maine for this book?

I respond to places that have a combination of visual and emotional impact. Sometimes, that might be in an eerie or creepy way — the surreal experience of walking into another time in the West Baden Springs Hotel, or riding a boat on an underground river. In other cases, it is found in the collision of beauty and danger. This would be the Maine coast to me. I love a place that can be astonishingly beautiful in one moment, and turn threatening in the next. It allows me to bring the setting to life like a character.

Did you ever find  a book written by your female relative who was a published author back in the 1800s? What was her name?

I still haven’t been able to track one down, sadly. Jane Parker was her name. She wrote novels in the late 1800s, and was apparently well-regarded in her era, which is even more special because she was a woman writing in an age when not many women had the chance, let alone earned that critical respect. I am afraid none of her books have survived, but I will remain on the hunt!   

Will we ever get another novel set in French Lick and West Baden like “So Cold the River?

I think you will! I finally got the film rights back on SO COLD THE RIVER after it went stagnant with the studio that optioned it originally, and I am exploring ways to get that done with an independent filmmaker, and as I work on that, I keep thinking of new ideas in that area, and with those characters. I am very drawn to that area, and to the stories that abound there. I am feeling the call down there again, louder and louder.


What: Michael Koryta book signing

When: Tuesday, May 22 at 7 p.m.

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville, 123 W Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL

Cost: This event is free and open to the public.

FYI: To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, How It Happened, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville (630) 355-2665 or order online at



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