Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    To the end, he was true to the words he spoke in the beginning. On Sunday, Oct. 22, 1978, at his inaugural mass as the 264th Bishop of Rome, John Paul II prayed: "Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no eventide." To reassure the oppressed, the poor and the lonely, the new pope evoked the words of Jesus: "Be not afraid!"Fearless and serene, John Paul II died last week after years of overt suffering--his last eloquent testimony to the sanctity of life--taking his leave with characteristic grace in his apartments above St. Peter's Square.He was a mirror and a maker of modern times. On Sept. 1, 1939, when the Luftwaffe began bombing Cracow, young Karol Wojtyla was serving as an altar boy at Friday morning mass. (Despite the attack, Wojtyla and the priest finished the eucharist.) He survived Nazism and communism, always bearing witness to the power of freedom. A confounding figure by the...
  • From Jesus to Christ

    HOW DID A JEWISH PROPHET COME TO BE SEEN AS THE CHRISTIAN SAVIOR? THE EPIC STORY OF THE EMPTY TOMB, THE EARLY BATTLES AND THE MAKING OF A GREAT FAITH.
  • George H.W. Bush

    Sitting in his office in Houston, still on an anti-malarial pill regimen from his trip to tsunami-ravaged Southeast Asia, former president George H.W. Bush turned from his desk to his credenza to find a note that had just come in. "Here's a fellow who wants to give us $2 million," Bush said. "This cause has really hit people's hearts." With former president Bill Clinton--the two traveled together to the region--Bush 41 has led fund-raising efforts for the victims; private donations for relief currently total about $1 billion. In an interview with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham last week, Bush talked about the tsunami, Clinton, Jeb Bush's future and the news from the Mideast. Excerpts: ...
  • Interview: 'People Are More Hopeful'

    In his office in Houston, still on an antimalarial- pill regimen from his trip to tsunami-ravaged Southeast Asia, former president George H.W. Bush turned from his desk to his credenza to find a note that had just come in. "Here's a fellow who wants to give us $2 million," Bush says. "This cause has really hit people's hearts." With former president Bill Clinton--the two traveled together to the region last month--Bush 41 has led fund-raising efforts for the victims; private donations now total about $1 billion. In an interview with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham last week, Bush talked about the tsunami, Clinton, Jeb Bush's future and the news from the Mideast.What was the trip like? Were you surprised by what you saw?Well, it was very emotional for me, very moving. The most moving part was to see the children of families that had been wiped out. I saw one guy standing with his hand on a kid's shoulder, and I said to the translator, "Ask him his story." And the man said, "This is my...
  • AN OLD LION'S LAST ROAR

    On the day he turned 50, a week before Americans went to the polls to choose his successor as president, Theodore Roosevelt claimed he had no regrets. "When I am through with anything," he said, "I am through with it, and am under no temptation to snatch at the fringes of departed glory."For all Roosevelt's many virtues, self-awareness was not among them: he was never through with anything, much less the pursuit of power. In her splendid new account of TR's unhappy post-presidency, "When Trumpets Call," Patricia O'Toole brings eloquence and keen psychological insight to a familiar subject; the result is a lovely, unpretentiously learned tale of a great man who could never master his own ambition. Like Winston Churchill (whom he did not like), Roosevelt was a soldier, a man of letters (38 books and a syndicated column), a mighty orator and the creator of his own imaginative universe. Yet he was also, as Woodrow Wilson said, "a great big boy," who loved rowing, safaris, uniforms, old...
  • A ROAD MAP TO MAKING HISTORY

    The inauguration was a quiet affair. Sixty years ago this week, on Jan. 20, 1945, Europe had been at war for nearly six years, America for just over three. Three months away from death, Franklin Roosevelt decided the fewer the festivities, the better. After taking the oath on the South Portico of the White House, FDR delivered what has become an unjustly obscure fourth Inaugural Address, one long overshadowed by the majestic 1933 speech in which he told America that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."To understand the 21st century, however, Roosevelt's 1945 Inaugural is essential reading, an encapsulation of his conviction that politics and leadership are not clinical but human enterprises, America an unfinished experiment, the world a neighborhood with friends and foes close at hand. Engagement, not isolation or hesitancy, was the right road ahead, he said that day. "We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent upon the well...
  • THE RIGHT STUFF

    He was, as he put it, "a nervous, out-of-control dad." By Election Eve 2004, George H.W. Bush, a friend said, had turned into a "nervous wreck." To calm himself the 41st president of the United States first tried to give up caffeine and then his nightly cocktail, but he failed, and on the morning of the voting Bush was so anxious that he was reduced to eating saltine crackers to soothe his churning stomach. "We live in interesting and difficult times," he told me on the telephone that day. "I look at the world now first as a father; people find that hard to believe, but it's true." It was not always so: when the first President Bush was about to strike Saddam Hussein's Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990-91, he sent a touching letter to his children. "My mind goes back to history," Bush wrote on New Year's Eve 1990. "How many lives might have been saved if appeasement had given way to force earlier on in the late '30s or earliest '40s? How many Jews might have been spared the...
  • EDITOR'S DESK

    Faith, wrote the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Yet the stories of the three great monotheistic religions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--unfolded in real time, in real places, and there is much evidence about ancient civilizations buried in the sand and soil of the Middle East. For centuries archeologists have traveled there in search of clues about the lost worlds of Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad, wondering: Are the different faiths' canonical texts really accurate? What did the hanging gardens of Babylon look like? Was there actually a King David? How, exactly, was Jesus crucified?There will always be tension between sacred history and temporal history; for most believers, the "truth" of scripture is a given, whatever archeologists may say. Still, the quest to learn what we can about the milieu that formed so many faiths is fascinating--and becoming ever more difficult. As Melinda Liu and Christopher...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    "The real causes of obesity," Jerry Adler presciently wrote in NEWSWEEK 22 years ago, "may be locked away deep in the chemical infrastructure of the body." Adler, our science writer, was right, and in this week's cover story he and Anne Underwood take an original look at an American obsession: fat. We've all read countless stories about the latest fashionable diet, but this project is different, explaining science's evolving understanding of fat cells, the cells' relationship to the brain and how these insights may help us find treatments for obesity and a range of other health problems.That should be encouraging news for the two thirds of Americans who are overweight. Relentless and resilient, fat cells turn out to be savvy survivors, able to multiply and thrive. They are active entities, not static globs, and produce chemicals that cause inflammation--a chronic condition linked to heart disease, diabetes and some kinds of cancer. If we can figure out how to intercept the signals...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    In the grim months after Pearl Harbor, when the Allied war effort was going badly, Winston Churchill faced a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. After the prime minister dictated and delivered a 10,000-word speech defending himself, the attacks evaporated. Grumbling afterward, Churchill noted that critics seemed to spin "round with the alacrity of squirrels."President Bush and his national-security team probably think they are surrounded by such squirrels. When Tom Ridge announced that the government had uncovered information about five specific targets in New York, Washington and New Jersey, he came under attack for saluting Bush's "leadership" and for not revealing that the terrorists' surveillance had taken place about four years ago. (Critics apparently overlooked the fact that long-term planning is a Qaeda hallmark.)And so it goes in a divided America. Ridge was wrong to plug the president in what should have been a straightforward security briefing, and Bush can only...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    She was grace itself, smoothing the flag that draped her husband's coffin, whispering a few words over the remains of the man she loved so well and so long, and, as the sun set on Friday, weeping, surrounded by her children. "I can't imagine life without her," Ronald Reagan once remarked of his wife, and, blessedly, he never had to. Nancy Reagan was there for him to the very end.Ancient words and old hymns echoed through the services in Washington and, at last, in the California dusk--images from Isaiah, St. Matthew, St. Paul and John Winthrop. There was the rousing "Hail to the Chief," the martial "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the bittersweet "Amazing Grace." This week we commemorate the Reagan farewell in pictures, including memorable images taken by Khue Bui and David Hume Kennerly, and in remembrances for NEWSWEEK from former Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.Reagan's death, though, was not only about pageantry and the past. Amid the grandeur, many...
  • American Dreamer

    A CAPTIVATING AND ELUSIVE MAN, RONALD REAGAN ROSE FROM LIFEGUARDING IN ILLINOIS TO HOLLYWOOD--AND BECAME ONE OF OUR GREATEST PRESIDENTS. AN INTIMATE LOOK AT HOW HE PLAYED THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME.
  • D-Day's Real Lessons

    In the first days of the Bush Restoration in 2001, Karl Rove, the new president's senior adviser and in-house history buff, was dining at the British Embassy in Washington with the then ambassador, Christopher Meyer. In the grand building up on Massachusetts Avenue, Rove mentioned George W. Bush's fascination with Churchill. "He was a man who saved the world," Rove said of Churchill, "a wartime leader who charted his own course, and did it with wit and personal morality and courage." Meyer called Rove a few days later. "The P.M. has a spare bust or two of Churchill," Meyer said. Would the president like one? Absolutely, came the reply. Bush, who tells Oval Office visitors that he works at a desk once used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, loved the idea of adding the Churchill.And so there the Last Lion sits, in bronze, next to the fireplace beneath a West Texas painting. Bush likes the juxtaposition. Churchill, the president said in accepting the bust, "knew what he believed, and he really...
  • The Editor's Desk

    Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins are not exactly household names in New York City, where much of the national press lives and works. Given the cultural influence these two men have over a huge part of the country, however, they should be, which is one reason we decided to profile the authors of the wildly best-selling novels about the Apocalypse, the "Left Behind" series. ("Left Behind" refers to the people who many Christians think will remain on earth after born-again believers are summoned to heaven in the Rapture; those "left behind" will then face years of tribulations and Armageddon, with a shot at salvation once the smoke's cleared.)But LaHaye and Jenkins are on the cover this week not just because of the scope of their success (62 million copies sold, which is better than Stephen King or John Grisham are currently doing). As David Gates's piece makes clear, LaHaye and Jenkins's contrasting sensibilities tell a larger story about the complexities of evangelical Christianity--and...
  • Who Killed Jesus?

    MEL GIBSON'S POWERFUL BUT TROUBLING NEW MOVIE, 'THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST,' IS REVIVING ONE OF THE MOST EXPLOSIVE QUESTIONS EVER. WHAT HISTORY TELLS US ABOUT JESUS' LAST HOURS, THE WORLD IN WHICH HE LIVED, ANTI-SEMITISM, SCRIPTURE AND THE NATURE OF FAITH ITSELF.
  • Reagan: Why We've Deified The Gipper

    He always loved superlatives--being the lifeguard who saved the most swimmers back home in Illinois, pushing for the lead parts in his beloved Westerns, driving himself from a fading career hosting TV shows to the presidency of the United States. It seems likely, then, that Ronald Reagan would have loved knowing that, tucked away in his hushed house in Bel Air last Feb. 6, he marked his 92d birthday, adding to his record as the longest-living former president in American history.Battling Alzheimer's disease, Reagan has not been seen in public for years; the last photographs circulated in 2000. As the shadows lengthen in what the Reagan circle wistfully calls "the long goodbye," Reagan's flame has never burned brighter beyond the walls of his California enclave. George W. Bush models his presidency more on Reagan's than on his own father's; admirers are trying to establish monuments to the 40th president in every county in the nation; there is serious talk of trying to put Reagan on...
  • Race: Southern Family Values

    The American South, where I come from, has long been a region of secrets and contradictions. Defenders of freedom, we protected and perpetuated slavery; deeply religious, we are prone to violence. Down the years we have learned to live in an enduring moral twilight in which prayer and anger and cruelty and kindness and grace and rage are intermingled.And so it was not entirely surprising to white or black Southerners when news came that Strom Thurmond--segregationist, Dixiecrat, race-baiter--had a daughter by his family's African-American maid, a daughter with whom he maintained cordial ties until his death this year. Essie Mae Washington-Williams met her father when she was 16; he gave her money, visited with her, wrote her cards and encouraged her to attend college. They rarely discussed politics, Williams recalled, but in one conversation with his daughter, Thurmond attributed his segregationist creed to habit and inertia: "Well, that's the way things have always been," he told...
  • The Lost Lucy Letter

    Roosevelt and Churchill first met, very briefly, in the summer of 1918. FDR was assistant secretary of the Navy, on a tour of England and the European front; Churchill was minister of munitions. On Roosevelt's return, his wife, Eleanor, discovered letters between her husband and her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. FDR and Lucy were in love. Facing the defining crisis of his marriage, Franklin chose Eleanor (and his career), and Lucy went on to marry the wealthy Winthrop Rutherfurd.Historians have long known Lucy was in occasional touch with the president and returned to FDR's circle late in the war; she was with him when he died. But a hitherto unpublished letter of Lucy's to the president--found in FDR's daughter's papers at Hyde Park--now reveals much closer ties between the two than has been previously understood. Apparently written in 1941, the note is practical, emotional, chatty, and sad. Lucy jokes about catching a cold when he has one because they talk on the telephone and...
  • Empty Title

    The light was fading. late on the afternoon of Sunday, February 4, 1945, in the Crimean coastal town of Yalta, the three most powerful men in the world--Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin--were meeting in a former summer house of the Russian Czars. There were huge questions to be decided about World War II's final act and its aftermath--questions which required American leadership--but Churchill's circle was horrified at the 63-year-old Roosevelt's condition. "He is very thin & his face is drawn & deeply lined & he looks weary all the time and as if he might be in bad pain," British Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal wrote home to Pamela Churchill, then the prime minister's daughter-in-law. "Also, his brain is obviously not what it was. Altogether he looks as if Truman might be in for a job of work..."Portal had it right; though it was a closely held secret, FDR was suffering from congestive heart failure and high blood pressure. Churchill, however,...
  • Ask Tip Sheet

    Since we will soon mark the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, what book would you recommend as the best and most insightful about that day in Dallas?There are two essential works on the assassination. The first is William Manchester's 1967 narrative "The Death of a President," which movingly chronicles JFK's murder moment by moment; the second is Gerald Posner's 1993 "Case Closed," a convincing assessment of the conspiracy theories surrounding Dallas. Posner's conclusion: Lee Harvey Oswald almost certainly acted alone.
  • The Editor's Desk

    Late last Tuesday afternoon, Joshua Hammer had just returned to our bureau in Baghdad from a visit to a power plant--he had been reporting on Iraq's electrical problems--when the telephone rang. "I think a bomb just went off at the U.N.," one of our photographers, Geert van Kesteren, told Hammer, NEWSWEEK's Jerusalem bureau chief on assignment in Iraq. Racing across the city, Hammer thought it seemed like a normal day in Baghdad, with the usual traffic patterns. Maybe the report was wrong; maybe nothing had happened.Soon, however, Hammer saw hovering military choppers and then smoke rising from the U.N. building. Ditching his car, he hurried across a field to get within a quarter mile of the blast site as the first survivors were making their way out of the compound. It had been the largest attack on the U.N. ever, forcing Americans (and the world) to confront a new reality: the intersection of carefully calibrated terrorism with the chaos of occupied Iraq.What to do now is the...
  • From the Editor

    Acting and politics have always been intimately linked. "You know, Orson," Franklin Roosevelt once said to Orson Welles, "you and I are the two best actors in America." Watching himself in a newsreel one day, FDR proudly remarked: "That was the Garbo in me." Ronald Reagan was asked late in his presidency whether his years in Hollywood had helped him in politics. "There have been times in this office," Reagan answered, "when I've wondered how you could do the job if you hadn't been an actor." But neither man believed that a sense of theater was all there was to politics: both brought to office bedrock beliefs and years of pondering public affairs.Now that the Terminator is trying to follow the Gipper to the California governorship, voters in America's largest state must decide whether Arnold Schwarzenegger has more to offer than just star power. That's an open, important question, Jonathan Alter and San Francisco bureau chief Karen Breslau write in this week's cover, and it would be...
  • Transition

    The new mayor wanted the COLORED and WHITE signs to come down--immediately. It was 1962, the beginning, really, of the worst of the violence in the South over civil rights, but in Atlanta a white businessman, incoming Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., thought it was time to move beyond Jim Crow. Allen had beaten the segregationist Lester Maddox (who would become governor in 1967) in a primary; Allen retired in 1969, and Maynard Jackson became the city's first black mayor in 1973. Both Maddox and Jackson died two weeks ago, and Allen, 92, passed away last week. Allen was the descendant of a Confederate cavalryman; Jackson the great-grandson of a slave. "Atlanta is a city of black hope and white pragmatism," said Gary M. Pomerantz, author of "Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn," a biography of the two families, "and Jackson embodied the hope, Allen the pragmatism." Allen's enlightened leadership in the 1960s helped Atlanta thrive when the rest of the South, particularly Alabama and Mississippi,...
  • Transition: Two Men Of Fear, And One Of Hope

    An exasperated Walker Percy once said that he thought he would leave the country if people kept asking him about his native South. "I'm sick and tired of talking about the South and hearing about the South," the novelist remarked. Should anyone bring it up again, Percy added, "I'm moving to Manaus, Brazil, to join the South Carolinians who emigrated after Appomattox and whose descendants speak no English and have such names as Senhor Carlos Calhoun."Even there, then, Percy would not have been able to escape the ghosts of Dixie--and he knew it. Last week brought fresh reminders of that old truth with the deaths of three men: Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Lester Maddox of Georgia and Maynard Jackson of Atlanta. Thurmond and Maddox represented the worst of the midcentury South, in both simple and complicated ways; Jackson was an emblem and an architect of the best of the post-civil-rights era. Their lives shed light on some of the nation's darkest hours, on the complexities of race...
  • A Man Out Of Time

    It was just a quick stop, at a store on a campaign trip through the Northeast more than a dozen years ago. Trent Lott, then a Mississippi congressman about to make his move for the Senate, was visiting a state for a Republican candidate. When Lott walked in, he asked: "Why aren't there any black people here?" a source who has spent time with him in unguarded moments tells NEWSWEEK. Nervously, someone explained that this was not the most diverse of regions. "Not even behind the counter?" Lott said. Warming to his punch line, Lott added: "We'd be happy to send you up some if you need any"--and then chuckled. Asked about the incident last week, Lott told NEWSWEEK: "I can't imagine when I would have done that. I don't believe I did that. I deny that I did that, but you know I can't deny every word or that I may have been in the area." If anything "close to that was uttered, that would have been totally out of order," Lott said.He appeared to sense that the remark would belong to a world...
  • The Greatest Men

    The White House, Christmas Eve 1941. In the twilight, thousands gathered for the lighting of the Christmas tree on the South Lawn. America had been at war for a little more than three weeks, pulled into a global struggle by the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Franklin D. Roosevelt, his legs locked in steel braces, was silhouetted against the mansion; to his right stood his houseguest, Winston Churchill. "Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and advertise them," FDR said, "we set our faith in human love and in God's care for us and for all men everywhere." The president then asked his "old and good friend" the prime minister to say a few words. C. S. Lewis defined friendship as shared passions, noting that "... we picture lovers face to face but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead." On this night Churchill and Roosevelt were forming one of the great friendships in history, their common goal the defeat of the Axis."Let the children have their night of fun and...
  • The Big Mules Of Birmingham

    In the downstairs grill of the Mountain Brook Club in Birmingham, Ala.--a room, Diane McWhorter writes in "Carry Me Home," "soothingly dark, as if it had been designed with the hangover in mind"--the white elite of Birmingham were tucking into their luncheon buffet on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963. Ninety minutes earlier, downtown, an explosion had ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls. ...
  • In The Arena

    A scene from mid century new York: Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is giving a book party for a friend, who asks the historian to invite Alger Hiss. As it happened, Richard Nixon was then living in a house behind Schlesinger's on Manhattan's East Side. On the morning of the gathering, Schlesinger was getting ready for work, and "The last sight I had from our bedroom window before departing for the university was Nixon prowling restlessly around his garden," he writes in his delightful new memoir, "A Life in the 20th Century." "The first sight that greeted me on my return to a bustling party was Alger Hiss. The circularity of life!"That is, if you've been lucky enough (and smart enough) to live the life Schlesinger has. He's known just about everybody, and done monumental work: "The Age of Jackson," "The Age of Roosevelt," "A Thousand Days," "Robert Kennedy and His Times." Schlesinger's story is intertwined with the drama of the century, from a "twilight year" he spent in England between...
  • The New Face of Race

    Every Day, In Every Corner Of America, We Are Redrawing The Color Lines And Redefining What Race Really Means. It's Not Just A Matter Of Black And White Anymore; The Nuances Of Brown And Yellow And Red Mean More-- And Less--Than Ever. The Promise And Perils Ahead.