Andrew Burstein, . . Knopf, $26 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41428-2

This book will not endear its subject to readers, even if the author is correct in the claim that he's made Jackson more "knowable." Burstein (Sentimental Democracy; America's Jubilee) writes fluidly and argues energetically. But that can't overcome the fact that, in his hands, the seventh president turns out to be an implacable, humorless, self-righteous, rage-filled zealot (all Burstein's words). Nor will the book make us think well of a man who, in the author's view, always acted on the margins of the law, constantly broke friendships, took politics as a means of righting personal wrongs and governed by letting loose fears. Burstein hopes that his work will counterbalance that of the many historians who have "missed" Jackson's true "character and impulses" because of the dazzling halo of his reputation as a great democrat. Acknowledging that the hero of New Orleans was a "significant" if "avenging" president, he also judges the Tennessean to have been "a man of platitudes, a mediocre intellect with a glamorous surface appeal" and a democrat for white men only. While tattering Jackson's repute more successfully than most of the president's 19th-century enemies, Burstein succeeds at two other things. Showing how Jackson strove to preserve the moral order that he knew, he makes Jackson something of a conservative. The author also clears up long uncertain facts about Jackson's marriage to Rachel Donelson. But it's not for the solution to scholarly puzzles that this book will be noted, nor for its spirited, sometimes convincing arguments, nor for Burstein's strained effort to make Jackson a tragic figure in the Shakespearean mold. Instead, it will win readers by stirring up controversy. 17 illus. (Feb. 17)