These Truths: A History of the United States

August 31, 2019 - Comment

New York Times Bestseller In the most ambitious one-volume American history in decades, award-winning historian and New Yorker writer Jill Lepore offers a magisterial account of the origins and rise of a divided nation, an urgently needed reckoning with the beauty and tragedy of American history. Written in elegiac prose, Lepore’s groundbreaking investigation places truth

New York Times Bestseller

In the most ambitious one-volume American history in decades, award-winning historian and New Yorker writer Jill Lepore offers a magisterial account of the origins and rise of a divided nation, an urgently needed reckoning with the beauty and tragedy of American history.

Written in elegiac prose, Lepore’s groundbreaking investigation places truth itself―a devotion to facts, proof, and evidence―at the center of the nation’s history. The American experiment rests on three ideas―”these truths,” Jefferson called them―political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. And it rests, too, on a fearless dedication to inquiry, Lepore argues, because self-government depends on it. But has the nation, and democracy itself, delivered on that promise?

These Truths tells this uniquely American story, beginning in 1492, asking whether the course of events over more than five centuries has proven the nation’s truths, or belied them. To answer that question, Lepore traces the intertwined histories of American politics, law, journalism, and technology, from the colonial town meeting to the nineteenth-century party machine, from talk radio to twenty-first-century Internet polls, from Magna Carta to the Patriot Act, from the printing press to Facebook News.

Along the way, Lepore’s sovereign chronicle is filled with arresting sketches of both well-known and lesser-known Americans, from a parade of presidents and a rogues’ gallery of political mischief makers to the intrepid leaders of protest movements, including Frederick Douglass, the famed abolitionist orator; William Jennings Bryan, the three-time presidential candidate and ultimately tragic populist; Pauli Murray, the visionary civil rights strategist; and Phyllis Schlafly, the uncredited architect of modern conservatism.

Americans are descended from slaves and slave owners, from conquerors and the conquered, from immigrants and from people who have fought to end immigration. “A nation born in contradiction will fight forever over the meaning of its history,” Lepore writes, but engaging in that struggle by studying the past is part of the work of citizenship. “The past is an inheritance, a gift and a burden,” These Truths observes. “It can’t be shirked. There’s nothing for it but to get to know it.”

127 illustrationsAn Amazon Best Book of September 2018:: It takes an ambitious historian to write a single volume history of the United States: Enter Jill Lepore, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer. These Truths sets out first to remind people how the United States got its start. The “truths,” as Thomas Jefferson called them, were political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. But Lepore also notes that history is a form of inquiry, something to be questioned, discussed, disputed. Has this country lived up to These Truths? she asks. The answer, as you might expect, is yes and no (though more yes than no). And the book itself is engrossing and even-handed, examining our contradictions—like a land of liberty supporting slavery—and singling out important historical figures, some well-known—like Benjamin Franklin—as well as others who were key voices in their time, but have since been left on history’s curb—like Mary Lease, leading voice of the People’s Party. As the book traces wars, policy decisions, and national debates, one can’t help but feel that the arguments we are seeing today have been carried out all throughout our history. When the final chapter (America, Disrupted) brings us to Obama, and then Trump, the narrative has lost no steam—rather, it has coalesced into a national story approaching coherence, something resembling the Founding Fathers’ more perfect union, though never actually perfect. –Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

Comments

Anonymous says:

Indisputable whopper errors of fact, arguable whopper errors of interpretation A nightmare of whopper errors of fact plus errors of interpretationThis book has been heavily touted.That makes it all the more disconcerting to see an error as early as page 8 and a whopper to boot.Indeed, beyond that as representative of numerous errors of fact, there’s numerous arguable errors of interpretation, and dubious decisions what to contain and what to omit.Behind THAT, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, as far as I can tell, there’s…

Anonymous says:

First major error, 7 pages in. Lepore states, “The universe was created about fourteen billion years ago, according to the traces left behind by meteors and the afterlives of stars, glowing and distant, blinking and dim.” The age of the universe has nothing to do with meteors and the afterlives of stars. Its age is inferred from: the expansion of the universe discovered by Lemaitre and later extrapolated back to the origin, consisting of a single quantum; the 3 K background glow, the residual of the big bang; and the…

Anonymous says:

Facts are stubborn things I lose a bit of confidence in a work of history when an event stated as fact is wrong even though it may be of minor interest in a history of the US. On page 32 is this: “James was born in 1566; the next year, when his mother died, he became king of Scotland”. His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, did not die in 1567. Mary was executed by Elizabeth I in 1587.

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