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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, 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."


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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, 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."

30 review for These Truths: A History of the United States

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    In an age of political polarization, Jill Lepore reminds us that there has never been an age without political polarization. The faintest familiarity with United States history should convince you that political conflict has deep roots. Some examples: the revolutionaries and loyalists fought vigorously over the issue of independence during the Revolutionary War; the Federalists and Anti-Federalists fought over federal versus state rights; the Mexican-American War was vigorously defended and oppos In an age of political polarization, Jill Lepore reminds us that there has never been an age without political polarization. The faintest familiarity with United States history should convince you that political conflict has deep roots. Some examples: the revolutionaries and loyalists fought vigorously over the issue of independence during the Revolutionary War; the Federalists and Anti-Federalists fought over federal versus state rights; the Mexican-American War was vigorously defended and opposed, as was the Indian removal policy, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson; proslavery and antislavery advocates fought intensely over whether new states should be admitted as free states or slave states; business has battled against labor since the 19th century; and the equality of races and sexes was vehemently defended and opposed for virtually all of US history. Further, congressional violence was common throughout the 1800s, as when John Wilson stabbed Representative J. J. Anthony to death during a dispute about the administration of bounties for the killing of wolves. In 1865, Charles Sumner, a prominent abolitionist, was attacked and almost killed with a walking cane by Representative Preston Brooks for criticizing slaveholders. For this act of violence Brooks was praised by many and then later reelected. Political duels were also common, as when Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804. The mass manipulation of voters is also as old as newspapers themselves, which have always been in the business of supporting candidates and causes. Radio and television were always used for purposes of propaganda, and advertising agencies were immediately employed for political purposes. In 1945, Harry Truman proposed a universal healthcare bill, only to see the bill killed by a targeted advertising campaign deployed by Campaigns Inc., a political consulting firm, that ran thousands of ads capitalizing on widespread Communist fears. Labeling the bill “socialized medicine” and “a product of Germany,” the agency manipulated the psychology of millions of people with scientific precision, long before Russia interfered with the latest 2016 US presidential election. The problems we face today are old problems with new technology, but the problems cannot be said to be more barbaric or more violent than the problems of the past. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Even if this progress is frustratingly slow, the conditions of today are far superior for most people compared to almost any point in the past, as horrific act after horrific act is painstakingly documented by Lepore throughout the book. The United States, like any other nation, has a complex history of conflicting ideas, motivations, events, and institutions, with an equal mixture of well-intentioned and noble ideas along with racist, evil, and destructive ideas. Lepore doesn’t hide the negative aspects of US history, but at the same time doesn’t focus on them exclusively. Lepore notes that the US was founded on the concepts of truth, reason, science, liberty, and equality, and that current and future progress hinges on these truths. Lepore reminds us that the founders of the United States were scientists and political philosophers before they were politicians. They drafted the first secular constitution the world had ever seen—one which did not mention God or Christianity a single time—and one that mentioned religion only for the purposes of granting religious liberty. Religion is mentioned in the Constitution exactly twice: Article 6 states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” and the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Thomas Jefferson noted that the three greatest men that ever lived, in his opinion, were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke—a philosopher of science, a physicist, and a political philosopher. Notice that, during an age where everyone believed in God and everyone was Christian, Jefferson didn’t include Jesus or St. Augustine or any religious figure in his list. Likewise, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay were all well-versed in the writings of the scientific revolution and Enlightenment philosophy, including Bacon, Locke, Newton, and Montesquieu, in addition to Plato and Aristotle. (How familiar do you think the current president is with the writings of Aristotle or Montesquieu?) The founders were creating, in their own words, the “American experiment,” based not on divine rule but rather on experimentation, freedom of speech, press, and religion, and open debate and free discussion based on principles of rationality. This is the essence of democracy as a political experiment; everyone is free to express their views, and differences of opinion are resolved through debates and votes rather than through violence. This is Enlightenment philosophy applied to the founding of a nation. Of course, the implementation of this ideal was far from perfect. It was not lost on anyone that the author of the Declaration of Independence owned hundreds of slaves. While arguing against the arbitrary power of English rule and stating that all men were created equal, Jefferson simultaneously denied liberty to hundreds of African Americans working his plantation. In fact, four of the first five presidents owned slaves, including George Washington, Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. At the same time, Jefferson was ambivalent about slavery and did work to gradually end the slave trade, while others like Benjamin Lay were strident abolitionists even before the Revolutionary War. And so slavery, an obvious stain on the character of the United States, was a complicated issue with people on both sides and sometimes on both sides at the same time. While the United States has much to be ashamed of in regard to slavery and racism, the founders established the principles that the country could slowly live up to, even if the founders themselves fell short. By establishing a country based on the principles of reason, democracy, freedom, and equality, rather than on religion or divine rule, the founders set up the conditions for continued progress. But progress, like always, depends on living up to the ideals of reason, free speech, humanism, liberty, and equality, and not backsliding into religiosity, racism, violence, and authoritarianism. And, like always, it also depends on an informed public, able to leverage the power of their own reason without falling victim to the manipulation of mass media or to the echo chambers of their favorite news outlet or internet site. As citizens of the US, each of us has access to more information than any previous generation, yet in practice most of us consume information from a much narrower range of sources. The remedy to the problem of mass manipulation has always been the same: the development of critical thinking skills within the population, a commitment to reason, intellectual humility, and the toleration of competing viewpoints that can be debated in a civilized manner. Regardless of which technology becomes available, progress forever hinges on our ability to live up to these ideals and these truths.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    It's hard to write a history of the United States from the beginning to now. Lepore is perfectly suited for the task --she's a great historian and a great writer. The best thing about this American history is that it includes the women and the racial minorities that are usually left out. As such, it's a history of America--warts and all. With so much ground to cover, it would be easy to leave out the incidental players, but as Lepore shows brilliantly, it's impossible to understand America witho It's hard to write a history of the United States from the beginning to now. Lepore is perfectly suited for the task --she's a great historian and a great writer. The best thing about this American history is that it includes the women and the racial minorities that are usually left out. As such, it's a history of America--warts and all. With so much ground to cover, it would be easy to leave out the incidental players, but as Lepore shows brilliantly, it's impossible to understand America without showing the conflict between America in theory and America in practice. There is no new history in here and for those who read a lot of history, much of this territory is known. What I thought was missing from the book is a sense of theme or even a few threads to follow. If there are any, perhaps it is communication technology and maybe race? I was hoping for more, which is why I was a bit disappointed by the book. But it is an excellent survey of American history--it's written well and to my ears at least, very fairly.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ilana

    Oof. This is a very, very good book. Difficult at times, depressing at others, always well-written, well-put together.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    Lepore wrote this book in the wake of 2016 and it shows in the narrative arc. The history starts out as the usually admiring but ambivalent tale told by a liberal historian. Accounts of discovery and plunder, of self-government and the original sin of slavery, told very well but up to the twentieth century in a standard liberal nuanced but positively progressing narrative. However the tone strikes at first mildly discordant notes when she touches on changes in media in the twentieth century as Lepore wrote this book in the wake of 2016 and it shows in the narrative arc. The history starts out as the usually admiring but ambivalent tale told by a liberal historian. Accounts of discovery and plunder, of self-government and the original sin of slavery, told very well but up to the twentieth century in a standard liberal nuanced but positively progressing narrative. However the tone strikes at first mildly discordant notes when she touches on changes in media in the twentieth century as if lurking behind the progressive narrative is a hidden but growing discord about the self-evident truths about the American creed that would result in the apogee of progressive liberalism faltering and falling in the mid 1960s by an information environment with mass communication that would be commandeered by those who didn't believe in self-evident truths of any kind but partisan and personal truth. The truth of the PR specialist the lobbyist, the media consumer who is pulled by emotive messages than reasoned deliberation. These truths is literally about the project of US to live by reasoned dialogue of a polity to bring liberty, freedom, self-government, and prosperity of a democratic state the enlightenment dream and how the tools of media eventually mass media shattered the foundation of a shared truth which made that dream possible and partisan warfare and demagoguery that threaten to bring an end to a once mighty and flawed democracy to an ignoble end. Lepore's book takes you in gets you to cheer the heroes of the past and then hits you in the gut with how it is in the process of being wrenched away by our ingenious devices which are too clever by half. Really dire book. my updates carry some of the flavor.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Raymond

    "To study the past is to unlock the prison of the present." "The past is an inheritance, a gift and a burden." "To write something down is to make a fossil record of a mind." -Jill Lepore History lovers will delight in this one volume political history of the United States. I enjoyed learning about facts, stories, and characters I was unaware of before. That famous quote that history doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes, is so true. I saw so many echoes of the past in our present day as I read this "To study the past is to unlock the prison of the present." "The past is an inheritance, a gift and a burden." "To write something down is to make a fossil record of a mind." -Jill Lepore History lovers will delight in this one volume political history of the United States. I enjoyed learning about facts, stories, and characters I was unaware of before. That famous quote that history doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes, is so true. I saw so many echoes of the past in our present day as I read this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    960 pages! Which gives one pause. But she is such a good writer.... A good review, at NYRB: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/10... Excerpt: "... at the time of Christopher Columbus’s voyage, Lepore notes, the Americas already contained more people than Europe. Three million Taíno lived on Hispaniola alone, as Columbus called the island where he first made landfall, believing he had found the edge of Asia and a trade route to the East. He wrote in his voyage diary of how easy it would be to enslave 960 pages! Which gives one pause. But she is such a good writer.... A good review, at NYRB: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/10... Excerpt: "... at the time of Christopher Columbus’s voyage, Lepore notes, the Americas already contained more people than Europe. Three million Taíno lived on Hispaniola alone, as Columbus called the island where he first made landfall, believing he had found the edge of Asia and a trade route to the East. He wrote in his voyage diary of how easy it would be to enslave them, which Spain soon did to mine gold and grow sugar, and within fifty years, their population had dropped by more than 99.9 percent. ..." The present-day population of Hispaniola is around 14 million. If the 3 million Taino is a reasonable guess, Hispaniola in 1491 was comparable to present-day Puerto Rico, with a 2017 population of about 3.3 million. Note that guesstimates of the preconquest population of Hispaniola (and all of the Americas) are very uncertain and controversial. And the 99.9% die-off is far worse than any other estimate I've seen for indigenous Americans. I'm dubious. "In the century after Columbus landed, Europeans carried back nearly 200 tons of gold and 16,000 tons of silver ..." . . . Every generation “has to find a way to inherit the mantle of the American Revolution,” Lepore has argued, in this book and elsewhere. “We are a people that share an idea.” Could she be right? Either way, it’s a really good story." And boy, are there some rough spots....

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    A pessimistic history that runs close to 1000 pages. Of course America has committed sins, but are there any positives to be found? According to Lepore, very, very few.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    This 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 no “there” there. With that, let’s dig in. Page 8: No, pre-Columbian American Indians did NOT herd pigs because there This 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 no “there” there. With that, let’s dig in. Page 8: No, pre-Columbian American Indians did NOT herd pigs because there were none in the New World! 18: Contra Lepore, plenty of plants went from New World to Old, and quickly became common parts of Old World diets. Tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize and chiles are the obvious ones. 33: Kind-of sort-of on the Virginia Colony. Its original grant went to today’s Canadian border on the coast; a reformulation in 1609 changed that. Hence the worries of the Separatists fears of settling in Plimouth in 1620, even though they had no charter from the crown for anywhere. By page 45 or so, I realized that I would find little to nothing in the book in the way of facts that were new to me. So, I started skipping and grokking. (Flame me, those who will.) 116ff. Ignores larger background of Shays Rebellion, and issues related to this in the Washington Administration, ie, the promissory notes for land offered to veterans, speculation on them and repurchase, etc. 145: America had political factions, and alliances, of various sorts long before federalists and anti-federalists. And the Founders knew that. 1790s newspapers did not spring parties into being, and the Founders should have known that. World War I take? Wasting pages on Germany being criticized by fundamentalists for higher criticism, and making that the intro to Bryan and Scopes, with almost zero coverage of the controversy over entry into the war itself, and Bryan’s time as Secretary of State? Horrible. As for Wilson’s health, he arguably had at least one mild-moderate stroke, and more than one mini-strokes or TIAs, a few years before the War. 242: Polk couldn’t have “wanted to acquire Florida,” as the U.S. had acquired it all by 1821 242: Russia had renounced its Oregon claims by the time Polk became President. Spain had in the Adams-Onis treaty sidebars, and thus, any later Mexican claims (contra Lepore, there surely weren’t) would be rejected by the US anyway. 250: No, the Mexican War boundary line did NOT end up at the 36th parallel of latitude after Polk allegedly gave up on seeking the 26th parallel. El Paso is at the 32nd parallel. The Mexico-California border is approximately 32°30’. Also, I’ve never seen claims that Polk wanted Mexico down to the 26th parallel. Indeed, Polk even specifically mentions the 32nd parallel in his December, 1847 State of the Union. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/ind... (I jumped back here after moving ahead to WWI, as she said little about Spanish settlement in today’s Southwest. She had little more on New Mexico of wartime Mexico’s possession.) Even worse, on her Polk land-seeking claims, this heavily footnoted book had NO footnotes. 406: No, most the world did NOT support “free trade” before WWI. 408: No, the 1924 immigration bill did not make immigrant proportional to current (of that time) population. It went back to the ethnic numbers of the 1890 Census. 410: I see no need to put “illegal alien” in scare quotes after first reference. 450: Doesn’t mention FDR playing a behind-the-scenes role in the defeat of Upton Sinclair. Doesn’t even mention that he refused to publicly endorse him. Doesn’t mention that he tried to get Sinclair to drop out and that support was offered to GOP incumbent Merriam when he refused. 452: No, the American PR factory was not democracy’s answer to fascism. In the US, it goes back at least as far as Teddy Roosevelt. And LePore even mentions Emil Hurja’s pre-1933 work. David Greenberg has the correct answers on all of this in “Republic of Spin” as reviewed by me here. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... 548: AFL-CIO (and big biz) opposed Truman’s national health care plan, not just AMA. The unions saw health insurance as a recruiting tool. 717: Given that Bush v Gore was the apotheosis of a further rightward shift of the Supreme Court, it gets short shrift. Basically, after I got a little way into the book, I began wondering what her intended audience was, and what her angle was. I had in mind something like Howard Zinn’s book. Zinn had several errors of interpretation, but he had an interpretive focus. With LePore, as noted, it seems to be no “there” there, per Gertrude Stein. Yes, she goes intellectual with the extended references to John Locke. Yes, she goes deep history with several pages about Magna Carta (without telling you it was honored by English kings more in the breach than the observance up to the time of Charles I). Then I realized: Her target audience is readers of the New Yorker plus non-social science bachelor’s level Harvard grads or something like that. Socially liberal — the repeated las Casas references as an example — but not economically leftist or close. Wikipedia says: She has said, "History is the art of making an argument about the past by telling a story accountable to evidence". I’m still not sure what argument she was trying to make in the whole book. I eventually grew tired of trying to figure it out. I did learn tidbits and things, and learn enough about Lepore's writing, not to one-star it. Plus, I thought a two-star review would be less easily dismissed.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Neely

    I learned something on every page and thought “I wish I had written that!” much more frequently. It’s a stunning thing, to produce a single volume of American history this sweeping and compelling and richly written. Of course, it’s impossible to include everything, and there were often times that I wish she would have covered this or that. That said, I’m just floored by the narrative audacity and the degree to which she pulled this off.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Richard Subber

    Jill Lepore makes it easy to read authoritative accounts of our history as a nation. She is already a venerable historian. These Truths offers two things that I crave when I’m reading/learning history: context, and a penetrating commitment to seek truth in terms of what they were thinking and what they knew way back when. One of the thrilling and challenging realities of studying history is this humdinger: pick your time in history, and you can say “They didn’t know how it would turn out.” Barely w Jill Lepore makes it easy to read authoritative accounts of our history as a nation. She is already a venerable historian. These Truths offers two things that I crave when I’m reading/learning history: context, and a penetrating commitment to seek truth in terms of what they were thinking and what they knew way back when. One of the thrilling and challenging realities of studying history is this humdinger: pick your time in history, and you can say “They didn’t know how it would turn out.” Barely weeks away from the November 1864 presidential election, Abraham Lincoln expected that he would lose his bid to stay in office. Hannibal didn’t know what the other side of the Alps looked like, and didn’t know what he would find there, if he made it across. Eli Whitney was tinkering in the shop in 1793, watching a cat trying to pull a chicken through a fence, when he invented the cotton gin—he didn’t know that the machine would make slave-based cotton agriculture a booming industry in the 19th century before the American Civil War. Lepore puts a lot of history into These Truths. Her scholarship and her insights make it obvious that every reader has a lot to learn. Read more of my book reviews and poems here: www.richardsubber.com

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mark Burris

    By too many reviewers this book has been held up as a 1-volume history of America, from Columbus to Trump. Actually, it's much more of a history of ideas, specifically of the founding and guiding of "truths," and as such, it flows through the centuries with insight and perspective. Lepore's an excellent writer, building transitions and inserting humorous commentary that delighted this reader. "Columbus widened the world, Gutenberg made it spin faster." (p. 13) "Dewey ... proved about as good a ca By too many reviewers this book has been held up as a 1-volume history of America, from Columbus to Trump. Actually, it's much more of a history of ideas, specifically of the founding and guiding of "truths," and as such, it flows through the centuries with insight and perspective. Lepore's an excellent writer, building transitions and inserting humorous commentary that delighted this reader. "Columbus widened the world, Gutenberg made it spin faster." (p. 13) "Dewey ... proved about as good a campaigner as a pail of paint." (p. 541) Ultimately, I came away from my reading depressed by the contradictions in our quest for the truths of freedom and equality, also reconsidering what for me were more the footnotes of history ... things like polls, progressivism, and Phyllis Schlafly. "By 1992, more than four decades after it began, the Cold War, unimaginably, was over. Missile by missile, the silos began to close, their caves abandoned. The skies cleared. And the oceans rose." (p. 690) Finally, this about Bill Clinton, who — at least indirectly — Lepore holds responsible for the rise of Fox News and the power of super-partisanship: “A white southerner from a humble background, he appealed to the party’s old base. An Ivy League-educated progressive with a strong record on civil rights, he appealed to the party’s new base. And yet he was, all along, a rascal.” (p. 697) “In 1996, CNN had 60M subscribers; MSNBC, 25M; and Fox, 17M. Two years later, a news story broke that led to a 400% increase in Fox’s prime-time ratings.” (p. 708) “Clinton’s foolishness, irresponsibility, and recklessness in this affair was difficult to fathom.” (p. 709)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nadine Jones

    Oof ... i want to read this, but ... 960 pages?!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    I heartily recommend that people interested in American History - thoughtful American History - read this book. It is a well-written, thoughtful, and enlightening statement on the history of the US from 1492 until the Presidential Election of 2016. Jill Lenore is a Professor of History at Harvard. She has written on a variety of topics, from Benjamin Franklin’s sister to the writings of street people, to the history of the Wonder Woman comic book character. She is also an accomplished essayist wh I heartily recommend that people interested in American History - thoughtful American History - read this book. It is a well-written, thoughtful, and enlightening statement on the history of the US from 1492 until the Presidential Election of 2016. Jill Lenore is a Professor of History at Harvard. She has written on a variety of topics, from Benjamin Franklin’s sister to the writings of street people, to the history of the Wonder Woman comic book character. She is also an accomplished essayist who regularly contributes to the New Yorker. I first ran across her work when she came into conflict with some of the established Gurus at the Harvard Business School. She is brilliant, funny, and fearless. She is one of the few authors who I will move to the top of my queue when I hear of a new book that she has written. “These Truths” is a history of American law, culture, and institutions - a history of how America came to view itself at different points of its history as a result of political and economic and other developments at the time, in conjunction with the trajectory of the US past up to a given time. So as a result, there is not a detailed accounting of military or political or economic or social developments, but rather an evolving interpretation of American self-consciousness. This is a tall order to carry out and the book will be better appreciated by readers who already have some familiarity with US history. If this is a weak spot for a reader, I would recommend having a search engine up and running to run down some of the facts and allusions that fill the book. You can also follow her citations to find out more - the references are helpful. To me, the major contribution of the book is to draw together an amazing range of new scholarship on US history that has fundamentally changed how scholars and educated readers now look at the American past. For example, the role of slavery and the cotton economy in the founding of the country and its development up through the Civil War and afterwards has completely changed since I first started reading a long time ago and it is impossible to escape in serious writing. Professor Lepore covers and integrates this research superbly and it is central to her narrative. Is the book perfect? No - but could it be perfect or complete? However, I cannot think of other topics that she should have covered in place of those that she chose to spend her time on and it is possible for a book, even a fine one like this, to be too long. This is such a rich book (as well as a long one) that it would be foolish to summarize anything. The closest I will come is to say that Professor Lepore continually tries to critically examine the US and its mission - and to note the ongoing tension between what the US has claimed to be over the course of its history and the reality of the messy state of the republic as it works through its history. This is clearly a labor of love for her and the book proves that an honest and thoughtful history shows the greatness of the country along with its warts, tensions, and continuing problems. I cannot speak to how US history is currently being taught in colleges or secondary schools but this book would be a fine addition to a number of class reading lists. Needless to say, the closer Professor Lepore comes to the present, the messier the story seems and the more her chapters come across as essays on current events. They are still worth reading, especially her closing work on Obama, the Internet, and even the current president. I really enjoyed the book and will no doubt return to it. It is well worth reading, especially today (Election Day 2018).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    Whenever you read an ambitious work of history written by a single author (Gibbon's Decline and Fall and Taruskin's History of Western Music come to mind), you first have to marvel at the accomplishment and then, over the course of careful reading and evaluation, come to find just how well they have represented fact while simultaneously making their opinions known - first of all to be opinions - but to be grounded in the facts already mentioned. Many do not measure up to that initial awe-inspiri Whenever you read an ambitious work of history written by a single author (Gibbon's Decline and Fall and Taruskin's History of Western Music come to mind), you first have to marvel at the accomplishment and then, over the course of careful reading and evaluation, come to find just how well they have represented fact while simultaneously making their opinions known - first of all to be opinions - but to be grounded in the facts already mentioned. Many do not measure up to that initial awe-inspiring reaction, this volume does. In this absolutely absorbing 900-page work, Harvard Professor and New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore has really done the impossible, that is, to take the subject of civics and deal with it honestly and fascinatingly over the course of the entirety of US history. To be clear, when talking about "civics" which is a word foreign to many and misused by even more, we are discussing the complete idea of what it means to be a citizen involving the political and theoretical dimensions as well as the rights and duties contained therein. Rather than a mere concatenation of historical events, this book delves deeper into the motivations and philosophies of those engaged in these events from our founding as a nation through every bit of turmoil we have encountered since, providing a wealth of biographical information along the way. The discussions that Jill Lepore engages in are told with a firm commitment to facts, the very center of any discussion, and a depth of honest feeling behind every opinion expressed. While I enjoyed the entirety of the work I must say the most illuminating section for me was the emergence and role of the earliest political admen consultant firms along with the rise of polling firms. While of course very aware of the role they play currently, the very earliest history and machinations of said enterprises was at times shocking in the most cynical of fashions. For those wanting a précis of the style of this work I encourage you to check out the following interview: https://www.chronicle.com/article/The... This is an essential book, and, if I had more hope for the intellectual aspirations of my generation, I might say could rekindle a fascination with civics in the contemporary domain. As with most works of intelligence, erudition, depth, and perspicuity; I suspect this will likely only be read by the single-digit percentage of our population who value any of those things. However, I would love to be proven wrong! Buy this book, it's one of the most important reads for the contemporary citizen of the USA.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Avid

    It’s probably a little early for me to render an opinion - i’m only 12% into the book - but i really want to encourage others to read this. I started highlighting key passages, phrases, quotes, etc. at the outset, and i’ve so far ended up with more text highlighted than not. The book really is just packed with valuable, insightful, and revealing information, including that regarding the roles of slavery and rebellion in shaping our country’s roots. It’s a slow read for me, but i’m savoring every It’s probably a little early for me to render an opinion - i’m only 12% into the book - but i really want to encourage others to read this. I started highlighting key passages, phrases, quotes, etc. at the outset, and i’ve so far ended up with more text highlighted than not. The book really is just packed with valuable, insightful, and revealing information, including that regarding the roles of slavery and rebellion in shaping our country’s roots. It’s a slow read for me, but i’m savoring every word, and reading several passages twice or more in order to fully appreciate and consider their impact. The writing is clear and focused and supported with just the right amount of quoted sources. The research is outstanding. I am really just enjoying the heck out of this book. Highly recommend to anyone who wants to understand and appreciate who we are and how we got here.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Myles

    Lepore is my favorite living historian, but the nature of the work means she can’t revel in the details like she does in her more heady historical readings. I hate imagining the ideas her editor forced her to cut from this 1,000~ page behemoth. As is, we get an absolute whirlwind ride through our sordid American history; Lepore is infatuated with the people from our past who got it wrong, likes to let them indict themselves with their own words. I just wish she gave them more than a few paragrap Lepore is my favorite living historian, but the nature of the work means she can’t revel in the details like she does in her more heady historical readings. I hate imagining the ideas her editor forced her to cut from this 1,000~ page behemoth. As is, we get an absolute whirlwind ride through our sordid American history; Lepore is infatuated with the people from our past who got it wrong, likes to let them indict themselves with their own words. I just wish she gave them more than a few paragraphs a piece.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Great background for the current political era Having not taken us history since 1996, I found this sweeping overview that is unabashedly through the lens of the modern era to be extremely helpful in understanding just how much of the current political invective has been part of the conversation since before the revolutionary war. This book is eminently readable. I found myself as excited to get back to reading as I normally am for a Scandinavian crime novel. Highly recommended for anyone who wan Great background for the current political era Having not taken us history since 1996, I found this sweeping overview that is unabashedly through the lens of the modern era to be extremely helpful in understanding just how much of the current political invective has been part of the conversation since before the revolutionary war. This book is eminently readable. I found myself as excited to get back to reading as I normally am for a Scandinavian crime novel. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand these United States.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    I bought "These Truths" because I've always been interested in the history of our country. I figured I would learn new information primarily about the founding of the country as I have in similar nonfiction history I've read covering the America. What this book showed me was how little I know about all of the things that happened after the founding of this country and our first few presidents. The closer the book got to the present, the less familiar with history I was. I don't think I will be t I bought "These Truths" because I've always been interested in the history of our country. I figured I would learn new information primarily about the founding of the country as I have in similar nonfiction history I've read covering the America. What this book showed me was how little I know about all of the things that happened after the founding of this country and our first few presidents. The closer the book got to the present, the less familiar with history I was. I don't think I will be the only one to feel this way. I believe everyone in the United States of America needs to read this book and be reminded of (or discover for the first time) the whole arc of our history, not just a snapshot or a sound-bite. Now, a few nitpicky things. This book was clearly put together quickly. There are a surprising amount of typos, repetitions, and errors (e.g "Trump's first term" instead of "Trump's first year"). Hopefully all will be corrected in future editions. I also did a lot of flipping back and forth trying to orient myself as though the book is chronological, there is a lot of jumping back and forth through time to address each new issue Lepore was discussing. In summary, it's not the easiest book to read but well worth the trouble.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Suellen

    Heard about on the Fully Booked Podcast at https://www.podcastone.com/episode/Ji...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Campbell

    I tried. I really did try. But this is just dull. I've vowed not to carry over into next year anything I'm struggling with, so this is getting canned. Next, please.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Annabannabobanna

    Jill Lepore, professor of American History at Harvard University, staff writer at The New Yorker, and the author of many books, including her latest, These Truths: A History of the United States, talks about her new take on the full scope of U.S. history - an exploration of how well American democracy has satisfied the three "self-evident" truths in the Declaration of Independence. Prof Jill Lepore: "It is in fact a right to revolution that's inscribed in our founding documents." What did the fou Jill Lepore, professor of American History at Harvard University, staff writer at The New Yorker, and the author of many books, including her latest, These Truths: A History of the United States, talks about her new take on the full scope of U.S. history - an exploration of how well American democracy has satisfied the three "self-evident" truths in the Declaration of Independence. Prof Jill Lepore: "It is in fact a right to revolution that's inscribed in our founding documents." What did the founding fathers mean by "happiness"? Jill Lepore: Happiness wasn't exactly an emotional state in the 18th century - it was almost religious. It's not what we would think of as attending to personal needs or having the new iPhone. It's more about the commonwealth. pic.twitter.com/dfQdXvc9ph Jill Lepore pegs the 1930s as the first time "Fake News" was used: Joseph Goebbels used the radio to tell the German people what to think and sent out richly produced false news reports. Newspapers in England and US called it fake news. — Brian Lehrer Show podcast, September 21, 2018 - Runs 43 minutes

  22. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Nunez

    Lepore’s “These Truths” is a fine single volume history of the US. As is the case with such works, it sheds light on continuities and particular moments but it can’t give more than a glance to long periods of time. I was struck by how central to the country’s history was race, initially through slavery, then discrimination, then economic inequality, incarceration and now immigration. This is not political correctness. Lepore shows that, from its inception in the Declaration of Independence, the Lepore’s “These Truths” is a fine single volume history of the US. As is the case with such works, it sheds light on continuities and particular moments but it can’t give more than a glance to long periods of time. I was struck by how central to the country’s history was race, initially through slavery, then discrimination, then economic inequality, incarceration and now immigration. This is not political correctness. Lepore shows that, from its inception in the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Incorporation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers were concerned with striking a balance between universal rights and political expediency, incarnated in the peculiar institution. The author is in particularly fine form in this part of the book, the beginning of the republic, on which she is an expert. After a glimpse at a new era (Jacksonian democracy) the republic dedicated itself to expansion and seeing whether the country would hold together. All presidents between Jackson and Lincoln were single-term and mostly forgettable. Coverage of Lincoln and the war is also quite good, as is also the case with the emerging empire (McKinley), progressivism (Roosevelt and Wilson) although perhaps more could have been made of the Gilded Age. Lepore strikes a nice balance between history as seen from power (including government, Congress and the Supreme Court) and from counter-power (Civil rights), and also manages to show the evolution and impact of technology in politics and economics. I dare say the twentieth century is even better reviewed than the nineteenth. I also remark she is quite evenhanded and free of prejudice even where it would be most understandable. The subjects that most interested me were the professionalization of politics (the husband and wife team of Whitaker and Baxter, founders of campaign inc., pioneered many innovations in politics and brought down universal health coverage in California under Earl Warren and in the US under Lyndon B Johnson), the grassroots emergence of conservatives (in the guise of Phyllis Schlaffly, who helped drive moderates out of the Republican Party and, at the end of her long life, passed the torch of her ideals to, of all people, Donald Trump) and the brilliant insight that, whereas European countries spent their postwar peace dividend in setting up welfare states for the benefit of the masses and social harmony, the US spent its peace dividend in a national security state that would eventually become Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex. This is why until recently the left in the US abandoned economic equality as a political ideal and instead stuck to identity politics. This explains soul-deadening political correctness, micro-aggressions and safe spaces. Annoying though they are, these things cannot be abandoned, because all the left has left is symbols. Lepore also shows how the obsession with the second amendment and gun rights is a break with historic Republican positions and a way to bring a sense of grievance and urgency to white males, similarly to what Roe v. Wade means for (mostly Democratic) women. It is surprising to see how the Republican Party changed since the Eisenhower years: can you believe the Party used to be the Party of blacks, that it was pro-choice and pro-women and that it was against religious interference in politics? Finishing the book one gets a strong sense of unraveling, of the Republic’s values having been damaged beyond repair, although perhaps this is part of a global trend. Historically the country was able to pull together in times of war and crisis (this book rescues the sometimes ridiculed figure of Wendell Willkie, Republican candidate in 1940, who refused to divide the country during WWII, valuing public interest above political expedience: who has done this in the past 50 years?) and to correct its mistakes (progressivism, civil rights, the Great Society). Often the country lived up to its ideals. That hasn’t been the case for quite a while, perhaps since Carter, Reagan and George HW Bush. As the country becomes more unequal and environmental catastrophe beckons, both right and left cleave to identity politics instead of making a common cause against plutocracy, their common enemy. The political system seems to have fossilized. Through gerrymandering many seats in the House have become “safe” and therefore there is no need to look beyond the party faithful to keep in power, breeding extremism in some, and alienation in others. Former politicians and bureaucrats morph into consultants, pundits and lobbyists and hang around Washington peddling their contacts and access, a cesspool of cynicism. It seems to have become a rent-seeking society where everyone is trying to cut out a piece of meat from the carcass of the Constitution, under one the most ideological Supreme Courts since the Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. For at least 30 years the rich and powerful have had their way, while common folk insult and attack each other on their behalf. The great nation seems to have lost its way. Lepore’s book shows how this happened and perhaps how to avoid political decay, if this is possible (Plato didn’t think so).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    I won a kindle version of this book through Goodreads. While I won a Kindle version, I decided to check it out from the library because I prefer paper books. I've had the book for 2 weeks and have read less than 200 pages. Due to a wait list, I have to return the book to the library and am unlikely to finish it. So why my rating? 1. The official summary of the book declares the book to be "the most ambitious one-volume American history in decades." While this may be true, the book is not really a I won a kindle version of this book through Goodreads. While I won a Kindle version, I decided to check it out from the library because I prefer paper books. I've had the book for 2 weeks and have read less than 200 pages. Due to a wait list, I have to return the book to the library and am unlikely to finish it. So why my rating? 1. The official summary of the book declares the book to be "the most ambitious one-volume American history in decades." While this may be true, the book is not really a history of America, but rather about the ideal behind America. Lepore's book traces the history and development of the notion of political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people in America. If the events don't affect those principles, she doesn't include them in the book. This focus on a theme within American history means that the book is not really a single volume history of America, but a treatise on a theme within American history. As such, I felt a little deceived by the marketting of the book. 2. The book states that it is "Written in elegiac prose." So what does that mean? According to Wikipedia, "The adjective elegiac has two possible meanings. First, it can refer to something of, relating to, or involving, an elegy or something that expresses similar mournfulness or sorrow . Second, it can refer more specifically to poetry composed in the form of elegiac couplets." So the book is written in mournfulness or sorrowful prose? For some reason, I don't think that is what the publishers meant when they used that phrase! Unfortunately, when reading the book, there were other places wherein I felt as if the editing job was lacking. I do not pretent to be a great writer, but the editing of the book left me disappointed.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    Excellent! Lepore does a wonderful job highlighting the threads that weave through our history. This would be an amazing text for high school students, although schools would probably reject it for not prettifying the story. (We do enjoy our collective origin myths). The book covers our country from 1492 clear through the ghastly tale of Trump over truth. Most of our national story has been the the story of white, male, heterosexual, Protestants trying vigorously to deny rights to everybody who Excellent! Lepore does a wonderful job highlighting the threads that weave through our history. This would be an amazing text for high school students, although schools would probably reject it for not prettifying the story. (We do enjoy our collective origin myths). The book covers our country from 1492 clear through the ghastly tale of Trump over truth. Most of our national story has been the the story of white, male, heterosexual, Protestants trying vigorously to deny rights to everybody who is not also white, male, heterosexual, and Protestant. Slavery, our original sin, has tainted us every step of the way. At around 800 pages, this won't be on any book club's reading list, but it could easily be divided into centuries to tackle a little at a time. There is a long wait list for it at the library, or I'd renew it and reread sections all over again. The author does such a good job of showing how we got to be where we are now. Once political strategists discovered that you could turn social issues into partisan issues and use that to enrage people (because enraged people vote), that set the stage for rapidly increasing divisiveness. And once pollsters discovered that they weren't polling for political opinion but manufacturing political opinion, the truth was done for. "'Dividing the American people has been my main contribution to the national political scene,' Agnew later said. 'I not only plead guilty to this charge, but I am somewhat flattered by it.'"

  25. 5 out of 5

    Drew Zagorski

    This book should be added to the curriculum for all high schools. Lepore looks at U.S. history through the lens of how we've lived up to "...all men are created equal." Clearly we have yet to meet that ideal. My only complaint is that this is a one-volume book, so there is not a deep dive into any single event or period of history. But what Lepore does well is introduce many events and people who have not gotten much play in other history books. In reading it, one gets a real understanding of ho This book should be added to the curriculum for all high schools. Lepore looks at U.S. history through the lens of how we've lived up to "...all men are created equal." Clearly we have yet to meet that ideal. My only complaint is that this is a one-volume book, so there is not a deep dive into any single event or period of history. But what Lepore does well is introduce many events and people who have not gotten much play in other history books. In reading it, one gets a real understanding of how we've come to the place we are at. And not being a person of color, and having been born in the U.S., it provided a perspective that I had never tapped into at this level. Well written and offering a broad stroke it is a great book that will spawn much thought and leave the reader wanting more, as well as offering many stories that one will want to read deeper on. A great overall read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Holly Lofgreen

    To live in such a country. To read such a book! Tackle the joy of an unrestrained civics education by reading this honest, questioning account of a past explored in light of founding principles. With all the insight ‘These Truths’ contains, its version of history makes the learning fun. From Columbus to Trump, Lepore gives astute attention to nuanced shifts in public consciousness. She explores the serpentine tools of political persuasion and the ideological changes that now tie person to party, To live in such a country. To read such a book! Tackle the joy of an unrestrained civics education by reading this honest, questioning account of a past explored in light of founding principles. With all the insight ‘These Truths’ contains, its version of history makes the learning fun. From Columbus to Trump, Lepore gives astute attention to nuanced shifts in public consciousness. She explores the serpentine tools of political persuasion and the ideological changes that now tie person to party, issue by issue. She leaves no technological stone unturned when it comes to America and its evolving identity. And many leaders and movements are placed under the magnifying glass for her roving historical gaze. This is a civics lesson that has lost its prissy sense of decorum; it just lets out a full-throated roar of pain, struggle and reality. Lepore's vision of the past is rooted in her close analysis of competing questions and controversial truths. I recommend it to anyone who wants to have a deeper awareness of the conflicts of our present time, shaped as they are by so many ideas and events that precede us.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Out of 900 or so pages, I think I learned something I didn't know on just about every other page. While the rigor and depth of her analysis breaks down somewhat after about 9/11, her ability to weave the history you know with the history you didn't know through every era is fascinating. How much of our history is really all about slavery even years later comes through clearly. Heartbreaking it-could-have-been-different moments around the ERA and abortion and gun control from before they got to b Out of 900 or so pages, I think I learned something I didn't know on just about every other page. While the rigor and depth of her analysis breaks down somewhat after about 9/11, her ability to weave the history you know with the history you didn't know through every era is fascinating. How much of our history is really all about slavery even years later comes through clearly. Heartbreaking it-could-have-been-different moments around the ERA and abortion and gun control from before they got to be partisan fuel. Interwoven technological, economic and social history put new light on political history. Very rewarding undertaking to read this.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dutch10k

    A mostly interesting read on how racism/technology/media/etc. has affected our country. If you aren't pessimistic about the future of the country now just wait until you read this book. As a political independent it was interesting to me on where the author placed blame for the current mess this country is in. In general I agree with her analysis, but I wish there was more of an answer for how to fix it. It really hits at the racism/sexism endemic in our country. One thing I really got out of th A mostly interesting read on how racism/technology/media/etc. has affected our country. If you aren't pessimistic about the future of the country now just wait until you read this book. As a political independent it was interesting to me on where the author placed blame for the current mess this country is in. In general I agree with her analysis, but I wish there was more of an answer for how to fix it. It really hits at the racism/sexism endemic in our country. One thing I really got out of the last chapters of the book (and depressed me even further) is how racism has come back to the forefront since it was empowered by the eventual "winner" of the presidential race of 2016.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jt

    A very readable, engaging, illuminating, and sobering history of America.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    This is the book I want my kids to use in their AP US History classes in high school. Please. I'm begging. Covers everything but covers the world inside the worlds. What a gift.

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