These Truths

by Jill Lepore

Hardcover, 2018


Checked out
Due Jul 26, 2021



New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2018]


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."… (more)

Media reviews

Lepore doesn’t cop to her own biases. Nor does she argue which systems of government are more insidious than others, though she has no trouble denouncing American slavery, American racism, Jim Crow, segregation and the on-going, never ending war (or so it seems) against African Americans. ... If I were a good liberal I might say that my criticism of the book does not detract from its glory, and that it’s a triumph of scholarship. I can’t say that. I won’t say it. These Truths has moments of glory, but it will not help us as a nation and as a people to cut though the lies and the fake news of the Trump era.
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Those devoted to an honest reckoning with America’s past have their work cut out for them. Lepore’s book is a good place to start.
It isn’t until you start reading it that you realize how much we need a book like this one at this particular moment.

This book is aimed at a mass audience, driven by anecdote and statistic, memoir and photograph, with all the giants of American history in their respective places. There wasn’t a moment when I struggled to keep reading.

We need this book. Its reach is long, its narrative fresh and the arc of its account sobering to say the least. This is not Whig history. It is a classic tale of a unique country’s astonishing rise and just-as-inevitable fall.
This vivid history is a must-read for anyone wrestling with today's toxic political environment.

User reviews

LibraryThing member theaelizabet
Lepore‘s history book isn‘t comprehensive (no Lewis and Clark), but what‘s not there, you won‘t miss. What IS there (a history of polling and the rise of political consultants, the nation's decades-long quest for universal healthcare, and the rise of the far right, for example) will force a long reading list of future follow-ups. Thankfully, it‘s well-annotated. Haven‘t had a history course since college or high school? You're you going to be surprised by what you think you remember and by what you were never taught. Stirringly written. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member brenzi
I’ve been reading this tome since January as part of the group read and the last part which dealt with recent history and right up to the 2016 election was the most riveting, probably because of its presence in our daily lives and the idea that our democracy may be unilaterally damaged by the unfit President that was elected. Lepore went to great lengths to draw lines between historical instances of threats to our democracy and what’s happening today and the biggest takeaway for me was that our country has dealt with issues of incredible tyranny in the past and gone on to mend the fissures and reinvigorate our democracy and we will be able to do it again when this period is over.

"A nation born in revolution will forever struggle against chaos. A nation founded on universal rights will wrestle against the forces of particularism. A nation that toppled a hierarchy of birth only to erect a hierarchy of wealth will never know tranquility. A nation of immigrants cannot close its borders. And a nation born in contradiction, liberty in a land of slavery, sovereignty in a land of conquest, will fight, forever, over the meaning of its history.”

There are many instances throughout the book where I realized there were times in our history where I was truly embarrassed and ashamed of our country. This took me by surprise. I won’t forget the names of Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker, who founded Campaigns Inc. in 1933 and are responsible for the defeat of health insurance for all and began the kind of dirty, scheming politics that have become a way of life for our elections today. Money, money, money has led to where we’re stuck and they can claim a large share of the blame/credit depending on your point of view.

The role of technology, public opinion and polling has not really been beneficial to our democracy in many, many ways.

So much to learn and this book goes a long way toward informing those of us who appreciate being educated. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member banjo123
Lepore is valiant in her attempt to tell the history of the US, with emphasis on the legacy of slavery in our country's founding, and a realization of how business interests influence politics. It is a very good book. I especially enjoyed the first part, as it's focus on slavery really made me think about the country's founding differently. I had known that slavery was part of the country's history, of course, but she puts it together front and center.

The main problem I have with this book is that she covers so much material in such a short span of time, that some points are over simplified or glossed over. (For example, she discussed Billy Graham's conservative leanings, but not his insistence on racial integration. ) The last part of the book felt to me like a piling together of events and facts in rapid succession, rather than thought out analysis.

Of course, if she followed my advise, this would be 10 volumes and I would still be reading! So glad that I read this and I plan to supplement with some books that go in more depth. For example, I have to read more about Eisenhower, because I hadn't realized before that he grew up Mennonite. That is so intriguing.

Some interesting parts:

Frederick Douglass on the Dred Scott decision: "You may close your Supreme Court against the black man's cry for justice, but you cannot, thank God, close against him the ear of a sympthising world, nor shut up the Court of Heaven. ....Slavery lives in this country not because of any paper Constitution, but in the moral blindness of the American people."

Clarence Darrow: "Gentlemen, the world is dark. But it is not hopeless. "

Lepore talking about political divisions between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the global war on terror: "They fought by tooth and nail and by hook and by crook and they believed they were fighting for the meaning of America, but really, they were fighting for raw political power."

And Lepore, on the internet: "But online, where everyone was, in the end, utterly alone, it had become terribly difficult to know much of anything with any certainty, except how to like and be liked, and especially, how to hate and be hated."
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LibraryThing member dasam
In "These Truths," historian Jill Lapore does an admirable job of writing a thoughtful and balanced history of the United States from the perspective of its founding ideas and ideals. She demonstrates the flaws and failures, the betrayals and reversals. She also shows the heroic efforts to be true to those ideals, to make them universal for all citizens. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly except...

Throughout the book there are glaring factual errors one would not expect from an historian and a major press. There is no point in rehearsing the many factual errors. Amazon review, S. J. Snyder, does a great job of that. The impact is to devalue the work, to make the analysis and conclusions suspect, when that is the book's strength.

I wish I could give it give stars and then 1 star for fact-checking. It still recommend that any thinking American read it as I hope that the second edition fixes the errors.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
These Truths is a comprehensive history of the United States from a political perspective, focused largely on who was in power and how they shaped the nation. But rather than idolizing these figures, Jill Lepore shows the far-reaching and sometimes unintended consequences of their actions. The essential questions Lepore aims to answer are these:
Can a political society really be governed by reflection and election, by reason and truth, rather than by accident and violence, by prejudice and deceit? Is there any arrangement of government—any constitution—by which it’s possible for a people to rule themselves, justly and fairly, and as equals, through the exercise of judgment and care? Or are their efforts, no matter their constitutions, fated to be corrupted, their judgment muddled by demagoguery, their reason abandoned for fury?

The book is organized in four parts covering major time periods: 1492-1799, 1800-1865, 1866-1945, and 1946-2016. While each part covers the major events that make up any American history textbook, where Lepore really shines is in making connections that put these events in greater context. She also candidly describes the flaws, mistakes, and sometimes corruption of the country’s leaders and systems of government, again providing a broader and more balanced view.

I came to These Truths in a time of despair for the future of the United States. The first three parts helped me understand that this country has always had its issues, from errors, omissions and incompetence to bigotry and hatred, in some respects not much different from today. But Part Four was more difficult to read, because Lepore’s analysis of “how we got here” during my lifetime was jarring, especially to the extent I was a participant. But that very discomfort is what makes this book required reading.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Lepore wrote a single volume United States history. As one might expect, it is a chunkster. It's not comprehensive. It seems to focus more on United States political history than on the people themselves. While she succeeds in neutrality in some things, her own political leanings sneak into the narrative in other places. She does, however, offer different perspectives on some incidents. My disappointment comes from the political focus. I would enjoy more on the nation's expansion and peopling. I felt the Colonial Period also received less treatment than deserved. Many people loved this far more than I did, but with its uneven coverage of American history, I cannot rate it higher.… (more)
LibraryThing member ffortsa
I've commented on this history on the group reading page before, and the last section of the book has not changed my mind about it. It is painful. The mythic history of the United States taught in my public schools did not prepare me for college history courses 50 years ago, and even with considerable learning, I don't feel I was prepared entirely for this history either. The United States is neither exceptional nor based in morality, as much as we would like to believe it. It exhibits all the errors and follies of humankind right from the start, and it doesn't feel these days that it's gotten any better. Presidents and other politicians we may have thought were better than most are shown with all their spots. The intolerable partisanship of current days is an echo of our history from the beginning. Our leaders are no more noble than the people who elect them.

Lepore is especially good at detailing the failings of our political system, over and over again, to provide fair, equal and supportive government to all our population. Many of us have heard of individual instances. This history shows the errors and failures in repetition. It is infuriating, heartbreaking, and discouraging, and thus important to know.

Highly recommended, even if you have to put it down from time to time and utter profanities, as I certainly did.
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LibraryThing member etxgardener
Jill LePore's history of the United States is a tour du force and mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand what is happening in this country today. She pulls no punches and skewers both Democrats and Republicans as well as political consultants, pollsters and anyone and everyone connected to the Internet. It has taken me several months to read this book, but I'm glad I stuck with it. It's just great.… (more)
LibraryThing member breic
I read this as a review of American history, not expecting to learn much. And I didn't. There is little insight, and its coverage of recent events is very trendy (with far too much on the 2016 election). Yet i appreciated the review, and the choice of topics for focus. The writing is usually decent, with the exception of some horrendous similes.… (more)
LibraryThing member writemoves
Unlike most history books, the content was very readable and interesting. However Lepore's book is very long ( over 950 pages). The timeline of the book starts with Christopher Columbus and finishes at the Trump presidency. Again unlike most history books, this is not a whitewash of the warts, failures,
miscarriages and atrocities that occurred since 1492. An interesting section of the book deals with the American Revolution. Much of the country did not wish to split from England. And despite all the talk about equality by many of our nation's founders, many (Jefferson, Washington and Madison) owned slaves and were still in favor of slavery.

Due to the length of the book, I did skip around and read about historical periods that interested me – – the American Revolution, World War II, 1960s and post-9/11.
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LibraryThing member annbury
Wonderful book!! The author starts out quite early in our history and shows how
slavery screwed us from the beginning. At first thought that she would remain
with this theme, but she does not. In the later chapters, she explores computers, and elections and why the Right has grown.
LibraryThing member rivkat
Lepore’s political history focuses on who was allowed to be part of the process of politics over the years, and on the epistemology of political knowledge as mediated by various sources. Benjamin Franklin's sister, who was never allowed to do the things her brother became famous for, shows up early on to set the tone. I thought making Phyllis Schlafly one of the major figures to emphasize how women’s activism has long been an important political force was a useful choice. I was less impressed by her recent history; if you’re going to say that many of Trump’s supporters aren’t racist (especially after a history structured by slavery and racism), you need to take a moment to define that.… (more)
LibraryThing member waldhaus1
I was surprised and happy to read a newly written history of the United States. Her perspective is surprisingly contemporary yet does a good job telling the story of the fifties on. She details little things like Nixon’s checkers speech at the same time looking at history through the Lens of changes of human equality. I would recommend the book to any contemporary American.… (more)
LibraryThing member arosoff
Writing a history of the United States is a little like a mosaic puzzle my son has: you can assemble the pieces to make multiple pictures, though not all arrangements make sense. In the case of the single volume history, you also have a frame that's too small for all the pieces. The author has to choose what to select and highlight, and this inevitably means some aspects are glossed over.

In These Truths, Jill Lepore has stuck to the traditional chronological format, but her organizing principle is around several recurring themes. The overarching concept is of the development of what it means to be an American. This is a boldly liberal book--and by that I do not mean slavishly devoted to a particular type of politics, but to confronting the reality of our history, even when it is uncomfortable. From day one, racism and its companion, slavery, were baked into our politics and our institutions. It was woven into the structure of our elected government, as the South gained additional political power from black people who could not elect those who represented them, and those Southern politicians were able to block legislation. Liberals and progressives are not excused either--they were routinely willing to throw black people and their rights under the bus. While Lepore doesn't make a point of saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same," she does often highlight issues that have contemporary parallels: complaints about liberals overrunning the universities; religious awakenings; the belief that government is the road to new slavery.

There are gaps; notably, military history gets almost no mention at all. But at this length, it's difficult to argue with what's left out. She does devote more time to a few topics--such as the birth of political analysis and polling--that another writer might have chosen to leave out, but it is very much relevant to contemporary politics.

Lepore is a terrific writer--this is a popular history in the best sense. It is meant to be read and enjoyed. I don't know if this is going to supplant Howard Zinn as a go-to single volume history; only time will tell. But it's very much worth a reading today.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
This is a book about the history of the United States which I've had on my shelf for awhile but I never felt any urgency to read. I mean, the history of the US -- didn't I already learn all this? But this is not the history I learned ages ago and it definitely was an eye opener about why we are where we are today. Yes, it's long, and yes, some of the stories you probably have already heard, but I guarantee that if you read this book, you'll find some surprises that will shock you. The length -- over 900 pages -- might feel intimidating but her writing style is easy and entertaining and it's definitely well worth the read.… (more)
LibraryThing member LoriAnnK
The content of the book is well done, but Lepore's reading of the audio is not good. Her reading of quotes from historical documents is overly dramatic in a way that's very distracting. I kept hoping that it would get better as the book went along, but it didn't. I do almost all of my nonfiction reading via audio, but I wish that for this one I had read the physical book.… (more)
LibraryThing member CarltonC
For a British reader who only knew about key moments of American history, mainly from film or fiction, this was an excellent and easily readable overview of the colonisation of the thirteen original states, creation of the United States and the subsequent political history up to 2018 (although the last chapter feels less like history than good journalism).
Although a big book, with nearly 800 pages of text plus over 100 pages of notes and index, it is well structured and organised to describe the development of the US political system, especially the initial political “fudge” of slavery, the consequences of this fudge as the number of states increased, civil war (covered necessarily briefly in order to maintain momentum), the failure of reconstruction with the introduction of Jim Crow laws to impose segregation and the slow fight for racial and sexual equality. Although discussed, I felt that there should have been more about native Americans, but this lack may reflect American political history.
Overarching themes such as the waxing and waning of power between the presidency, Senate/House of Representatives and the Judiciary, and the rise and fall of the power of the press are skilfully interwoven. I found the importance of the Constitution and the referencing of specific “landmark” legal cases and their ongoing political ramifications very interesting (the UK doesn’t have a written constitution).
Highly recommended in providing an understanding of how the United States of America has arrived at where it is today and its complex myths.
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LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
These Truths , a history of the United States of America by Jill LePore, starts with Columbus‘s arrival and ends with Trump being elected. This is a big picture overview of US History that also attempts to include histories ignored or downplayed by some past historians/histories (i.e. that of women, people of color). A single volume project this ambitious does leave out, or not cover as deeply, some incidents or ideology. So, of course, different readers are going to say or have said that LePore should have included this or that. That's understandable.

My copy was the first edition in paperback, which was revised from the original hardcover edition. This was to correct errors, and also --according to LePore-- it added or deleted some historical aspects.
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LibraryThing member nmele
Lepore's history of the U.S. has several foci, especially the stain of slavery and the growth of political institutions such as consultants and polling. To explore the growth of populism, the effects of slavery and the legacy of racism, Lepore gives short shrift to a lot of what us usually taught as American history: she looks at the theft of property from Spain but passes over Lewis and Clark, barely mentions genocide of native Americans, and more. But this book can be considered as a necessary, very readable exploration of the history of some of the most divisive issues in contemporary America.… (more)



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