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."
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.
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.
"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.
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."
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.
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.