These Truths: A History of the United States

by Jill Lepore

Hardcover, 2018

Call number

973 LEP

Collection

Publication

W. W. Norton & Company (2018), Edition: 1, 960 pages

Description

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."… (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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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)
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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Pages

960

ISBN

0393635244 / 9780393635249
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