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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. 5 out of 5

    Bill Gates

    Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books about history, especially American history. I never get tired of looking closely at seminal events, such as the Vietnam War, and figures I admire, such as the global heath hero Jim Grant. These Truths: A History of the United States, by the Harvard historian and New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore, is not a deep or comprehensive account of individual events or people. The book covers centuries of history in its 800 pages, so Lepore can offer only quick glim Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books about history, especially American history. I never get tired of looking closely at seminal events, such as the Vietnam War, and figures I admire, such as the global heath hero Jim Grant. These Truths: A History of the United States, by the Harvard historian and New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore, is not a deep or comprehensive account of individual events or people. The book covers centuries of history in its 800 pages, so Lepore can offer only quick glimpses at major events such as America’s first presidential impeachment (only three sentences) and doesn’t even get a chance to mention pivotal figures such as Lewis and Clark. But with the exception of a brief section covering the past 20 years (more on this below), I loved the book and hope lots of people read it. In keeping with its title, it’s the most honest account of the American story I’ve ever read, and one of the most beautifully written. Lepore comments in her conclusion that simplistic, feel-good accounts of our past undermine and belittle “the American experiment, making it … a daffy, reassuring bedtime story.” These Truths is just the opposite. While many good history books provide perspectives beyond those of the traditional “great men” of history, Lepore’s book makes diverse points of view central to the narrative. She shows you all the ironies and contradictions in American history. For example, Lepore tells you about Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress. Smith had the courage to stand up to abuses in Congress; she was particularly passionate in speaking out against Joseph McCarthy’s hateful hunt for communists in government. And yet she also willingly participated in crusades against “homosexuals and other sex perverts in government,” in the language of the Congressional hearings. Another contradiction I was not aware of relates to the GI Bill, which gave a huge boost to my dad’s education and career after he served during World War II. After acknowledging that the GI Bill was one of the wisest investments our country has ever made, she points out that it actually had a negative impact on African Americans, women, and gay people who fought for their country in World War II—most of whom were denied GI benefits. By far the biggest contradiction in our country’s history is one that Lepore weaves into every part of her book: the fact that America was founded on assertions of liberty and sovereignty while practicing African slavery and Native American conquest. This contradiction was obvious to America’s slaves, many of whom sided with the British during the American Revolution because they knew they had a much better chance of being freed if the British won. One of George Washington’s own slaves, Harry Washington, escaped from Mount Vernon during the war and fought alongside Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia. Harry Washington later fled to Sierra Leone and became the leader of a group of revolutionaries who declared independence there. The Emancipation Proclamation represented an important step in reconciling this contradiction. “American slavery …. had stolen the lives of millions and crushed the souls of millions more,” writes Lepore. “It had poisoned a people and a nation…. It was not over yet. But at last, an end lay within sight.” Thirty years after Lincoln’s proclamation, Frederick Douglass wrote, “The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution.” Despite all of Lepore’s research and writing, I found the final section of the book to be out of keeping with what preceded it. This section did not sound like it was written by a professor who excels at detached historical analysis. Especially in the section about the 2008 financial crisis, it reads like the work of a critic who is caught up in the passions of the moment. Even so, I highly recommend the book. It’s packed with amazing details I had never read before. For example, there were more than 100 incidents of violence between members of Congress between 1830 and 1860. But more important, it’s a good reminder that there’s a lot more to American history than most of us learn in school. These truths are ones we all need to hear.

  2. 5 out of 5

    James Thane

    Jill Lepore's These Truths is a massive (932 pages) and beautifully-written new history of the United States from Columbus to the Age of Donald Trump. It raises the critically important question of whether a nation founded on the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution can survive under the assault of the Internet, talk radio, twenty-four-hour cable "news," and all of the other maladies that now afflict the nation's democracy. The depth of Lepore's research is Jill Lepore's These Truths is a massive (932 pages) and beautifully-written new history of the United States from Columbus to the Age of Donald Trump. It raises the critically important question of whether a nation founded on the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution can survive under the assault of the Internet, talk radio, twenty-four-hour cable "news," and all of the other maladies that now afflict the nation's democracy. The depth of Lepore's research is nothing less than astounding. The book reflects the latest scholarship and illustrates the fact that, contrary to the arguments of an earlier generation of American historians, the nation's development has not been one glorious march along the road to progress. Rather, we have proceeded in fits and starts. Our history has been characterized by periods of reform alternating with times of retreat. We have enjoyed times of great economic prosperity only to have them shattered by periodic economic collapses. We have been led by men and women of brilliance, courage and foresight, but we have also on occasion fallen prey to scoundrels and charlatans. Ours is a complex history, marked by moments of selfless sacrifice and great triumph, but marred by injustice and tragedy as well. For much of our history, many of the nation's citizens, especially women along with blacks and other minorities, have been denied the opportunity to participate fully in the society and especially in its political life. Thus the struggle to provide equal opportunity for all Americans has been a long-running theme of American politics, ever since the days when the right to vote and to otherwise participate in the nation's governance was reserved for white, adult, male property owners. Anyone who is reasonably well-versed in the history of the United States will understand that the nation has experienced--and survived--many difficult moments before. And, of course, every generation is almost automatically bound to assume that the times they live in are the most important, the most exciting, the most perilous, or whatever, in the history of the country. Still, one finishes this book with a profound sense of foreboding, and you can't help but wonder if the age of rabid partisanship in which we now live, along with the tools now at the disposal of those who would divide rather than unite us as a people, will finally be enough to overwhelm the "truths" left us by the Founding Generation. This is a very timely book that will appeal to large numbers of readers looking for a fresh look at the history of the American people and the challenges that we face today.

  3. 4 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~ ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    Q With this history I have told a story... (c) 🐬Just my unpopular opinion. What's most interesting is that there isn't all that much history to speak about. In all due seriousness, it has been what? 2 centuries? 3? Not quite. Before doing the 'sweeping volumes of history', a country should live those volumes first. The only good thing coming from this lack of historical tradition is that it should be very short and up to the point. It's easier to establish facts when the timetrack isn't too oversi Q With this history I have told a story... (c) 🐬Just my unpopular opinion. What's most interesting is that there isn't all that much history to speak about. In all due seriousness, it has been what? 2 centuries? 3? Not quite. Before doing the 'sweeping volumes of history', a country should live those volumes first. The only good thing coming from this lack of historical tradition is that it should be very short and up to the point. It's easier to establish facts when the timetrack isn't too oversized. Still, somehow, this priviledge wasn't built upon. Instead, we have a rambling account, which starts (as tradition dictates!) at Columbus. Of all things. I believe that starting at Columbus was pointless: - The US didn't start with Columbus. It wasn't a thing until 1776, which gives the historian a measly period of 284 years to cover. - What about all those Norsemen, who discovered this continent 500 years before him? - What about all the Mayan and Incan and Aztecs? Were they officially worthless? Is it not enough to just destroy them, do we need to forget them, as well? From this one we mostly learn that they all died. Well, we sort of guessed it from the beginning. A very sanitized account. One won't learn from this 'story' just how the US came to be the only currently existing state built on ashes of indigenous peoples (other than Australian tribal woes) annihilated on a continent-wide scale genocide. A ramblic apologetic account of how US came to be. A book has this phrase aptly catching it all: Q All of it is unfortunate; none of it is unusual. (c) 🐬Fun to read. I do love my flowery tales and metaphoric language. What I don't like is when they posture as serious lit, such as 'history volumes, civic lit... etc'. Q 'Facts, knowledge, experience, proof.' (c) Not too much of all that. A lot of posturing instead. 'Storytelling, and truth' have had a hard time in here. And 'truth' might have been lost in all the fantasy and conjecture... However magisterial and beautiful and evocative and inspiring and idealistic and what-not they might be.

  4. 5 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Ferro

    One of my favorite genres to read in nonfiction are broad, sweeping narratives of American history. Thus, when I heard about THESE TRUTHS last year, I couldn't pick up a copy fast enough. And folks, let me tell you: this one does not disappoint. Jill Lepore is an absolute phenom when it comes to historical context, adding new layers and elements to many of the most complicated eras in our short history. That said, Lepore does not shy away from some of the lesser-known aspects of our history (at One of my favorite genres to read in nonfiction are broad, sweeping narratives of American history. Thus, when I heard about THESE TRUTHS last year, I couldn't pick up a copy fast enough. And folks, let me tell you: this one does not disappoint. Jill Lepore is an absolute phenom when it comes to historical context, adding new layers and elements to many of the most complicated eras in our short history. That said, Lepore does not shy away from some of the lesser-known aspects of our history (at least, lesser-known to me). The early America coverage, including that of Columbus and the first settlers in Jamestown, is particularly interesting, though I only wish there had been more. It doesn't feel rushed, but Lepore certainly focuses her immense talents on the later 19th century and the monumental 20th century. Of particular note was Lepore's routine hearkening back to the framers of the constitution when looking at some of our more modern problems—putting them into historical context. And much of the darker side of American history, sorely lacking from many previous tomes in the past, is skillfully uncovered here. All in all, THESE TRUTHS is a splendid and engrossing look at the history of the world's first dominant democracy, and the dangers that lie ahead if we continue to lose our way by disregarding the hard truths of our past.

  6. 5 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. == Note: Based on Amazon responses, where I still occasionally post a review, and where, for various reasons, I 1-starred it, I shouldn't have worried about the review getting noticed. From feedback there and elsewhere, as well as the absurdly high overall rating here, I have moved my review down to 1 star here. (Seriously, 4.4 overall? I smell tribalism.)

  7. 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    I do not just casually read 900+ page history books. I don't read much history at all, to be honest. But I read Lepore's SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN and was constantly enthralled with everything I learned so I thought this was worth a try. What Lepore does here is in some ways quite simple, but still astounding. She gives us a political history of the United States, much like the one you've learned already but different in a few key respects. Lepore is, above all, concerned with how our nation I do not just casually read 900+ page history books. I don't read much history at all, to be honest. But I read Lepore's SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN and was constantly enthralled with everything I learned so I thought this was worth a try. What Lepore does here is in some ways quite simple, but still astounding. She gives us a political history of the United States, much like the one you've learned already but different in a few key respects. Lepore is, above all, concerned with how our national ideals have played out. After all, it's baffling how our country is founded on documents insisting that everyone is equal, but actually it just means white men. While the major political players may be having one conversation, Lepore does not forget about all the people that conversation ignores. Even at 933 pages, there is a lot Lepore has to leave out in a history that covers hundreds of years. But despite its length it moves along at a nice clip, never stalling for too long in one time or place. There are plenty of stops for anecdotes along the way to give color and depth and context. Honestly the only real problem I have with this book is that once I reached the 20th century I was so depressed that I had to take a long break. I am not used to having such a clear-eyed view, we much prefer our national myths. But when you really look at it all straight on it can feel like we are a nation built not on equality, but on inequality. We are not built on justice but on suffering. And in 2019 that is a lot. Eventually I came back and got through just fine, but I have to admit that it was really hard. (Also probably didn't help that I went to see WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME right before, which is also wonderful and also deeply depressing in some similar ways.) I did this on audio, I do not have the fortitude for most nonfiction in print. Lepore reads it and I find her very endearing, but I suspect many readers will not agree with me. I love the sing-song way she reads quotes, contrasted with her soft, straightforward tone the rest of the time. Definitely do a sample first to see how you feel about her. Ultimately this book has had a significant impact on how I think about our national story, our mythology, and what it all means. It is powerful and terrible to see us portrayed in all our glory and all our cruelty.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ilana

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

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    The good news: "only" 809 pp of actual text (hc ed). The bad news: she starts her History with Columbus's voyage of discovery. She starts in Haiti/Hispaniola, and uncritically quotes Bartolome de los Casas 16th C. guess that Hispaniola had a pre-Spanish population of about 3 million, which fifty years later had declined to 500 natives! My BS detector sounded, since this was uncited, and indeed per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta%C3%A..., the max modern estimate for pre-Conquest Hispaniola is ar The good news: "only" 809 pp of actual text (hc ed). The bad news: she starts her History with Columbus's voyage of discovery. She starts in Haiti/Hispaniola, and uncritically quotes Bartolome de los Casas 16th C. guess that Hispaniola had a pre-Spanish population of about 3 million, which fifty years later had declined to 500 natives! My BS detector sounded, since this was uncited, and indeed per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta%C3%A..., the max modern estimate for pre-Conquest Hispaniola is around 500,000. Whatever the number, within 30 years 80 to 90% had died of European diseases (which was horrible but typical throughout the New World after European contact), nor were they treated kindly by the Spanish. But I was taken aback that a historian of Lepore's standing would start her account with such an obvious blunder. This is at p. xx + 20, so it will be awhile.... I have more notes to write up, but basically, she made factual errors that a professional historian shouldn't have. No fact checking? P.8, the pre-columbian natives raised pigs and chickens! Two old-world species, brought over with the Spanish. C'mon, Jill, how can we trust you on the stuff we don't know? Answer: we can't. Bah I gave up. Abandoned for cause, for professional misconduct. Well-written but untrustworthy! ============== Earlier stuff, edited out for cause ============= 960 pages! Which gives one pause. But she is such a good writer.... The review at NYRB uncritically accepts her unchecked and unreliable guesstimate for the original population of the Americas. So take with salt! 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. [for good reason. See above. Bad, bad Jill!] "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....

  11. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Claire Reads Books

    4.5 ⭐️ No "comprehensive" book of United States history will ever be just that—there is simply too much to fit into even 900+ pages. But in These Truths, Jill Lepore selects and synthesizes events, details, and documents that create a picture of the vast sweep of American history—in all its promises and exceptionalism and, of course, in all its failures and hypocrisies. Her prose is taut and fluid and even glimmers, at times, with beautiful metaphors, turns of phrase, and the occasional solemn r 4.5 ⭐️ No "comprehensive" book of United States history will ever be just that—there is simply too much to fit into even 900+ pages. But in These Truths, Jill Lepore selects and synthesizes events, details, and documents that create a picture of the vast sweep of American history—in all its promises and exceptionalism and, of course, in all its failures and hypocrisies. Her prose is taut and fluid and even glimmers, at times, with beautiful metaphors, turns of phrase, and the occasional solemn reflection that seems to vibrate through the page. There is great value in examining the long arc of democratic experimentation that has led us to our current moment, and These Truths offers a relatively concise place to start considering this nation's complicated and often contradictory history—and to get a sense of where we may go from here. As Lepore notes in the book’s epilogue, “A nation cannot choose its past; it can only choose its future.”

  13. 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nadine Jones

    I'm reading this in four parts (because I can't handle 900+ pages in one go). I'm treating each part as a "book" for the purposes of my GR reviews (so that this book isn't lingering on my "Currently Reading" shelf for 12 months or so). Book One "The Idea" 1492 - 1799 (read from 12/4/18-12/16/18) - finished! 3.5 stars This is very interesting, and readable, with fascinating details (the first British colonists turned to cannibalism!), but maybe Lepore has attempted too much. Of course in a brief his I'm reading this in four parts (because I can't handle 900+ pages in one go). I'm treating each part as a "book" for the purposes of my GR reviews (so that this book isn't lingering on my "Currently Reading" shelf for 12 months or so). Book One "The Idea" 1492 - 1799 (read from 12/4/18-12/16/18) - finished! 3.5 stars This is very interesting, and readable, with fascinating details (the first British colonists turned to cannibalism!), but maybe Lepore has attempted too much. Of course in a brief history you can't cover everything, but this feels unfocused at times; names will be suddenly mentioned out of the blue and some needed details are left out. For example, I had to google to find out why Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned and later executed, this text just mentioned that he was in prison, Overall, this suffered from a lack of focus, with much confusing jumping back and forth from person to person and from year to year. I realize it's impossible to avoid some of that, but I wished for a bit less than we got. I recently finished the excellent Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and I thought it was interesting that Kendi showed evidence that one of the causes of the American Revolution was to maintain slavery, but in this book Lepore implies that the those in favor of abolition of slavery were the same people in favor of Revolution. She also points out that the Caribbean colonies of Jamaica and Barbados did not participate in the Revolution because they feared additional slave rebellions, thus slavery was a reason they did not want Revolution. There's been a lot of "the Founding Fathers intended ..." talk in this country recently, so I was especially interested to read the details of how they first set up the USA government, and what their hopes and plans were. A democracy, in which the people “assemble and administer the government in person,” will always be subject to endless “turbulence and contention,” [Madison] argued, but a republic, in which the people elect representatives to do the work of governing, can steer clear of that fate by electing men who will always put the public good before narrow or partisan interests, the good of all above the good of any part or party. That's not working out so well, though. And Madison himself began to see the weaknesses... Madison argued that it could only work if a republic were large, for two reasons. First, in a large republic, there would be more men to choose from, and so a better chance, purely as a matter of numbers, for the people to elect men who will guard the public interest. Second, in a large republic, candidates for office, in order to be known and to appeal to so large a number of voters, would need to be both notable and worthy. ... as early as 1791, Madison had begun to revise his thinking. ... “The larger a country, the less easy for its real opinion to be ascertained,” he explained. Yeah, I'd say he was right about that. The "Founding Fathers" (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, et al) were really worried about holding the new country together. But the USA is such a mess right now, I wish they had just let it naturally fall apart after the Revolution. I think we'd be better off today as a group of separate but cooperative countries. I'm feeling really hopeless about the current Administration. (Of course, I live in NY, and POTUS is from NY, so maybe I'd still be stuck with him in my alternate reality.) Book Two "The People" 1800 - 1865 Book Three "The State" 1866 - 1945 Book Four "The Machine" 1946 - 2016

  15. 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hayley

    Interesting, sad, and profound political history of America. I think it would do this country wonders if more people read it.

  17. 5 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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Donald Powell

    Ms. Lepore is very intelligent, a great editor of United States' history and a good writer. Deciding what to publish and how to frame it is an historian's art. Jill Lepore wrote a masterpiece for a one volume approach of over 245 years of troubled past. The last few pages are her diagnosis and prognosis, evoking serious consideration of the matters presented in the rest of this important take on our history. Her angles are well considered, refreshing and surprisingly objective. She is a true sch Ms. Lepore is very intelligent, a great editor of United States' history and a good writer. Deciding what to publish and how to frame it is an historian's art. Jill Lepore wrote a masterpiece for a one volume approach of over 245 years of troubled past. The last few pages are her diagnosis and prognosis, evoking serious consideration of the matters presented in the rest of this important take on our history. Her angles are well considered, refreshing and surprisingly objective. She is a true scholar worthy of anyone seriously interested in politics, economics, culture and how to consider history as a tool for navigating today. The footnotes are a phenomenal collection. The level of study and contemplation from authors like this deserves our attention.

  19. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Though a chronology of America's existence, this isn't a narrative history of events or battles or physical challenge. Lepore's history is the evolution of ideas the country was founded on, the truths which endure through changing perceptions of society, their resilience proven through their resistance to destruction. It's a history told through the values we claim to hold dear. The early going concerns itself with the civic and political theories which are the foundations of what America became Though a chronology of America's existence, this isn't a narrative history of events or battles or physical challenge. Lepore's history is the evolution of ideas the country was founded on, the truths which endure through changing perceptions of society, their resilience proven through their resistance to destruction. It's a history told through the values we claim to hold dear. The early going concerns itself with the civic and political theories which are the foundations of what America became and is. One of the strengths of her book lies in her insisting those values have always been and remain true. What I found interesting is that she shows, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps deliberately and wisely, that many of the same conditions we experience today have always existed, though conceivably in less virulent forms. Disinformation has always been practiced by political opponents, just as there has always been confusion about what to believe. There have always been politicians who displayed cruelty and moral shabbiness. Racism has always been a stain on the country. Yet even as these dark currents and others have flowed through America's narrative, there has always been the endeavor toward the ideal and the common good. I was impressed with how well Lepore writes. Her commanding prose helps to make this a grand, authoritative and poetic history of America. Her analyses carry persuasive substance yet she's best when she lets the material swing into story. She writes with clarity and understanding. I found this a thoroughly interesting read. I enjoyed being able to revisit all the old stories and personalities not focused on for a while. Lepore explains everything, every issue, especially those barreling down to influence our current day. As I say, it's a grand story. She's proud of it, and she encourages you to be proud while reading it. The only darkness is the final chapter which she calls "America Disrupted." It's the period covering the lives of most of us, a time marked most perceptibly, as she points out, by the victory of conservatism over liberalism. She says conservatism has won history for now, but she also leaves us with the thought that "a nation cannot choose its past; it can only choose its future," leaving us the hope that racism and partisanship and our appetite for violence will fall away.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Harold

    This is a strange history of the United States. Lepore is clear in the introduction that the author’s choices determine any history, particularly a one volume history of the 400 or more years of US History. In her case she understates. This is more essay as history. Much of the book is dedicated to the injustices of the European settlers against minorities, most notably of course African slaves, and later their descendants in the era of Jim Crow. While the history is light on facts and events, s This is a strange history of the United States. Lepore is clear in the introduction that the author’s choices determine any history, particularly a one volume history of the 400 or more years of US History. In her case she understates. This is more essay as history. Much of the book is dedicated to the injustices of the European settlers against minorities, most notably of course African slaves, and later their descendants in the era of Jim Crow. While the history is light on facts and events, she makes clear (her opinion) that most of the profound choices in American history were dictated by conflict between slave and free states, and thereafter by the racial and economic divide, with an appearance or two for female suffrage and cameos by immigrants of other nationalities (Chinese and Mexicans), and the LGBT community. Finally in the latter 20th century the book turns slightly to add TV, the internet, polling, and electioneering to its list of villains. As a liberal I generally found myself in sympathetic agreement with Lepore, but with some dissonance, as I longed to point out a few good things that happened in this country — not just unremitting prejudice. And although beautifully written, ultimately I had to conclude that a book of American history where Phyllis Schlafly is mentioned more than Alexander Hamilton, and Archibald Macleish is mentioned more than Ulysses Grant is a history that, for example, hardly would be useful on an AP test. Better to read this as counterpoint. And of all the villains in US history, Phyllis Schlafly. Really?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    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. 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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Katz

    Guess I never got around to writing a review (though I could have sworn I did). I'm not going to do so now. I'll simply say this book is wonderful and should be read by everyone who cares about our current situation -- our politics, cultural upheavals, mutual distrust -- and how we got here. It hasn't been very long since I read it, but I've been listening to several podcasts with Lepore and I find myself strongly tempted to read it again or download it so that I might listen to it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cam Waller

    790 pages of American history in the bag. I started this book months ago, and the motivation for what truly made me pick it up and read it front to back has escaped me at this point. I guess I thought that reading this BRICK would offer me a way to put the pieces together, to understand how we got here: Trump in the White House, minds spiraling, tensions flaring, society splitting into an ever-widening crack. What THESE TRUTHS showed me was that, yes, America is broken. But it has always been bro 790 pages of American history in the bag. I started this book months ago, and the motivation for what truly made me pick it up and read it front to back has escaped me at this point. I guess I thought that reading this BRICK would offer me a way to put the pieces together, to understand how we got here: Trump in the White House, minds spiraling, tensions flaring, society splitting into an ever-widening crack. What THESE TRUTHS showed me was that, yes, America is broken. But it has always been broken. If ever things in American society seemed strong and cohesive, Lepore shows that things were inevitably broken for someone else. Lepore emphasizes minority communities throughout the text, proving that multiple self-evident truths coexisted and it’s these truths that made the country.

  24. 5 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)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    An excellent one volume history of the United States that at least briefly touches on all of the major events while providing a rich interpretative narrative that comes back to several themes: how technology changes politics, how Americans identities as Americans and their political identities evolve, what is understand to be a foundational truths about the country, how race and racism have helped define and subvert the nature of liberty, democracy and inclusion throughout American history, and An excellent one volume history of the United States that at least briefly touches on all of the major events while providing a rich interpretative narrative that comes back to several themes: how technology changes politics, how Americans identities as Americans and their political identities evolve, what is understand to be a foundational truths about the country, how race and racism have helped define and subvert the nature of liberty, democracy and inclusion throughout American history, and how we understand and tell our history and what it means to us. All in a beautifully written occasionally almost poetic account. I learned more about just about every period in American history up until the last twenty or thirty years when in the final pages the book felt more like journalism than history. I was actually surprised how much I learned about the decades after World War II and the ways in which issues like the Equal Rights Amendment and guns became polarized. I found the interpretation interesting, provocative and often compelling. The flip side is that it came with what often seemed like a decent amount of editorializing that at some points became grating, especially in the recent period. Jill Lepore is no fan of social science, repeatedly coming back to making claims about its complicit or even central role in various bad socioeconomic and political developments from eugenics to political polarization. She seems mostly skeptical about economic progress at any stage in American history—and completely skeptical that the progress has anything to do with innovation or entrepreneurship. I also thought she (like many other thinkers) never quite resolved the tension between support for democracy and her implicit/explicit belief that the people are easily tricked by pollsters, the media, social scientists, political parties, and the like. When I disagreed on recent events I often worried she was oversimplifying and overly ideological. I never felt this way about her more historical accounts, not sure if that means these issues didn’t affect her history or I am just less knowledgeable/biased when you go further back in time. All that said, is quite an accomplishment, I learned a lot, the narrative is great, and while I have not read many (any?) one volume histories of the United States from 1942 to the present, I would be surprised if there was another one I would have rather read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    A history of the United States for our time, that tells the story of America from Columbus to Trump. It has been a quite a while since I’ve been this impressed by a history book (and my shelves testify how much of them I read). These Truths is a splendidly written account that the author intends to also be a civics primer. I learned a great deal about America and I enjoyed reading it immensely. Jill Lepore looks at the subject through the theme of truth, as the nation was founded on a truth clai A history of the United States for our time, that tells the story of America from Columbus to Trump. It has been a quite a while since I’ve been this impressed by a history book (and my shelves testify how much of them I read). These Truths is a splendidly written account that the author intends to also be a civics primer. I learned a great deal about America and I enjoyed reading it immensely. Jill Lepore looks at the subject through the theme of truth, as the nation was founded on a truth claim. Unlike most nations, the United States was born in the clear light of history. The founders were men who had studied history and incorporated their understanding of history into the founding documents. There is a heavy focus on the news media and how the development of new ways of reporting affected outcomes in each generation, which is highly relevant to present concerns. You will come away from this book knowing a lot about political campaigns. There is also for topics that aren’t usually covered in history books, such as the impact of computation (which was fascinating to discover). I particularly enjoyed finding out about the growth of Christian fundamentalism and the life of Phyllis Schlafly. The biographical details of the figures in this book was a highlight. Lepore also discusses the writing of history and how it has been used in the past. The roots of the current partisan divides and polarization are explained. We learn how abortion and gun control became partisan issues. Of course, there isn’t space for everything. Military and diplomatic affairs get little attention, as the author says, but I think that is the right approach. This allows her to focus on the more illuminating factors on how America got this way. However, if you want to know about diplomatic history, read From Colony to Superpower

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike Zickar

    A beautifully written book, an expansive one-volume history of the United States from Christopher Columbus to the Presidency of Donald J. Trump. I appreciated several things about this book. First, the author threads a needle between the celebratory and hyper-critical research. She's not afraid to celebrate many of the great accomplishments of our country; nor is she reluctant to point out the mistakes that our country has made. This author isn't afraid of pointing out mistakes made by liberals A beautifully written book, an expansive one-volume history of the United States from Christopher Columbus to the Presidency of Donald J. Trump. I appreciated several things about this book. First, the author threads a needle between the celebratory and hyper-critical research. She's not afraid to celebrate many of the great accomplishments of our country; nor is she reluctant to point out the mistakes that our country has made. This author isn't afraid of pointing out mistakes made by liberals or by conservatives (and all of the varieties of beliefs in between in our vast history). Second, there is a sense of magic and poetry in much of the writing, and the author has a great eye for some details that are left out of most broad history books. For example, she focuses a bit on Harry Washington, one of George Washington's slaves who escapes to Sierra Leone and leads a rebellion there. Throughout, the author is able to help readers see connections between events that might have seemed unrelated to each other. This is largely a history of the politics of the USA, though she focuses on military issues and economic issues throughout as well. A true revelation!

  28. 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.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    “What, then, of the American past? There is, to be sure, a great deal of anguish in American history and more hypocrisy. No nation and no people are relieved of these. But there is also, in the American past, an extraordinary amount of decency and hope, of prosperity and ambition, and much, especially, invention and beauty. Some American history books fail to criticize the United States; others do nothing but. This book is neither kind. The truths on which the nation was founded are not mysterie “What, then, of the American past? There is, to be sure, a great deal of anguish in American history and more hypocrisy. No nation and no people are relieved of these. But there is also, in the American past, an extraordinary amount of decency and hope, of prosperity and ambition, and much, especially, invention and beauty. Some American history books fail to criticize the United States; others do nothing but. This book is neither kind. The truths on which the nation was founded are not mysteries, articles of faith, never to be questioned, as if the founding were an act of God, but neither are they lies, all facts fictions, as if nothing can be known, in a world without truth.” This quote nicely summarizes Lepore's approach to a narrative history of the United States. Let me say up front: I've always loved her writing, and I think now she might be the most important historian in the United States. This book is super long but outstanding. Her approach to telling the story of the US makes a lot of sense in a few ways: 1. Don't write another textbook. DOn't try to be comprehensive and cover everything. There are enough books out there that try to do that. Instead, build characters and develop themes, and be honest about what you are leaving out (which she is). 2. Tell a story in which everyone can see themselves but avoid the academic fad of pluralizing everything and obsessing over pulling apart any grand or coherent narrative (feminisms, anti-fascisms, etc). 3. Pick up themes in American history and trace them through to the present in ways that illuminate what is going on today. That isn't "presentism," it is relevance. The core of Lepore's narrative is the idea of America as an experiment in self-government, in rational thinking, in countering our selfish and tribal instincts, and, of course, in constantly rethinking the nature and terms of this experiment. She shows that key figures in US history have thought of the US in this way. Can a country be ruled by reason, enlightenment, justice, and equality (these truths) rather than mysticism, the iron will of a leader, and ideas of the blood and soil nation? Furthermore, can it live up to the high-minded ideas of its founding documents and other key interventions along the way? That has been the great test that is the United States, and Lepore tells this story beautifully. She shows how new challenges have emerged over time to this experiment. One of the most compelling is her discussion of the belief that technology will unite the nation and erase the need for divisive politics or ideology. From the newspaper to the telegraph to the phone to radio to TV to the internet to social media, this fallacy has existed, and people have fallen into it. Each of these innovations was "improved means to an unimproved end," in Thoreau's words, as technologies cannot be better than the people who use them. Her final chapter shows how the Internet has been a disaster for democracy. Speaking of this, one of Lepore's most interesting themes is the problem of knowledge in a democratic society. Just how far can that democratic principle go? Can the people determine what is true if they are to determine what powers the government will have? This democratization of knowledge has always been a strength and weakness of American democracy. On one hand, Americans are independently-minded; they often embrace the idea that citizens must think things through for themselves. On the other hand, there's a tendency towards bullshit, chicanery, conspiracy, manipulation, and false prophets. Lepore shows how technology has intervened to worsen this problem, discussing the history of public relations firms, polling, conspiracy theories, and social media. Her conclusion, subtly infused into the narrative, is that the United States needs a new structure to manage and channel the forces unleashed by the Internet and globalization, just as the Progressives, the labor movement, and the New Dealers created a structure for industrialization and urbanization's upheavals. I'd like to pre-empt some of Lepore's critics (or post-empt, maybe). This is a political history. She is up front about that. Certain stories are minimized to keep the thing within 1k pages. Lepore points to way to other resources on this front. Don't criticize a book for what it didn't do, especially when there are other excellent books that do what Lepore downplayed. Native Americans, for example, aren't featured prominently in 20th and 21st century sections of this book because, sadly, they do not figure prominently in that history, being a tiny and impoverished minority. It made more sense for Lepore to focus in on strains and trends that better help us understand the present, especially the interaction of democracy and technological innovation. There's such a tendency today to chop up US history into ethnic/racial/gender threads, and I'm glad that historians like Lepore or Dan Immerwahr are pushing against that trend and giving us a sense of the whole and of the currents that run through the entire story. This is obviously a beast of a book, so I won't recommend it unless you really want to spend time thinking about the longue duree of US history. If you are down for that, I'd say start here. The book perfectly balances political relevance with attention to context and contingency and character. It is written in elegant, inspiring, but still simple terms. If it ever came out in a divided volume (ie pre and post 1900 or something), I would assign it to a college course. I will definitely reference it over and over, especially because I think Lepore and I are so similar on how we think about history, contemporary politics, and the relations between those things.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Abtin

    You can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing. But only after they have exhausted every other possibility. This is an interesting book, especially as someone who didn't grow up in the American school system. It provides a nice overview of American history since 1492. The book highlights the ways that the ideals of freedom in America have been tempered by a desire by those in power to oppress minorities including people of color and women. It nicely shows how many major decisions in Ame You can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing. But only after they have exhausted every other possibility. This is an interesting book, especially as someone who didn't grow up in the American school system. It provides a nice overview of American history since 1492. The book highlights the ways that the ideals of freedom in America have been tempered by a desire by those in power to oppress minorities including people of color and women. It nicely shows how many major decisions in American history were either explicitly or implicitly influenced by a desire to continue the status quo. The book also explores the way that campaign committees and pollsters have swayed elections and convinced people to vote against their own interests. This ultimately leads to the last chapter about post-2000 America, and how all these things have come together to create the current political situation.

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