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These Truths: A History of the United States Kindle Edition
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“Nothing short of a masterpiece.” —NPR Books
A New York Times Bestseller and a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year
In the most ambitious one-volume American history in decades, award-winning historian Jill Lepore offers a magisterial account of the origins and rise of a divided nation.
Widely hailed for its “sweeping, sobering account of the American past” (New York Times Book Review), Jill Lepore’s one-volume history of America 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. 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 wrestles with the state of American politics, the legacy of slavery, the persistence of inequality, and the nature of technological change. “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. With These Truths, Lepore has produced a book that will shape our view of American history for decades to come.
From the Publisher
― Andrew Sullivan, New York Times Book Review
"This sweeping, sobering account of the American past is a story not of relentless progress but of conflict and contradiction, with crosscurrents of reason and faith, black and white, immigrant and native, industry and agriculture rippling through a narrative that is far from completion."
― New York Times Book Review (editors' choice)
"[Lepore’s] one-volume history is elegant, readable, sobering; it extends a steadying hand when a breakneck news cycle lurches from one event to another, confounding minds and churning stomachs."
― Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
"Jill Lepore is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and These Truths is nothing short of a masterpiece of American history. By engaging with our country's painful past (and present) in an intellectually honest way, she has created a book that truly does encapsulate the American story in all its pain and all its triumph."
― Michael Schaub, NPR
"Lepore’s brilliant book, These Truths, rings as clear as a church bell, the lucid, welcome yield of clear thinking and a capable, curious mind."
― Karen R. Long, Newsday
"This vivid history brings alive the contradictions and hypocrisies of the land of the free."
― David Aaronovitch, The Times
"A history for the 21st century, far more inclusive than the standard histories of the past."
"Monumental…a crucial work for presenting a fresh and clear-sighted narrative of the entire story…exciting and page-turningly fascinating, in one of those rare history books that can be read with pleasure for its sheer narrative energy."
― Simon Winchester, New Statesman
"Jill Lepore is that rare combination in modern life of intellect, originality, and style."
― Amanda Foreman, Times Literary Supplement
"In her epic new work, Jill Lepore helps us learn from whence we came."
― O, The Oprah Magazine
"With this epic work of grand chronological sweep, brilliantly illuminating the idea of truth in the history of our republic, Lepore reaffirms her place as one of one of the truly great historians of our time."
― Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University
"Astounding…[Lepore] has assembled evidence of an America that was better than some thought, worse than almost anyone imagined, and weirder than most serious history books ever convey."
― Casey N. Cep, Harvard Magazine
"‘An old-fashioned civics book,’ Harvard historian and New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore calls it, a glint in her eye. This fat, ludicrously ambitious one-volume history is a lot more than that. In its spirit of inquiry, in its eager iconoclasms, These Truths enacts the founding ideals of the country it describes."
― Huffington Post
"It's an audacious undertaking to write a readable history of America, and Jill Lepore is more than up to the task. But These Truths is also an astute exploration of the ways in which the country is living up to its potential, and where it is not."
― Business Insider
"Gutsy, lyrical, and expressive…[These Truths] is a perceptive and necessary contribution to understanding the American condition of late.…It captures the fullness of the past, where hope rises out of despair, renewal out of destruction, and forward momentum out of setbacks."
― Jack E. Davis, Chicago Tribune
"No one has written with more passion and brilliance about how a flawed and combustible America kept itself tethered to the transcendent ideals on which it was founded."
― Gary Gerstle, author of Liberty and Coercion
"Without ignoring the horrors of conquest, slavery, or recurring prejudices, Lepore manages nonetheless to capture the epic quality of the American past."
― Lynn Hunt, author of History: Why it Matters
"Lepore knows that the ‘story of America’ is as plural and mutable as the nation itself, and the result is a work of prismatic richness, one that rewards not just reading but rereading. This will be an instant classic."
― Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The Lies that Bind
"In this inspiring and enlightening book, Jill Lepore accomplishes the grand task of telling us what we need to know about our past in order to be good citizens today."
― Walter Isaacson, University Professor of History, Tulane, author of The Innovators
"In this time of disillusionment with American politics, Jill Lepore’s beautifully written book should be essential reading for everyone who cares about the country’s future. Her history of the United States reminds us of the dilemmas that have plagued the country and the institutional strengths that have allowed us to survive as a republic for over two centuries. At a minimum, her book should be required reading for every federal officeholder."
― Robert Dallek, author of Franklin D. Roosevelt
"Who can write a comprehensive yet lucid history of the sprawling United States in a single volume? Only Jill Lepore has the verve, wit, range, and insights to pull off this daring and provocative book. Interweaving many lively biographies, These Truths illuminates the origins of the passions and causes, which still inspire and divide Americans in an age that needs all the truth we can find."
― Alan Taylor, author of American Revolutions --This text refers to the hardcover edition.
- ASIN : B07BLKWBYT
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated edition (September 18, 2018)
- Publication date : September 18, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 116436 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 955 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #80,303 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on August 20, 2020
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Top reviews from the United States
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There is a tendency in academia to be negative about the country's past. Americans used to unite around their history. Lepore believes that the U.S. has been a force for good in the world. No country is perfect and Lepore tends to be positive about the past. However, she cannot help pointing out the contradictions and hypocrisies in American history, especially concerning race and women. Our history is part mythology and Hollywood must share some of the blame. Donald Trump recently gave a speech where he praised Wyatt Earp and Davy Crockett. The real Earp was a shady character. He was a brothel owner and gambler, who was sometimes on the wrong side of the law. Lepore informs us that the brave men who died at the Alamo, like Davy Crockett, were fighting to preserve slavery in Texas. The Mexicans had banned slavery in 1829. As minorities become the majority there will be more reappraisals of early American history. This book only takes us part of the way.
Lepore starts with Christopher Columbus, but she focuses on the arrival of the first English settlers, who started importing slaves in 1619. American children are taught that the Puritans were escaping persecution and wanted to create "a city on a hill." A more realistic version of history is that the Puritans came to the New World to escape other people’s religious freedom. They wanted to be left alone with their strange beliefs. In Holland, there was too much religious tolerance for their liking. The Dutch welcomed Catholics and atheists. The New England Puritans were intolerant and banished others who did not conform to their values. They enslaved Indians and sold them to the Caribbean. They also imported slaves from Africa. The religious extremism of the Puritans is not remembered fondly in England where Puritanism originated.
In 1641, an 81-year-old Catholic priest was hung, drawn, and quartered by Puritans in London. Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan and he became a military dictator in the 1640s. Cromwell executed the king and believed the Pope was the anti-Christ. He practiced genocide in Ireland, closed the theatres, banned Christmas, and insisted that women should dress modestly. The English people were happy when he died in 1658 and Parliament invited King Charles II to return from exile in 1660. The experiment with Puritanism ended. Charles II enhanced the protection for religious dissenters in the British colonies, the Puritans were told to play nicely with other religious denominations.
Lepore claims that the French and Indian War was a British affair and the Americans were innocent bystanders who had been told they would not have to pay for the war. In his book, ‘Dangerous Nation’ author Robert Kagan disputes this interpretation. The colonists wanted the British to kick the French out of North America and crush the Indians. Once the French were gone the British were less useful. Lepore is a big fan of Ben Franklin and even wrote a biography of his sister, but the saintly Ben was guilty of duplicity. Kagan claims that Franklin was campaigning in London for a war with France in the 1750s. In the 1760s he claimed that the war had nothing to do with the American colonists and they should not have to pay. Franklin’s biographer agrees with Kagan and admits that Ben “falsified history.” Kagan believes that Franklin set the tone for future American hypocrisy and claims of innocence when confronted with accusations of duplicity. Franklin’s plan was to push both France and Britain out of North America so that there was nothing to stop the expansion westwards. The U.S. had its manifest destiny to fulfill.
The Founding Fathers were until recently depicted as infallible demi-gods whose words were treated like Holy Writ. Jefferson envisaged America becoming the world's great "Empire of Liberty." Lepore portrays some of the Founders as flawed hypocrites, who spoke of liberty but ignored the rights of slaves and women. Jefferson was in his forties when he fathered his first child with the 16-year-old slave Sally Hemmings. Lepore quotes Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. In Marshall’s opinion, the Founding Fathers weren’t all that astute, and neither was the Constitution they penned in 1787. Marshall believed their original intent was to favor a government that advanced slavery and prevented blacks and women from exercising the right to vote. The Constitution was thus “defective from the start,” he said, “requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.”
America has often been a force for good in the world. The U.S. fought a bloody civil war to end slavery. The U.S. has given the West peace and stability since 1945. Professor Adam Tooze at Columbia believes that America’s isolation and disengagement from global affairs after WW1 resulted in the world becoming a more dangerous place. He argues that because the U.S. declined to participate in collective security arrangements in Europe, a power vacuum was created and this helped fuel the rise of fascism, communism, and ethnic conflict. After World War 2, the U.S. deserved enormous credit for helping to rebuild Europe and Japan and establishing and maintaining liberal democracy in the West.
There is a belief in Washington that if America is not running the world the jungle would grow back and bad people would take over just like the 1930s. The foreign policy establishment believes that whatever the U.S. does is always for the best because Americans are basically good. Introducing democracy and Western culture is viewed as a good thing. However, we have seen in Vietnam and the Middle East that our values are not always welcome. Tom Holland in his book ‘Dominion’ argues that our values are basically Christian. We believe them to be universal values. Holland claims that human rights are a Christian concept, and he’s an atheist.
Lepore is better and funnier reviewing the recent past. Lepore seems to be a New Deal Democrat and prefers to write about inequality, women’s rights, and race. She is disparaging about American leadership since the 1960s. Bill Clinton is depicted as a needy, sex-crazed sell-out. She criticizes both parties for ignoring the needs of the working class, whose living standards have declined since the 1970s. She is critical of Bush’s regime change wars and his use of torture. She is no fan of Obama’s presidency. She believes the Supreme Court has shown partisan bias. She wants more gun control and explains how the Constitution has been reinterpreted by the NRA and its followers. A recent poll showed that the American people believe that a corrupt political class is the biggest problem facing the country. A recent poll showed that only 13% of Americans believe the country is on the right track. Lepore leaves you with the impression that she might agree with those sentiments.
The U.S. has dominated the world economically, militarily, and culturally for decades. It has been able to attract immigrants from all over the world. Lepore ends on a note of optimism. She believes that “The United States, is a nation founded on a deeply moral commitment to human dignity” and to the proposition that “all of us are equal.” However, she also writes that George Washington attended the Constitutional Convention wearing “dentures made from ivory and from nine teeth pulled from the mouths of his slaves.”
In the months before the 2016 election Twitter had as many as 48 million fake accounts tweeting and retweeting fake news. News stories on Facebook were as likely to be fake as not. Thirteen Russian nationals were eventually indicted for “interfering with the U.S. political system”. More than 126 million Americans had watched political ads supporting Trump and bashing Clinton that had been purchased from Facebook by a Kremlin-linked misinformation organization. Facebook also provided private data of 87 million of its users to Cambridge Analytica, i.e., a data firm used by Trump’s campaign. Facebook’s vice president of global communications, a corporate lawyer, displayed little evidence of any understanding of news, reporting, editing, editorial judgement, or public interest. The main objective was to maximize the number of users and the time they spent on Facebook. When it came to separating the wheat from the chaff, that, according to Zuckerberg, was up to the viewer.
And there’s the rub. Back in 1933 Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter founded the first political consulting firm, known to critics as the Lie Factory. According to Whitaker, “The average American doesn’t want to be educated; he doesn’t want to improve his mind; he doesn’t even want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen.” “The more you have to explain the more difficult it is to win support.” “Words that lean on the mind are no good. They must dent it. A wall goes up when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. American citizen work or think.” “there are two ways you can interest him… and only two… he likes a good hot battle, with no punches pulled” and “he likes the movies; he likes mysteries; he likes fireworks and parades”. “So if you can’t fight, PUT ON A SHOW! And if you put on a good show, Mr. and Mrs. America will turn out to see it.” Whitaker knew his stuff. He and Baxter won nearly every campaign they waged.
To suggest that Mr. and Mrs. America are now capable, or even desirous, of separating the wheat from the chaff seems over optimistic to say the least. Much has changed since the days of Whitaker. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, all manner of social media and alternative news, unedited, unverified, unhinged, and all available 24-7 via the smartphone. Lepore uses the analogy of an amusement park. “New sources of news and opinion appear like so many whirling, vertiginous rides, neon bright, with screams of fright and delight, from blogs and digital newspapers to news aggregators and social media, roller coasters and water slides and tea-cup-and-saucer spinners.” Mr. and Mrs. America clutch their smartphones as they ride and roll, “thrilled by the G-force drop and the eardrum-popping rise and the sound of their own shrieking.” I have witnessed this sort of behavior as part of the workforce. Any downtime and the smartphones come out in what would pass for a contest in which the winner comes up with the most asinine item.
If I were to find fault it would be with Lepore’s treatment of foreign policy. I agree with most of what she said although she doesn’t say much. However, when she said that the US carried the vision of modern liberalism to the world, i.e., “the rule of law, individual rights, democratic government,” etc., I would have to respectfully disagree. My sources seem to indicate that the architects of US foreign policy took George Kennan seriously when he suggested that “We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights… and democratization… The less we are… hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.” Lepore quotes the renowned cold warrior three times. This one, however, failed to make the cut.
Bottom line… highly recommended! However, one might want to supplement it with, say, William Blum’s Killing Hope just to fill out the picture.
Top reviews from other countries
My knowledge of politics in general, U.S. history, human rights and media, has at least doubled thanks to this exceptional and mighty piece of work.
But there's more. Questions of philosophy I already asked were deepened and crystallised. Questions I hadn't thought of before were seeded in me and regularly tended.
This book is literally mind-expanding.
She points out the irony of how a nation founded on a constitutional commitment to equality was in fact built on inequality. A constitution tolerating slavery accepted black people were property and would only count as three fifths of a person. From the outset then slavery represented a betrayal of America's founding ideals. Civil War and the abolition of slavery could not just simply dispel racism from American life. The now highly polarised American party system evolved in a context of how debates about how human rights and dignity were to be understood and put into practice. The book ends somewhere around Trump's mid-term. The now President Biden has a walk on part as a hardbitten senator.
Lepore also charts how American newspapers, opinion polls, broadcasting and social media have evolved. In her view, the mass media has grown by firing politics to become evermore combative and partisan. The result has been a compromised US political culture resting on parties shouting the opposition down, rather than on working towards reaching an understanding of a common good.
This book helps us understand the persistence of racial conflict, white supremacy and injustice in the USA up to the present day. It offers an historically informed perspective, directly linking the nation's founding fathers with twentieth century Civil Rights campaigns and with today's Black Lives Matter movement.
It helps readers, especially those like me from the other side of the pond, understand how America's constitution remains a work in progress. The founding truths of the USA - equality, freedom and democracy - will always be fought over.
Whilst this is a lengthy detailed book, it is well worth persisting. I certainly feel reading Lepore's work has helped me to a greater appreciation of the lifeblood and pulse of American culture and politics.