cover image These Truths: A History of the United States

These Truths: A History of the United States

Jill Lepore. Norton, $39.95 (960p) ISBN 978-0-393-63524-9

The principles of the Declaration of Independence get betrayed, fought over, and sometimes fulfilled in this probing political history of the Unites States. Harvard historian and New Yorker writer Lepore (Book of Ages) explores how ideals of liberty, equality, and happiness have fueled conflicts from the colonial era, when American slave owners protested taxation without representation as a form of slavery, to the struggles of African-Americans, women, immigrants, and workers for freedom, votes, and civil rights. Her viewpoint is progressive—she spotlights neglected heroes like George Washington’s runaway slaves and People’s Party orator Mary Lease—but she puts forth evenhanded assessments of latter-day partisan wrangles, castigating both the alt-right and the “sanctimonious accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia” of the campus left. Lepore sometimes strains for poetic, even psychedelic, imagery—her impression of the Civil War, with “giant armies wielding unstoppable machines, as if monsters with scales of steel had been let loose on the land to maul and maraud, and to eat even the innocent,” feels like a Transformers movie—and she leaves out much historical detail to concentrate on politics, constitutional struggles, and evolving ideologies. The payoff: she unifies a complex and conflicted history into a coherent, focused, engrossing narrative with insights that resonate for modern readers. Photos. [em](Sept.) [/em]