Kelly Sedinger's Reviews > These Truths: A History of the United States

These Truths by Jill Lepore
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2019-reads, history

My actual rating would likely be 4.5 stars. I discovered Lepore via her SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN book, and when I looked up more of her work, I saw that she had recently published this one-volume history of the United States, and I bought it the very next day. I was not disappointed. Lepore writes with insight and sweep, and she puts a great deal of focus as she passes through history on specific figures from that history, giving her narrative a distinctly human focus.

THESE TRUTHS focuses more on the political history of the United States than on the roster of dates and events, although Lepore does hit the very important ones along the way. Reading this book underscores the deep historical background that underlies much of the polarization of our own time period, and gives fresh credence to the fact that historical forces are rarely overcome within single generations. The race struggles of today reach back to the racial struggles of the 1960s, which reach back to the racial struggles of the 1930s, which reach back to the Civil War and Reconstruction, which reach back to slavery. Ditto the onward march of women's rights in America. Lepore also demonstrates that every bit of progress in our history is matched by an almost equal backlash. Lepore's history is one in which the pendulum constantly swings, and she is frank in her assessment that our era today is one in which conservatism seems mostly ascendant. She attributes this not merely to deficiencies of ideology or history's constant thesis-antithesis Hegelian nature, but also to the work of people of whom she writes with grudging respect. (In all honesty, I find Phyllis Schlafly to be one of the most odious individuals in American public life of the last 50-60 years, but Lepore does not write of her in a condemning light.)

Lepore's history is descriptive, rather than prescriptive; in the end she does not write hopefully of America's future in light of its current problems and its current epistemic struggles. She does not write pessimistically, either, though, and her book is a worthy read to see one compelling interpretation of how we got here, even if she declines to prognosticate as to where we might be going.

My one reservation with THESE TRUTHS is that Lepore occasionally is straight-up wrong in matters of fact. Most times this is relatively benign, but it is a bit disconcerting to see in such a well-written and well-considered history text. I am not sure that the pre-Columbian societies had pigs and chickens, for example. William Henry Harrison was not in his 70s when he ran for President. Barack Obama did not lose the Senate to the Republicans concurrently with his reelection in 2012. Lepore quotes Dan Rather on the structure of Presidential debates in the television era; while I have no idea of the provenance of this quote, whatever that may be, it did not come in the first Bush-Dukakis debate in 1988 (those two debates were moderated by Jim Lehrer and Bernard Shaw, and Rather did not participate in either). Big deals? No, I suppose...but errors of fact are distracting even in a work of history that is more interpretive than intended to present a sequence of facts.

Nonetheless, I'm glad to have read this book, and Jill Lepore remains an author whose work I intend to explore in the future.
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Reading Progress

June 30, 2019 – Started Reading
June 30, 2019 – Shelved
June 30, 2019 –
page 71
7.61% "Lepore might be a new favorite author of mine, after her SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN rocked my world. I read an interview with her as part of prep for my review of that book on The Geekiverse, and she struck me as a fascinating historian, and when I saw that she has a new one-volume history if the USA out, I ran out and grabbed it. (Thanks, B&N coupons in the mail!)"
July 7, 2019 –
page 108
11.58%
July 14, 2019 –
page 149
15.97%
July 22, 2019 –
page 188
20.15%
July 28, 2019 –
page 231
24.76%
August 5, 2019 –
page 271
29.05% "If ever a time cried out for reading the history of the United States, it is now. My overwhelming impression is to note anew the old truism: The more things change, the more they stay the same."
August 10, 2019 –
page 311
33.33%
September 1, 2019 –
page 420
45.02%
September 7, 2019 –
page 472
50.59%
September 22, 2019 –
page 588
63.02%
October 1, 2019 –
page 646
69.24%
October 13, 2019 – Shelved as: 2019-reads
October 13, 2019 – Shelved as: history
October 13, 2019 – Finished Reading

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