The New Yorker writer and Harvard professor offers a sweeping interrogation of the American experiment—from Columbus to Trump—asking if the nation's history has upheld or belied its Constitutional "truths" of political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people.
It isn’t until you start reading it that you realize how much we need a book like this one at this particular moment ... It tries to take in almost everything, an impossible task, but I’d be hard-pressed to think she could have crammed more into these 932 highly readable pages ... It’s a big sweeping book, a way for us to take stock at this point in the journey, to look back, to remind us who we are and to point to where we’re headed. This is not an account of relentless progress. It’s much subtler and darker than that. It reminds us of some simple facts so much in the foreground that we must revisit them ... Lepore panders a little to liberal sensibilities ... But she is withering about the New Left, and liberalism’s turn toward elitism and identity politics. And she highlights truths that are usually dim-lit ... This is not an account conservatives will hate. She’s brilliant at times ... Lepore is also a writer. This book is aimed at a mass audience, driven by anecdote and statistic, memoir and photograph, with all the giants of American history in their respective places. There wasn’t a moment when I struggled to keep reading ... There are moments, however, when you wince at the purple prose ... But these are quibbles. We need this book. Its reach is long, its narrative fresh and the arc of its account sobering to say the least. This is not Whig history. It is a classic tale of a unique country’s astonishing rise and just-as-inevitable fall.
These Truths replicates the same troubling 'vanishing' that Lepore critiques in 19th-century novelist James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. Indigenous absences are not a minor fault with These Truths. They lie at its core and they bear weighty consequences for the story that emerges ... in many respects, like its consideration of the protracted struggle for racial equality, it poses a timely rejoinder to airport best sellers trafficking in whitewashed tales of Founding Fathers and military generals. But the narrative Lepore constructs relies on the eventual exit of indigenous actors to make way for other dramas ... Had Lepore substantively engaged non-textual knowledge systems and cross-cultural translation, she might have impressed upon readers a genuinely transformative approach to the wide-ranging means by which diverse historical experiences can be accessed ... These Truths underestimates readers’ capacities to deal with historical complexity and the nuanced ways that indigenous experiences trouble convenient story lines about America’s most iconic moments ... These Truths provides readers with few satisfying analyses of the underlying structures, ideologies, and processes that animated American movement into native homelands and attendant dispossessions ... Lepore is certainly no defender of neatly triumphalist American histories. She takes some pains to underscore tactics and subversions by which Euro-Americans took over native homelands ... But when a text repeatedly curtails histories in ways that play up indigenous repression, it fosters a partial view, at best ... These Truths is a missed opportunity on many levels.
She scours the archives for fresh insights on topics other historians thought were tapped. Her writing is gutsy, lyrical and expressive ... Ranging from European settlement to Trumpian tweets, These Truths is a perceptive and necessary contribution to understanding the American condition of late. History in Lepore’s nimble hands is more than the telling of tales. It is probed and analyzed and dislodged from the past, presented as a force that resonates in the present ... She presents an honest history, one that searches for evidence and answers ... Some historians shy from presenting the American experience as the story of progress. Lepore seems not so bashful. For nearly every low point in the nation’s undulating past there followed an upswing, often involving a hero, although frequently someone other than the traditional star-spangled savior ... It captures the fullness of the past, where hope rises out of despair, renewal out of destruction, and forward momentum out of setbacks. Lepore points vividly to the true source of American exceptionalism, people who step from the pages and reaffirm your love of country.