From the acclaimed historian and New Yorker writer comes this urgent manifesto on the dilemma of nationalism and the erosion of liberalism in the twenty-first century.
At a time of much despair over the future of liberal democracy, Jill Lepore makes a stirring case for the nation in This America, a follow-up to her much-celebrated history of the United States, These Truths.
With dangerous forms of nationalism on the rise, Lepore, a Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, repudiates nationalism here by explaining its long history—and the history of the idea of the nation itself—while calling for a “new Americanism”: a generous patriotism that requires an honest reckoning with America’s past.
Lepore begins her argument with a primer on the origins of nations, explaining how liberalism, the nation-state, and liberal nationalism, developed together. Illiberal nationalism, however, emerged in the United States after the Civil War—resulting in the failure of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, and the restriction of immigration. Much of American history, Lepore argues, has been a battle between these two forms of nationalism, liberal and illiberal, all the way down to the nation’s latest, bitter struggles over immigration.
Defending liberalism, as This America demonstrates, requires making the case for the nation. But American historians largely abandoned that defense in the 1960s when they stopped writing national history. By the 1980s they’d stopped studying the nation-state altogether and embraced globalism instead. “When serious historians abandon the study of the nation,” Lepore tellingly writes, “nationalism doesn’t die. Instead, it eats liberalism.” But liberalism is still in there, Lepore affirms, and This America is an attempt to pull it out. “In a world made up of nations, there is no more powerful way to fight the forces of prejudice, intolerance, and injustice than by a dedication to equality, citizenship, and equal rights, as guaranteed by a nation of laws.”
A manifesto for a better nation, and a call for a “new Americanism,” This America reclaims the nation’s future by reclaiming its past.
“A sharp, short history of nationalism.... A frank, well-written look at the dangers we face. We ignore them at our peril.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Urgent and pithy… Readers seeking clear and relevant definitions of political concepts will appreciate this brisk yet thorough, frank, and bracing look at the ancient origins of the nation state versus the late-eighteenth-century coinage of the term ‘nationalism’ and its alignment with exclusion and prejudice.” — Booklist
“A hopeful book for all who believe that America's ideals are stronger than our demagogues.” — Michael Bloomberg
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.
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, writes Jill Lepore in a groundbreaking investigation into the American past that places truth itself at the center of the nation’s history. In riveting prose, These Truths tells the story of America, beginning in 1492, to ask whether the course of events has proven the nation’s founding truths, or belied them. “A nation born in contradiction, liberty in a land of slavery, will fight forever over the meaning of its history,” Lepore writes, finding meaning in those very contradictions as she weaves American history into a majestic tapestry of faith and hope, of peril and prosperity, of technological progress and moral anguish. Part spellbinding chronicle, part old-fashioned civics book, These Truths, filled with arresting sketches of Americans from John Winthrop and Frederick Douglass to Pauli Murray and Phyllis Schlafly, offers an authoritative new history of a great, and greatly troubled, nation.
Praise for These Truths
“A splendid rendering—filled with triumph, tragedy, and hope—that will please Lepore’s readers immensely and win her many new ones.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An ambitious and provocative attempt to interpret American history as an effort to fulfull and maintain certain fundamental principles . . . Lepore is a historian with wide popular appeal, and this comprehensive work will answer readers’ questions about who we are as a nation.”
—Booklist, starred review
“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
"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. If the country is to recover from its current crisis, These Truths will illuminate the way."
—Gary Gerstle, author of Liberty and Coercion
“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
“Lepore brings a scholar's comprehensive rigor and a poet's lyrical precision to this singular single-volume history of the United States. Understanding America's past, as she demonstrates, has always been a central American project. She 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
“Anyone interested in the future of the Republic must read this book. One of our greatest historians succeeds, where so many have failed, to make sense of the whole canvas of our history. Without ignoring the horrors of conquest, slavery or recurring prejudices, she manages nonetheless to capture the epic quality of the American past. With passion, compassion, wit, and remarkable insight, Lepore brings it all to life, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. This is a manifesto for our necessarily shared future.”
—Lynn Hunt, author of History: Why it Matters
“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. Avoiding political and ideological agendas, she confronts the contradictions that come from being born a land of both liberty and slavery, but she uses such conflicts to find meaning—and hope—in the tale of America’s progress.”
—Walter Isaacson, University Professor of History, Tulane, author of The Innovators
"Lepore is a truly gifted writer with profound insight."
"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"