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
“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
A version of this essay was delivered on November 5, 2015, as the Theodore H. White Lecture on the Press and Politics at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
AMERICAN CHRONICLES about Robert C. W. Ettinger, a founder of the cryonics movement. Robert C. W. Ettinger is ninety-one years old and he is a founder of the cryonics movement. When he dies, the blood will be drained from his body, antifreeze will be pumped into his arteries, and holes will be drilled in his skull, after which he will be stored in a vat of liquid nitrogen at minus three hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit. He expects to be defrosted, sometime between fifty and two hundred years from now, by scientists who will make him young and strong and tireless. Ettinger has already frozen his mother and his two wives, along with ninety-two other people who await resurrection inside giant freezers in a building just a few blocks from his house, in Clinton Township, Michigan. The Cryonics Institute occupies a seven-thousand-square-foot warehouse in an industrial park. Past a shabby waiting room is the small office of Andy Zawacki, who constitutes half of C.I.’s full-time staff. He is also one of C.I.’s more than eight hundred members, which means that he plans to be frozen when he dies. The writer visited the freezer storage area. There were fourteen cylindrical freezers. Each held six patients, and all but four were filled. There were also three older, rectangular freezers. The writer asked if the corpses were put in canisters within the cylinders. “No, in sleeping bags,” Ettinger said. Ettinger was born in Atlantic City in December of 1918. His mother’s family came from Odessa; his father was born in Germany. In about 1922, the family moved to Detroit. When he was eight years old, Ettinger started reading Amazing Stories, a sci-fi magazine. Ettinger dates his interest in immortality to 1931, when he read “The Jameson Satellite.” Mentions Ted Williams’s head, which was frozen and stored at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, C.I.’s chief rival. “Neuropreservation” has a scientific attitude, but that doesn’t make it science. Credentialled laboratory scientists don’t generally think the dead will one day awaken. The consensus appears to be that when you try to defrost a frozen corpse you get mush. And even if, in the future, scientists could repair the damage done to cells by freezing and thawing, what they would have, at best, is a cadaver. Ettinger announced the dawn of what he called the Freezer Era at the height of the Cold War. His book, “The Prospect of Immortality,” appeared in 1964, the year “Dr. Strangelove” hit theatres. When the book came out, Ettinger became something of a star. The first human being was frozen in 1966; it went badly, and the body had to be buried a few months later. The following year, a man was frozen by an organization that later became the Cryonics Society of California. Ettinger’s father and brother were not frozen; they “were lost.” His first patient was his mother, Rhea, whom he froze in 1977. His second patient was his first wife, Elaine, who died in 1987. He remarried the following year. His second wife, Mae, suffered a stroke in 2000, and she was frozen as well. Ettinger finds nothing so uninteresting as history. Describes the writer and Ettinger going through his family photo albums.