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In 'These Truths,' Historian Jill Lepore Asks If America Has Lived Up To Its Ideals

With Meghna Chakrabarti

American truths, not so self-evident. Historian Jill Lepore on why the tension between fact and fiction has been with us since the nation’s founding.


Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard University and staff writer at the New Yorker. Author of the new book “These Truths: A History of the United States.”

From The Reading List

Excerpt from “These Truths” by Jill Lepore

Excerpted from THESE TRUTHS: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Jill Lepore. Copyright © 2018 by Jill Lepore. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

NPR: “‘These Truths’ Looks At America Through The Promises Of Its Beginning” — “The title of Jill Lepore’s new history of the United States should be instantly recognizable to all Americans.

“It comes from, of course, the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ It’s hard to think of a single passage more emblematic of the American ethos.

“But has America lived up to the ideas of the founders of this country, many of whom failed to heed their own words in the first place? That’s the question that forms the basis of Lepore’s magnificent book. Or as she writes, ‘The real dispute is between “these truths” and the course of events: Does American history prove these truths, or does it belie them?’ ”

Boston Globe: “The story of a less perfect union — and its original sin” — “The number of college students majoring in history is dropping. In the five years between 2012 and 2017, the fall off was more than 20 percent, according to the American Historical Association. Students are turning away from all the humanities, but most of all from the study of the past. Perhaps they think it is boring or irrelevant. I once asked a student at a college where I taught journalism to tell me the purpose of a liberal arts education. He replied, ‘Networking?’

“College administrators wishing to lure students back to the history classroom might start by assigning Jill Lepore’s new chronicle of the United States. A Harvard history professor and New Yorker staff writer, Lepore writes that she means her book to ‘double as an old-fashioned civics book,’ and it does, except that it is everything those books were not: gripping, moving, and beautifully written.”

The New Republic: “The Origins of America’s Enduring Divisions” — “‘To write history is to make an argument by telling a story,’ Jill Lepore once explained. And the argument a historian makes about America’s long, turbulent, and demographically complex past—from the arrival of the first European settlers in the sixteenth century to the triumph of Donald Trump—depends upon the story she chooses to tell. It’s the story of a white man’s empire, many scholars on the left contend, against which dissenters of all races and genders have struggled to create a truly democratic society. No, insist most conservatives, it’s a narrative of individuals striving for liberty, who got stymied, at times, by meddlesome progressives and riotous radicals. One group hopes to see America become great again; the other claims that such golden age thinking is a fantasy of the privileged.”

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

"These Truths," by Jill Lepore
"These Truths," by Jill Lepore