CRF Blog

The American Past: A History of Contradictions

by Bill Hayes

In The American Past: A History of Contradictions for the New York Times Book Review, Andrew Sullivan reviews These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore.

It isn’t until you start reading it that you realize how much we need a book like this one at this particular moment. “These Truths,” by Jill Lepore — a professor at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker — is a one-volume history of the United States, constructed around a traditional narrative, that takes you from the 16th to the 21st century. 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 covers the history of political thought, the fabric of American social life over the centuries, classic “great man” accounts of contingencies, surprises, decisions, ironies and character, and the vivid experiences of those previously marginalized: women, African-Americans, Native Americans, homosexuals. It encompasses interesting takes on democracy and technology, shifts in demographics, revolutions in economics and the very nature of modernity. 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. [more]