These Truths

Scott Spillman in The Point:

For educated liberals, Jill Lepore is perhaps the most prominent historian in America today. Since 2005, two years after she moved across the Charles River from Boston University to Harvard, Lepore has written dozens of reviews and essays for the New Yorker on everything from Thomas Paine and Kit Carson to Wonder Woman and Rachel Carson. In some ways, this was a surprising development. When Lepore started her career in the Nineties, she specialized in colonial history, a period that many people view as equal parts boring and confusing. Lepore is, however, a gifted researcher and a lively writer, and her early books rightfully garnered acclaim: the first won the Bancroft Prize, and another was a finalist for the Pulitzer.

In those early books, Lepore’s argument hinged on the power of stories to shape our lives. This thesis has become the touchstone of both her historical and journalistic writing. “The rise of American democracy is bound up with the history of reading and writing,” she argued in The Story of America, her 2012 collection of essays. “The United States is a story,” she claimed; “it follows certain narrative conventions. … Who has a part in a nation’s story, like who can become a citizen and who has a right to vote, isn’t foreordained, or even stable. The story’s plot, like the nation’s borders and the nature of its electorate, is always shifting.” When Lepore wrote The Story of America, she was interested primarily in studying other people’s narratives about the nation, not in writing one herself. Six years later, she has offered up her own account.

“I haven’t attempted to tell the whole story,” she writes in These Truths, her new history of the United States. “No one could.” Instead, she explains, “I’ve confined myself to what, in my view, a people constituted as a nation in the early twenty-first century need to know about their own past.” What does the history of America seen through the lens of 2016 look like? In other words, what kind of story ends with Donald Trump?

More here.