Jill Lepore’s Call for a New Americanism

This America Book CoverIn 2018, Jill Lepore wrote what I would consider to be the best single-volume history of the United States, titled These Truths. The theme was clear, that the US, despite its messy history, was founded on admirable principles that it has slowly and arduously fought to live up to—and continues to do so. The result was an objective history, one that didn’t hide from the atrocities or ignore the positives, centered around a unifying and inspiring theme.

It is in comparison to this 789-page masterpiece that makes it difficult to fairly judge Lepore’s latest book, This America: The Case for the Nation. At a short 138 pages, This America is more a long-form essay than a book, as the author acknowledges. It also, in what is both a positive and a negative, repeats much of the content and underlying themes from These Truths.

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Review of The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History

The Ideas That Made AmericaIn The Ideas That Made America, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen provides a brief intellectual history of the United States from the first European contact to the present day, focusing on the movement of ideas across national and local borders and across time. Recognizing that new ideas are always dependent on the intellectual work of those who came before, Rosenhagen includes many of the European ideas that had a major impact on American intellectual life.

To summarize centuries of intellectual work in a short book of 180 pages is no easy task, but Rosenhagen does a reasonable job of presenting the major intellectual currents of each period. It’s well worth reading to get a high-level view of where our current ideas and conflicts originated.

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Review of These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

These Truths by Jill Lepore book coverIn an age of political polarization, Jill Lepore reminds us, in her latest release These Truths: A History of the United States, that there has never been an age without political polarization. The faintest familiarity with United States history should convince you that political conflict has deep roots.

Some examples: the revolutionaries and loyalists fought vigorously over the issue of independence during the Revolutionary War; the Federalists and Anti-Federalists fought over federal versus state rights; the Mexican-American War was vigorously defended and opposed, as was the Indian removal policy, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson; proslavery and antislavery advocates fought intensely over whether new states should be admitted as free states or slave states; business has battled against labor since the 19th century; and the equality of races and sexes was vehemently defended and opposed for virtually all of US history.

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