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Jill Lepore: These Truths - Free Author Talk

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Saturday, April 27, 2019, 07:00pm - 09:00pm

Join us at 7 pm on Saturday, April 27th, as Harvard professor, New Yorker staff writer, and best-selling author Jill Lepore gives a FREE public talk about her new book, THESE TRUTHS, in our Main Reading Room. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Her new book THESE TRUTHS offers a magisterial account of the origins and rise of our divided nation. This landmark one-volume American history—the first from a female historian, and the most ambitious in decades—is poised to influence other histories for years to come.

She writes in her introduction, “The American experiment rests on three political ideas—‘these truths,’ Thomas Jefferson called them—political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people,” each a “self-evident” law of nature. Lepore places this topic of truths, and the people who set out to define them, at the center of the American story, revealing how the ongoing tension in public life between fact and fiction—more relevant today than ever—has run through the tapestry of America’s five-hundred-year history like a long, dark thread.

She reminds us that the manipulation of truth is not a new phenomenon bred of the digital age. Reaching back to the very beginning, THESE TRUTHS commences with Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage to the New World to illustrate how the story of America has long been a tale of the struggle to control facts, truths, and even the historical record itself. Columbus’s written dispatches back to the Old World are Lepore’s first example—describing the indigenous Americans’ land, customs, and beliefs, and “claiming possession of their land, by the act of writing.”

The American story  is reframed by telling it through the eyes of figures too often missing from the standard narratives. She imbues her chapters with portraits of often unknown heroes, like the Quaker hunchback Benjamin Lay, torchbearer of the early abolitionist movement in Pennsylvania, or Abel Upshur, President John Tyler’s secretary of state, who was killed on an explosion on the USS Princeton, Lepore consistently finds minor characters to launch her arguments and reveals surprising twists to familiar stories.

Unlike any other one-volume history of the Unites States, THESE TRUTHS spotlights the women who have played active roles in American history. There are important cameo histories of activist Mary E. Lease, a firebrand nineteenth-century populist from Kansas, and First Lady Betty Ford, whose support of the Equal Rights Amendment a hundred years later contributed to the realignment of the Republican Party. Among the numerous other portraits are women’s rights activist Pauli Murray, who worked alongside Thurgood Marshall and heavily influenced his decisions in landmark civil rights cases, and Phyllis Schlafly, leader of a resurgent 1970s conservative movement against equal rights that, Lepore argues, has had a greater impact on the trajectory of the party system than virtually anything else in the last half century.

Lepore also threads the theme of slavery and racial injustice through all five hundred years of the American tale, writing that we can only understand the vaunted history of America’s exceptionalism, its soaring promise, by remembering the men and women who pushed the nation to realize that promise. She gives fresh treatments of familiar figures like the former slave Frederick Douglass, who insisted on telling his truth in his own terms through his famous autobiography, and poet and boxer Rodolfo Gonzales, a leader of the 1960s Chicano movement for Mexican American rights, who protested the standard American history curriculum in Denver public schools, which left out the stories of the country’s minorities. With these portraits, Lepore offers thought-provoking illustrations on how Jefferson’s “truths” of equality and natural rights have often been “sacred and undeniable” only to a limited few.

Jill Lepore has a singular ability to contextualize our twenty-first-century political problems in the public and political spheres within the broader sweep of our history. In these pages she shows how evangelism, for instance, did not enter American politics in the twentieth century with Billy Graham but has been there from the start, both on the left and the right, from the Great Awakening to Father Coughlin’s radio broadcasts in the 1930s. Meanwhile, with a dedicated focus to the influence of technologies of communication on the course of American politics, from the newspaper and the telegraph to the radio and the Internet, she illuminates how rampant political truth-spinning and “fake news” saw their genesis in the 1930s, far before the dawn of the internet and twenty-four-hour news coverage, when Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter founded the world’s first political consulting firm, which would develop techniques in manipulating mass behavior—techniques later to be perfected by Richard Nixon.

THESE TRUTHS offers a rare mix of urgent, necessary reflections on our times, and a steady-handed, rich history written on the grand scale. A groundbreaking contribution to the tradition of one-volume histories, this book establishes Jill Lepore within the lineage of our most revered historians, from C. Van Woodward and Edmund S. Morgan to James McPherson and Eric Foner. It’s a rigorously researched yet fast-moving narrative, told in impeccable prose, and studded on every page with surprising new insights sure to engage experts and popular readers from all sides of the political spectrum.

Scroll below image to read some of the praise for Jill LePore's THESE TRUTHS

Other books she has written include: The Name of War: King Phillip's War and the Origin of Identity, New York Burning: Liberty, slavery, and conspiracy in eighteenth-century Manhattan, Book of Ages: The life and opinions of Jane Franklin, and many more.


“Jill Lepore is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and These Truths is nothing short of a masterpiece of American history. By engaging with our country’s painful past (and present) in an intellectually honest way, she has created a book that truly does encapsulate the American story in all its pain and all its triumph.”

—Michael Schaub, NPR

“[B]rilliant…insightful…It isn’t until you start reading it that you realize how much we need a book like this one at this particular moment.”

—Andrew Sullivan, The New York Times Book Review

“This sweeping, sobering account of the American past is a story not of relentless progress but of conflict and contradiction, with crosscurrents of reason and faith, black and white, immigrant and native, industry and agriculture rippling through a narrative that is far from completion.”

—New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

“[Lepore’s] one-volume history is elegant, readable, sobering; it extends a steadying hand when a breakneck news cycle lurches from one event to another, confounding minds and churning stomachs.”

—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

“Those devoted to an honest reckoning with America’s past have their work cut out for them. Lepore’s book is a good place to start.”

—H.W. Brands, The Washington Post

“College administrators wishing to lure students back to the history classroom might start by assigning Jill Lepore’s new chronicle of the United States . . . 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.”

—Evan Thomas, The Boston Globe

“A splendid rendering—filled with triumph, tragedy, and hope—that will please Lepore’s readers immensely and win her many new ones.”

—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“This thought-provoking and fascinating book stands to become the definitive one-volume U.S. history for a new generation.”

—Library Journal, starred review

“An ambitious and provocative attempt to interpret American history as an effort to fulfill and maintain certain fundamental principles. . . . Lepore is a historian with wide popular appeal, and this comprehensive work will answer readers’ questions about who we are as a nation.”

—Booklist, starred review

“Astounding… [Lepore] has assembled evidence of an America that was better than some thought, worse than almost anyone imagined, and weirder than most serious history books ever convey. Armed with the facts of what happened before, we are better able to approach our collective task of figuring out what should happen now . . . Perhaps instead of the next U2 album, Apple could make a copy of These Truths appear on every iPhone—not only because it offers the basic civics education that every American needs, but because it is a welcome corrective to the corrosive histories peddled by partisans.”

—Casey N. Cep, Harvard Magazine

“In her epic new work, Jill Lepore helps us learn from whence we came.”

—Oprah Magazine

“Sweeping and propulsive”


“ ‘An old-fashioned civics book,’ Harvard historian and New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore calls it, a glint in her eye. This fat, ludicrously ambitious one-volume history is a lot more than that. In its spirit of inquiry, in its eager iconoclasms, These Truths enacts the founding ideals of the country it describes.

― Huffington Post

“Bold, daring, stirring, inspiring, even epic, are words Lepore pins on the American past . . . Ranging from European settlement to Trumpian tweets, These Truths is a perceptive and necessary contribution to understanding the American condition of late . . . [Lepore] is known for smart, absorbing stories. The book is a seamless web of them . . .”

—Jack E. Davis, Chicago Tribune

“Lepore’s brilliant book, These Truths, rings as clear as a church bell, the lucid, welcome yield of clear thinking and a capable, curious mind.”

—Karen R. Long, Newsday

“Jill Lepore’s sweeping nonfiction narrative of America doesn’t just chronicle our history; it rewrites it, illuminating the direct line between the country’s past and polarized present.”

—Newsweek International

“It's an audacious undertaking to write a readable history of America, and Jill Lepore is more than up to the task. But These Truths is also an astute exploration of the ways in which the country is living up to its potential, and where it is not.” —Business Insider

“Jill Lepore’s beautifully written book should be essential reading for everyone who cares about the country’s future.”

—Robert Dallek, author of Franklin D. Roosevelt

“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 that still inspire and divide Americans in an age that needs all the truth we can find.”

—Alan Taylor, author of American Revolutions

“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.”

—Lynn Hunt, author of History: Why It Matters

“Lepore brings a scholar’s comprehensive rigor and a poet’s lyrical precision to this singular single-volume history of the United States. . . . 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

“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.”

—Walter Isaacson, University Professor of History, Tulane, and author of The Innovators



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