Widely hailed for its “sweeping, sobering account of the American past” (New York Times Book Review), Jill Lepore’s one-volume history of America places truth itself—a devotion to facts, proof, and evidence—at the center of the nation’s history. The American experiment rests on three ideas—“these truths,” Jefferson called them—political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. But has the nation, and democracy itself, delivered on that promise?
These Truths tells this uniquely American story, beginning in 1492, asking whether the course of events over more than five centuries has proven the nation’s truths, or belied them. To answer that question, Lepore wrestles with the state of American politics, the legacy of slavery, the persistence of inequality, and the nature of technological change. “A nation born in contradiction… will fight, forever, over the meaning of its history,” Lepore writes, but engaging in that struggle by studying the past is part of the work of citizenship. With These Truths, Lepore has produced a book that will shape our view of American history for decades to come.
Conflicted by power, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and acted as Minister to France yet yearned for a quieter career in the Virginia legislature. Predicting that slavery would shape the future of America's development, this professed proponent of emancipation elided the issue in the Declaration and continued to own human property. An eloquent writer, he was an awkward public speaker; a reluctant candidate, he left an indelible presidential legacy.
Jefferson's statesmanship enabled him to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with France, doubling the size of the nation, and he authorized the Lewis and Clark expedition, opening up the American frontier for exploration and settlement. Hitchens also analyzes Jefferson's handling of the Barbary War, a lesser-known chapter of his political career, when his attempt to end the kidnapping and bribery of Americans by the Barbary states, and the subsequent war with Tripoli, led to the building of the U.S. navy and the fortification of America's reputation regarding national defense.
In the background of this sophisticated analysis is a large historical drama: the fledgling nation's struggle for independence, formed in the crucible of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and, in its shadow, the deformation of that struggle in the excesses of the French Revolution. This artful portrait of a formative figure and a turbulent era poses a challenge to anyone interested in American history -- or in the ambiguities of human nature.