It is difficult to imagine a more appropriate book for this time (summer 2020 – the lead-up to The Trump Election) and place (anywhere, USA). Lepore employs her awesome knowledge of US history to remind us who we are and enlighten us as to who, what and where we come from.
This she does with all the drama and detail of an excellent novel, using individuals and their words to illustrate each minute point of disagreement, argument and compromise. And it is that last which sticks in this reader’s mind; how our constitution and form of government, rather than being the immaculate perfection suggested by those who laud them in defense of their own (usually reactionary) purposes, are and always have been the flawed result of a process that not only pressured, but actually required persons of principle to accept results which complied only partly to their principles.
Another eye -opener is the limited role which rigid principles have played in our history. Had all the persons alive during the founding refused to compromise on their principles, there would quite simply be no USA. Perhaps a miscellany of separate states (with some still slave-owning up to the present?), perhaps some component of a prolonged British Empire, or perhaps something even more strange to us – a continent divided horizontally somewhere near the Mason Dixon line into an enormous Mexico and equally expansive Canada. This thread illuminates also the role of fundamentalism in elevating disagreements to become fights and, not in- frequently, wars. Lepore cites many different sorts of fundamentalism – religious, capitalist, democratic, constitutional, etc., considering how they often interrelate and how our current state of technical evolution has enhanced them and so lead us into the legislative paralysis we are currently experiencing.
Another oh-so timely note: without overtly linking herself to the BLM movement or 1619 project, the author’s contention on race is unmissable: that distinctions on the fallacious basis of skin color and the dominance of wealthy property owners over a more-populous slaving/working class are as intrinsic to our background as is the love of democracy and equality, if not even more so.
No brief description can do this effort justice, just as any less-expansive book would fail to do its subject justice. Fascinating and depressing, These Truths can also remind us that turmoil such as we are living through today is no stranger to the USA, any more than it is a stranger to all the nations, cultures and civilizations humans have spawned and discarded over the millennia.
All of which places These Truths is very high on the list of most valuable volumes I’ve read in years.