The celebrated New Yorker writer and Bancroft Prize winner tells the American story.
“A nation born in revolution will forever struggle against chaos,” writes Lepore (History/Harvard Univ.; Joe Gould’s Teeth, 2016, etc.). In this mammoth, wonderfully readable history of the United States from Columbus to Trump, the author relies on primary sources to “let the dead speak for themselves,” creating an enthralling, often dramatic narrative of the American political experiment based on Thomas Jefferson’s “truths” of political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. The author recounts major events—the Revolution, Civil War, world wars, Vietnam, 9/11, and the war on terror—while emphasizing the importance of facts and evidence in the national story, as well as the roles of slavery (“America’s Achilles’ heel”) and women, both absent in the founding documents. Lepore offers crisp, vivid portraits of individuals from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine to Liberator writer Maria W. Stewart and preacher David Walker to contemporaries like “rascal” Bill Clinton, sporting a “grin like a 1930s comic-strip scamp.” “To study the past is to unlock the prison of the present,” writes the author, noting recurrent debates about guns, abortion, and race. “Slavery wasn’t an aberration in an industrial economy; slavery was its engine,” she reminds. Throughout, Lepore provides sharp observations (“instead of Marx, America had Thoreau”) and exquisite summaries: In World War I, “machines slaughtered the masses. Europe fell to its knees. The United States rose to its feet.” She discusses the “aching want” of the Depression and the “frantic, desperate, and paranoid” politics of today. Always with style and intelligence, Lepore weaves stories of immigrants and minorities, creates moving scenes (Margaret Fuller’s death in a storm off New York City), and describes the importance of photography and printed newspapers in the lives of a divided people now “cast adrift on the ocean of the Internet.”
A splendid rendering—filled with triumph, tragedy, and hope—that will please Lepore’s readers immensely and win her many new ones.