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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 292

These Truths by Jill Lepore is a single-volume history of the United States. Its hook—its trick, you might say—is in its title. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," begins the Declaration of Independence. You can almost guess at this particular book's conclusions just by reading the title. But you should read it; it will make you look at American history a little differently, even if you're a professional. The book's not written for pros, but it's provocative enough that it ought to inspire criticism, both positive and negative.

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Lepore starts with historical background long pre-dating the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson's famous phrase in the Declaration of Independence sounds awfully hollow superimposed on his anxiety about his slaves, she points out.

Then, there are Lepore's markers. These are the arbitrary divisions historians use to slice up their narratives. Some authors will tell you they're just following the historical record—that's nonsense, since the record contains enough evidence to justify almost anything if you're a good enough writer. You ought to wonder why Lepore has chosen the markers she has. In this book, they're mostly the ends of wars. Why? One answer might be, remembering the title, that the ends of wars are often times of social upheaval. That's very useful if you want to shine a light on history's injustices or failures. If you told the same story but marked your time periods based on famous inventions or demographic shifts, you'd get emphases on technology or immigration, for example.

Overall, These Truths is a good-enough story told from a good-enough point of view to support good-enough conclusions about American history, in my view. There are no big surprises in it. It's more like an invitation to look at things differently.

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