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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 289

The characters in this book are historical figures, some well-known and some obscure. It is a work of non-fiction, so the characters that drive the "plot" of history are the ones Lepore has chosen to highlight. History isn't a straight line, and the author chooses to spend considerable time on some periods in history and not on others.

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This book offers a sweeping view of American history from 1492 to contemporary times. The "founding fathers" of the US government are not the first set of characters, but Madison, Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin play big roles. A full list of characters is too extensive to list; however, each era has its own mini-biographies within the text.

Lepore profiles the following people:

  • a slave named Ceasar, who was hanged for rebelling in NY State,
  • David Walker, who pioneered an early African American organization
  • Mary Lease, a leading populist
  • Ivy Lee, a public relations pioneer
  • Harry Washington, an escaped slave who began the Back to Africa movement
  • Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker, founders of Campaigns, Inc

Lepore also profiles more famous historical figures, such as the following:

  • George Washington
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Andrew Jackson
  • William Jennings Bryan
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Samuel Morse
  • Clarence Darrow
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Martin Luther King, Jr
  • W.E.B Dubois
  • John Brown
  • Malcolm X
  • Richard Nixon & other modern presidents
  • Alger Hiss

In the main, Lepore give voice to individuals obscure from mainstream history who had big impacts on their communities. She profiles far more women and African Americans than typical historical treatises. She offers biographies and clarifies the impact of each of these characters. Her main characters could be said to be the sweeping movements, spearheaded by the obscure and famous alike, which have driven American life and politics.

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