Lepore’s vision of America is much closer to the patchwork reality than Greenspan and Wooldridge’s, but even this is too black and white. She often casts the identity debate as Left v. Right, or liberal v. conservative, whereas the boundaries are more fluid than that. Take the Alabama governor George C. Wallace, who appears in the book as a symbol of populism’s descent into naked racism. It’s true that when inaugurated governor in 1963 he declared that he was for ‘segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!’, and he certainly ran as a far-Right conservative for president in 1964 and 1968. But Lepore doesn’t note that in the 1972 Democratic primaries he presented himself as chiefly a law-and-order, anti-tax populist, and in 1973 he even crowned a black homecoming queen to prove he was no longer a racist (he didn’t kiss her, as was tradition, insisting ‘The people of Alabama aren’t ready for that’.)...The history of the American South is one of change, power struggle, political bending from Left to Right, negotiating race, and all of this cannot be contained in one volume or by one narrative that at times feels too neat — even if Lepore is a truly gifted writer with profound insight into those she writes about. Do read her magnificent book, but just remember that it’s not the whole story.
These Truths is a crucial work for presenting a fresh and clear-sighted narrative of the entire story, Columbus soup to Trump nuts, of what is at present a most terribly troubled nation. The underlying premise of the book is based on a single elegant question, posed in 1787 by Alexander Hamilton: of “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force”... Here, as in occasional moments elsewhere, Lepore’s literary exuberance rather gets away from her, albeit forgivably. She writes, for instance, that this was “a new kind of war, with giant armies wielding unstoppable machines, as if monsters with scales of steel had been let loose on the land to maul and maraud…” Not quite. The tank – which, unless I am missing something, she is surely describing – would not be introduced en masse until Cambrai, 50 years later....Lepore is in the vanguard of this intellectual movement, seemingly unafraid, uncowed by correctness; she is no virtue-signaller, and is decidedly not a pessimist, despite the present state of the nation. She accepts that there is a great deal of anguish and hypocrisy in her country’s past. But there is also, she continues, “an extraordinary amount of decency and hope, of prosperity and ambition, and much, especially, of invention and beauty”.
It encompasses interesting takes on democracy and technology, shifts in demographics, revolutions in economics and the very nature of modernity. It’s a big sweeping book, a way for us to take stock at this point in the journey, to look back, to remind us who we are and to point to where we’re headed...We need this book. Its reach is long, its narrative fresh and the arc of its account sobering to say the least. This is not Whig history. It is a classic tale of a unique country’s astonishing rise and just-as-inevitable fall.