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These Truths, by Jill Lepore - Part One - January

75 Books Challenge for 2019

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Edited: Dec 31, 2018, 7:41pm Top

Edited: Dec 31, 2018, 7:46pm Top

Welcome. To be truthful, I am not much of a history buff, but I heard Jill Lepore speak about this book and I was excited! Each month, January - April, we will read one section. This thread is a chance to talk about lots of things: what you knew, what you learned, what surprised you, the pictures, the people, the places....

I am not sure spoilers are needed, but it would be nice to start off your comments with a page number or a year, so others can look up what you are talking about.

The Breakdown of Sections...

January--Part One, The Idea, pages 1-149 (1492-1799)

February--Part Two, The People, pages 153-310 (1800-1865)

March--Part Three, The State, pages 311-520 (1866-1945

April--Part Four, The Machine, pages 521-789 (1946-2016)

Edited: Dec 31, 2018, 7:48pm Top

So here we go!!

Pages 1-149

Edited: Jan 3, 8:47pm Top

Literary Arts' podcast of Jill Lepore's visit can be found on iTunes for free. You can also follow the link from here:


and then click on the green highlighted line in the main paragraph: "Click here to visit The Archive Project on iTunes."

Dec 31, 2018, 8:04pm Top

I did not get this for Christmas despite explicit hints. I'm #28 in line for 37 copies at the library. I guess I'd better go ahead and order it from Ammy. Thanks, Kimmers, for setting this up!

Edited: Dec 31, 2018, 8:56pm Top

>5 ronincats: Hi Roni--I made my daughter buy it for me for Christmas!! LOL

$25.31 on Amazon or $19.99 on Kindle....

Dec 31, 2018, 8:32pm Top

I've added this to the group wiki for easy access!

Dec 31, 2018, 8:32pm Top

>7 drneutron: Thank you!!! You da best!!

Dec 31, 2018, 8:39pm Top

I requested this from the library earlier today before I saw this thread - how cool! I may, like Roni, break down and buy it....

Dec 31, 2018, 8:40pm Top

>9 Dejah_Thoris: Welcome! I hope you get a copy soon (using whatever method) and that you have fun joining us on this read!

Dec 31, 2018, 8:41pm Top

I'm in! The books is downloaded to my Kindle and ready to go. I plan to read a bit of it tomorrow.

Thanks for setting this up, Kim.

Edited: Dec 31, 2018, 8:44pm Top

>11 katiekrug: Yay!! Glad to see you here.

Dec 31, 2018, 9:29pm Top

I'm here! I don't have the book yet -- the campus bookstore wasn't open today -- but I will have it by the first weekend of the year. Thank you for hosting us, Kimmers!!

Edited: Dec 31, 2018, 9:31pm Top

Oh, and along with others, I'm thinking to buy this for my Kindle. It's a bit hefty....

ETA: Done.

Dec 31, 2018, 10:14pm Top

>14 EBT1002: Hello, Ellen. Congrats on finding a copy! ; )

Jan 1, 2:41am Top

I got a hard cover copy at a Boxing Week sale so I'm all set. It is a bit heavy, though.

Jan 1, 4:44am Top

>16 Familyhistorian: LOL. It is the history of a nation afterall! ; )

Jan 1, 6:18am Top

Ok, I'm here. (I know you were all waiting for that, lol). I bought this when I was in the UCSD bookshop, but it's a good job Kim mentioned this group read on her thread as I had completely forgotten it.

Jan 1, 2:05pm Top

>18 charl08: Yay! Glad you remembered!

Jan 1, 3:00pm Top

I read the Introduction last night, and found even that interesting, so things are looking good :)

Jan 1, 3:53pm Top

>20 katiekrug: You overachiever, you! Glad to hear it. : )

Jan 1, 4:00pm Top

Oh God I was hoping I wouldn't get sucked into this but I happen to love history so I guess I'll be forced to shell out for this because I don't think a library copy will work at the rate of one section per month.

Jan 1, 4:02pm Top

>22 brenzi: Sorry! Not sorry. I am glad you are going to be part of this. : )

Jan 1, 5:11pm Top

>18 charl08: Ha Charlotte, I bet a lot of this history will be newer to us than most of the rest of the readers on this thread. I'm looking forward to learning history that wasn't covered in school.

Jan 1, 6:23pm Top

Count me in! I read the first two parts in November/December for a RL book group, and need to finish by late February. Even though I'll be reading ahead of this group's pace, I intend to join the discussion. I learned a lot from what I've read so far and am eager to join the conversation.

Jan 1, 6:32pm Top

Just from reading the Introduction, I'm struck by how often we take for granted the truly revolutionary nature of what the founders accomplished in terms of putting control into the hands of the (non-enslaved) people. The farther time moves on, the less unique it seems, I think.

I highlighted this bit:

"'The infant periods of most nations are buried in silence, or veiled in fable,' James Madison once remarked. Not the United States. Its infancy is preserved, like baby teeth kept in a glass jar, in the four parchment sheets of the Constitution, in the pages of almanacs that chart the weather of a long-ago climate, and in hundred of newspapers, where essays for and against the new system of government appeared alongside the shipping news, auction notices, and advertisements for the return of people who never were their own masters - women and children, slaves and servants - and who had run away, hoping to ordain and establish, for themselves and their posterity, the blessings of liberty."

Such a concise summing up of the fundamental tension inherent in the founding of a nation of free people built on the backs of slaves. There is so much to inspire and to disgust at the same time.

Jan 1, 6:40pm Top

One of my first highlights was this quote from Chapter 1:
In 1492, about sixty million people lived in Europe, fifteen million fewer than lived in the Americas.

Wow. That blew my mind.

Jan 1, 7:44pm Top

>27 lauralkeet: A true mind-bender. All the people who lived in the Americas who have been dismissed and disregarded -- made invisible! -- by history.

Edited: Jan 1, 11:27pm Top

I'll start reading it next weekend, after I get through my end-of-week work binge, and return some high-priority reading items to the library. This is an Athenaeum item that I think will have to go back to them mid-January, so I'll prob have to take notes in order to keep discussing it throughout the whole period. Or win the lottery and get a copy for Kindle.

Edited: Jan 2, 12:14am Top


"...it has been the question ever since...Can a political society really be governed by reflection and election, by reason and truth, rather than by accident and violence, by prejudice and deceit?"

Still an excellent question. I am still hopeful.

Jan 2, 12:25am Top

I will get my copy on Thursday. I went with the hard copy as I am hoping there will be charts and tables and maps involved.

Jan 2, 12:27pm Top

Just ordered a copy. I went one whole day into 2019 without purchasing a book. (Applause, please).

Jan 2, 1:03pm Top

For those of you who have the print version, I have a question. Just how small is the print? Does it make you squint or give you a headache? As one whose vision isn’t the greatest, I am trying to decide between the hardcover copy or the ebook. The comments on Amazon weren’t very favorable regarding the dead-tree book.

Edited: Jan 2, 3:18pm Top

>31 ronincats: Not so much tables and charts, but lots of images.

>32 streamsong:

>33 Donna828: I find the print size okay, but it is a lighter font. No headache yet.

Jan 2, 3:34pm Top

I really admire everyone thinking about the high political / philosophical points, but I've got stuck on thinking how smelly the debates must have been in a room in Philadelphia in summer with the windows nailed down...

Jan 2, 3:53pm Top

>30 Berly: - Me too, Kim. (Hopeful, that is...)

Jan 2, 4:49pm Top

>33 Donna828: Donna, I don't find the font terribly small, although it's probably smaller than I would set it on an ereader. But it is a handful, weight-wise, in hardcover, so if you also find it difficult to hold big heavy books that might be another strike against it.

Jan 3, 1:44am Top

>35 charl08: I thought the very same thing! But that bunch of stinky men certainly got points for being dedicated to a good cause.

Jan 3, 9:44am Top

Thanks for the feedback on print size, Kim and Julia. My book will arrive on Saturday. I tend to ignore my Kindle books. It will be pretty difficult to ignore a physical door stopper! I’m looking forward to having company reading this tome.

Jan 3, 3:16pm Top

My copy showed up early this morning!

Jan 3, 3:21pm Top

Jan 3, 5:15pm Top

I decided to buy the Kindle edition - more a question of real estate than font size, but font size will help.

Jan 3, 5:58pm Top

I wish I understood the mysteries of e-books - my version of the book on my Kindle PAperwhite doesn't include page numbers. But I also downloaded it to the Kindle app on my phone, and that one has page numbers.... Annoying!

Jan 3, 6:15pm Top

>43 katiekrug: Oh, thanks for the tip. I can use my old Kindle, my tablet, or my phone, so I hope one of them has the page numbers you found.

Jan 3, 8:42pm Top

Excellent Choice! I have the Kindle version and it is definitely up for 2019. I have not heard her speak but have heard very good things.

It took some courage to take to the writing desk for this kind of book and bring a renewed look.

Jan 3, 9:21pm Top

>43 katiekrug: that's weird. Last time I checked, I have page numbers on both my Kindlel Paperwhite and iPad app.

Jan 4, 6:38pm Top

I used the last of my Christmas money to my hardcover copy - due to arrive tomorrow. I'm definitely in!

Jan 4, 8:41pm Top

Just now going to pop down to the library and collect my reserved copy :):):)

Edited: Jan 4, 9:15pm Top

p. 12 Love this:

"To write something down doesn't make it true. But the history of truth is lashed to the history of writing like a mast to a sail."

"To write something down is to make a fossil record of the mind. Stories are full of power and force; they seethe with meaning, with truth and lies, evasions and honesty."

Jan 4, 10:05pm Top

>49 Berly: aaah language, I am finding the same thing with words, discourses, that which we 'know' is true by the fact that everyone assumes it is. (sorry- thesis talk coming out there, it finds its way into everything)

I have my copy of the book!!!! It's pretty :)

Jan 5, 11:02pm Top

I read the introduction the other evening and I can tell this is going to be good. I'm highlighting liberally. I am reading it on my kindle if only to spare my wrists.

I'm glad we're reading this after I have spent the past year listening to the soundtrack to 'Hamilton' so much. It just feels like background theme music to accompany her work.

I appreciated the bit where she talked about how she chose what to include, what to leave out. That this is primarily a political history of the US provides focus.

Jan 5, 11:23pm Top

I'm a bit into Chapter 2, and one thing I am appreciating is how Lepore includes the history of slavery right from the get go. I think it often happens that histories of the US don't do much with slavery until it all comes to a head in the mid-19th century, but it's really important to understand how one institution evolved alongside the other.

Jan 6, 7:39am Top

>51 EBT1002: I have the Kindle edition, bought initially because this book is so big. But I've made more highlights in this book than probably anything else I've ever read on Kindle. This is largely because I want to note passages for discussion here and elsewhere. For some reason I am far less likely to mark passages on physical books.

>52 katiekrug: I couldn't agree with you more, Katie. Lepore provides a long view of history vs. the more event-driven approach we are taught in school. I was also struck by the interdependence between the British involvement in the American colonies and their Caribbean colonies, as regards slavery and the economy. The Caribbean connection gave me a new perspective on developments that occurred in America -- again, a broader view of history than the US-centric view we are taught.

I also really liked this quote from Chapter 2:
Slavery does not exist outside of politics. Slavery is a form of politics, and slave rebellion a form of violent political dissent.

Edited: Jan 6, 8:23am Top

My book arrived yesterday!

From the Introduction, I thought 1492 was a bit arbitrary, but on page 9 Lepore made it clear, at least to me, why she chose that date:

Before 1492, Europe suffered from scarcity and famine. After 1492, the vast wealth carried to Europe from the Americas and extracted by the forced labor of Africans granted governments new powers that contributed to the rise of nation states.

In 1492 there were 75 million people in the Americas, only 60 million people in Europe.

So far this is fascinating.

Jan 6, 8:19pm Top

Up to page 75 now. Am liking the quick transitions from topic to topic, but that certain topics are returned to periodically. It makes for interesting reading.

Jan 6, 9:17pm Top

I started These Truths: A History of the United States, and couldn't help giggling through all those parallel pairs of words Lepore wields in the introduction. It makes the language soar a bit, don't you think?

Onward. I was thinking of the page number thing, and I wonder if it depends on the size of the font we choose? Some size may conform to the book page, whereas others won't. I'll check my tablet - haven't been paying attention to that. I'm a long way from 1799 anyway.

>54 karenmarie: The numbers cited for Haiti were horrifying - from three million to 500. What devastation.

Jan 7, 2:14am Top

Mostly lurking but just to say how much I am enjoying this thread: fascinating to read what has caught each reader's attention.

Jan 7, 12:00pm Top

Kim I added both of the quotes from >30 Berly: and >49 Berly: to the quotes on the book page. :)
I agree that her prose soars - it's quite easy to read. Reading history is often a chore for me; so far I am very pleasantly surprised

>27 lauralkeet: >54 karenmarie: >56 ffortsa: The numbers of Europeans vs Native Americans was a suprise; the numbers in the devastation of Haiti shocking.

Jan 7, 1:32pm Top

I was surprised by the numbers on p 16 - 17, "Between 1500 and 1800, roughly two and a half million Europeans moved to the Americas; they carried twelve million Africans there by force; and as many as fifty million Native Americans died." I was aware of the Native American deaths but not that so many more Africans went to America than Europeans. It seems counter-intuitive that 2.5 million people could subjugate 12 million, no wonder there was such a fear of slave rebellion.

Jan 10, 2:32am Top

>54 karenmarie: But it isn't just that, it was also that the Founding Fathers wanted a longer history for America and its European history starting with the "discovery" by Columbus in 1492 (instead of 1776 and the Declaration of Independence). Still this date is based on English involvement, ignoring the natives and earlier settlements by Spain and France.

>58 streamsong: Oh, good idea! Thanks.

So another favorite quote at the end of Chapter One (28):

" 'Each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice.' (Montaigne) They are to us as we are to them, each true: out of two truths, one."

>59 Familyhistorian: Me, too!

Jan 10, 12:02pm Top

Another disturbing factoid: The first 20 African slaves were landed in the Carolinas in 1619, a year before the Pilgrims established Plymouth in 1620. p 38.

Jan 11, 6:44am Top

I started These Truths. Thanks so much for setting this up, Kim. I am all ready deep into Part One and the Revolution has begun, so many interesting facts are presented here and I really like Lepore's approach, focusing on slightly more obscure stories. I also like her running theme of "Truth".

I am listening to this on audio, so it is tougher to share quotes but I will have to start writing some stuff down.

Jan 11, 9:17am Top

>60 Berly: You are right, Kim. She does expand on the reasoning behind 1492. The quote above simply made it reasonable to me that she chose that date.

page 84

And yet this defiance did not extend to Quebec or to the sugar islands, where the burden of the Stamp Act was actually heavier. Thirteen colonies eventually cast off British rule; some thirteen more did not.

The issues leading up to rebellion are a fascinating dance. One thing that surprises me is that the colonists frequently used the word 'slavery' to define any attempt at controlling them from Britain yet still justified the true slavery of black people.

Edited: Jan 11, 1:26pm Top

Kim, how did I not see this group read til Mark mentioned it? I will use some of my wellness credits at Amazon to grab a copy and get going with it.

One comment I saw is that the typeface for the book is small. True? Update: Never mind, I saw the previous discussion on this topic. I might opt for the Kindle edition. Between smallish typesize and hefty book...

I do note that Amazon has a discount coupon for the print copy.

Jan 12, 4:59pm Top

Rough week with not much reading time, but I just picked this book up again and was immediately struck by the background info on the Magna Carta and how King Charles' dissolution of Parliament was a major reason for the King's subjects to wish to flee England and his rule. In my days of school, I don't think we covered the impetus for leaving England very much. (pp 42-43).

Edited: Jan 12, 10:06pm Top

>63 karenmarie: Amazing how people can use a word (Slavery) so differently depending on whether or not it applies to them or to others. How can they have been so blind?

>64 lindapanzo: Welcome!! Glad Mark spoke up about this thread. : )

Jan 12, 5:58pm Top

>66 Berly: Thanks, Kim. I picked up the Kindle edition yesterday and then promptly went out to the movies. Today hasn't allowed much reading time either but I'm hoping to get started today.

Jan 12, 6:49pm Top

I was struck by the notion that Parliament as a word comes from 'parlay', which is what the nobles were doing with King John. Duh.

Edited: Jan 12, 7:19pm Top

>52 katiekrug: and >53 lauralkeet: I agree with you both, Katie and Laura. I think she does an excellent job of telling the story of the philosophical underpinnings of the tenets of democracy, how slavery fit into that (and how the notion of 'race' had to be developed to justify the blatant contradictions), and the interconnection between the Caribbean and what was to become the US. I feel like the Caribbean was completely left out of my history education so I have never thought about how the colonization of this whole section of the globe was all of a piece.

>68 ffortsa: I thought that was a cool factoid too, Judy.

Edited: Jan 12, 7:19pm Top

>65 Berly: In my days of school, I don't think we covered the impetus for leaving England very much.

That was interesting to me, too. It seems like most of the history we've been taught was covered in a fairly narrow way, without context or things that connect events. I had a similar reaction to the story of the Mayflower, which is often told as if they were the only Europeans settling the country at that time. As Lepore makes clear, that was not the case.

>69 EBT1002: also the Caribbean, as Ellen noted.

Jan 13, 8:08am Top

Hi everyone - I'm not a 75er but I know a few of you from other LT groups. I'm just about to start These Truths and hoping it's ok if I jump in on the discussion. I got this from the library in a kindle version, so I only have it for 3 weeks. If that's not enough time, I might end up buying it.

I do love Jill Lepore so I'm looking forward to this and already intrigued by the comments here.

Jan 14, 11:37am Top

I'll vouch for Jennifer (>71 japaul22:) - she's good people :D


Jan 14, 11:41am Top

I'm just hitting the start of the Revolution and I've highlighted a lot on my Kindle. I need to go back and remind myself about what's really been hitting me... Last night, I found the mention(s) of some abolitionist efforts in the mid-18th century interesting. I wasn't really aware of that. Also not covered in school (understandable, really, there is *so* much), is the tension between asserting natural rights to freedom and liberty and the institution of slavery. As I've mentioned before, slavery never got much mention in my middle- and high school US history classes until we got to the chapters on the Civil War...

Jan 14, 3:19pm Top

>71 japaul22: Welcome Jennifer!! We are planning one section a month so the total planned read is through April.

>72 katiekrug: : )

Jan 14, 3:23pm Top

>73 katiekrug: I also don't really remember any talk of slavery in school until the Civil War. I am even more appalled when I now know England used to disparage other nations for their use of slaves.

And in the beginning, it wasn't approved of in America either. From the Carolina Constitution and Locke's Two Treatises on Government): "Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation, that it is hardly to be conceived that an Englishman, much less a gentleman, should plead for it." (p. 54)

But, that didn't last. Sugar happened and from then on there was a two-tier concept of slavery: while attempting to achieve freedom from England and arguing for the rights of all men, New Americans forgot (willfully overlooked) the rights of those enslaved.

"It was lost on no one that the loudest calls for liberty in the early modern world came from a part that world that was wholly dependent on slavery" (p. 64)

Jan 14, 3:26pm Top

I do remember this image from school though--

Jan 14, 3:50pm Top

I've picked this up again after a break: struck by Elizabeth's belief that Spanish cruelty was very different to how the English would do things. (p25) Wishful thinking or self-delusion?

Jan 14, 4:07pm Top

And I can't read about Walter Raleigh without thinking of the Blackadder episode where Raleigh comes back and everyone's wearing a pirate eyepatch...

Jan 14, 7:48pm Top

>76 Berly: ooh! That reminds me of something I just read last week. Check this out:
244-year-old Philly newspaper, found at New Jersey Goodwill, headed to Old City

Jan 14, 10:13pm Top

>77 charl08: I think, for a while, the English rightly despaired of Spanish cruelty, but then they one-upped them.

>78 charl08: For fun?? Is this a TV series? Why? So lost....

: )

>79 lauralkeet: That's so cool!!! Thanks for posting the link.

Yesterday, 12:45am Top

I think that a lot of the mythology of US history is told in isolation. I love the way that Lapore introduces the bigger picture and asks repeatedly by what right rulers did things because there were really atrocities on all sides and, it appears, rebellion by all who were suppressed as well. Only the victors get to be heroes of the story though.

Yesterday, 3:47am Top

>80 Berly: It's a comedy historical series set in the reign of Elizabeth I. Maybe it didn't cross the pond.

Yesterday, 3:50am Top

>82 charl08: I haven't heard of it, but that doesn't mean it isn't here. I will look for it. Thanks.

Yesterday, 7:53am Top

>82 charl08: Blackadder is available in the US, although it may not be as well known here as in the UK.

>83 Berly: Kim, each season is set in a different time period, so if you find and and it doesn't look Elizabethan, that's why.

Yesterday, 8:03am Top

Yes: avoid series 1 it's not so good. You need II.

Yesterday, 11:32am Top

>77 charl08: Maybe also a bit of propaganda. Engeland was at war with Spain. Spain was making loads of money off the America's. Spain was at war with Holland as well, and committing atrocities there. Holland and Engeland were allies, so the view of Spanish cruelty was useful. But they did believe they would do better, I think.

(I just read a book about this time period in Holland, where the whole point of Spanish cruelty came up, complete with the pamphlets about it)

Yesterday, 11:39am Top

Yesterday, 9:11pm Top

I'll admit to loving this first section in part because of Outlander series 4 being set in mid 1700s US.....I can picture Jamie chopping wood by his log cabin in the woods. (lol)

Also, from a foreigner's perspective who never learned any American histories, it is a bit of a heavy load for me at times. The dates, names and events are not all familiar to me. But it is making sense, even if I don't have all the context to place it within.

Yesterday, 10:04pm Top

I have finished Part 1. A lot of it I was familiar with, from sources such as David McCullough's John Adams, Hamilton, and a biography of King George the Third I read last year, but I really like the way Lepore pulls it all together and links it to the continuing themes of liberty and slavery.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2019

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