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Jill Lepore on 'These Truths' and American History

In her new book, "These Truths," Lepore illuminates the direct line between the country’s polarized past and divided present.
Historian Jill Lepore shines a light on the leaders underserved or overlooked by American history textbooks. Top row, from left: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Walter Lippmann, Benjamin Lay, Margaret Chase Smith. Bottom row, from left: Pauli Murray, Phyllis Schlafly, Grace Hopper, A. Philip Randolph.
PER_Lepore_01 Source: ILLUSTRATION BY GLUEKIT (SOURCE IMAGES: COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS [4]; BETTMANN ARCHIVE/GETTY [4] )

In 2009, Jill Lepore was reporting on the Tea Party movement for The New Yorker. At a rally, she encountered a woman carrying a sign that read, “I want to live in 1773.” Lepore was appalled. “How can anyone say that? Do you want to die in childbirth? Life in the 1770s was horrible!”

That experience, she says now, gave her “a heightened awareness of the problem of public discourse having no shared past. The idea that you could turn back the hands of time and collapse the distance between the past and present? We happen to be vulnerable to political manipulation around imagined histories right now.”

Where, Lepore wondered, was the comprehensive narrative of America that tied together our past and present? She decided to write it herself. The result is:  (W.W. Norton & Company, $40). Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard and a staff writer at , has written multiple award-winning books, among them 2010’s  2013’s , about Benjamin Franklin’s sister Jane; and 2014’s best-selling . But , at least in terms of ambition, leaves her previous efforts in the

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