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The Story of America: Essays on Origins Hardcover – 7 Oct 2012


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Runner-up for the 2013 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, PEN American Center


"In this collection of essays (most of which previously appeared in The New Yorker), Lepore illuminates the various ways in which the story of our nation has been formulated as a narrative. From John Smith's largely fictionalized account of the founding of Jamestown, in 1607, to Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration address, these pieces comprise an examination of the nature of history and an exploration of how the way we tell our story has shaped the story itself."--NewYorker.com's Page-Turner blog

"The Story of America, like A is for American, serves up a delightful smorgasbord of synecdoches and allegories of the evolution of American democracy. . . . [A] deeply satisfying book."--Amanda Foreman, Times Literary Supplement

"Anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of reading Jill Lepore might begin with The Story of America: Essays on Origins. Ms. Lepore is a gifted historian and a contributor to the New Yorker, where most of these essays appeared. Her subjects range from John Smith and the founding of Jamestown to the murder of a Connecticut family in 2007 by a pair of drug-addled drifters. She drops in on, among others, Andrew Jackson, Noah Webster, Edgar Allen Poe and Charlie Chan (the real one). Her voice is always fresh, her prose engaging and her insights original."--Fergus M. Bordewich, Wall Street Journal

"Ranging from colonial times to the present, the essays are liberally sprinkled with fascinating facts--etymologies of 'ballot' and 'booze,' or that Davy Crockett was the first presidential candidate to write a campaign autobiography. Even the footnotes contain buried treasures; history buffs and general readers alike will savor this collection."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"She trains the literary equivalent of wide-angle and zoom lenses on seminal American documents, examining their subjects and their creators. . . . [E]legant."--Julia M. Klein, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Lepore, who teaches history at Harvard and writes for The New Yorker, brings to the task a keen eye for the often-competing claims of history, politics, and literature. . . . [T]errifically readable, intellectually engaging, and thoroughly entertaining. . . . Lepore's subjects mostly range from the 17th to the 19th centuries, but the essays feel remarkably relevant, grappling with ideas about race, equality, voting rights, taxes, poverty, the role of America in the world."--Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

"In this collection of her essays from the magazine, she paints portraits of George Washington, Thomas Paine, Longfellow, and many forgotten figures in America's founding, rescuing them from dogmatic myth to show that they are as human and as able to surprise as your best friend is able to inspire and infuriate you. . . . Lepore knocks you out of your comfort zone. You thought you knew America?"--The Daily Beast

"Tackling a wide variety of subjects--e.g., the Founding Fathers, Charles Dickens, Clarence Darrow, Charlie Chan, voting regulations, the decline of inaugural speeches--the author proves to be a funny, slightly punky literary critic, reading between the lines of American history. . . . As smart, lively, and assured as modern debunker gets."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"If the definition of a good book is one that makes a reader think, then Lepore has written a good book. If the definition of a very good book is one that makes a reader question prevailing thought, then Lepore has written a very good book indeed. . . . The stories behind stories are more revelatory than the so-called facts they are ostensibly built upon. And while to have read the U.S. Constitution is one thing, to understand what it says is an altogether different matter, since its meaning seems to shift with the times and the reader's intent. This book ought to be intentional reading for every American history wonk."--Booklist

"Lepore's elegant account of America's genesis is alert to discrepancies and exaggerations of all kinds. It's characteristic of her genial style that while examining the sticky history of Captain John Smith (he of Pocahontas fame), she observes that while he probably wasn't a liar, his pantaloons did on one notable occasion literally burst into flames."--Olivia Laing, Prospect

"[L]ively, funny, argumentative, and plain-spoken. . . . Lepore is trying to hear America through its stories, and there are a lot of voices in that choir."--Chris Barsanti, PopMatters

"Lepore's strength as a popular historian is her ability to make her target audience . . . take a second look at the political culture we have long taken for granted, and realize that our system was not preordained, not historically inevitable, not even, always, very well planned. . . . [S]urprising and enlightening."--Brooke Allen, WilsonQuarterly.com

"Jill Lepore's fascinating, provocative and wide-ranging essays explore the 'origin stories' Americans have told themselves, from the 17th-century English settlers in Jamestown and Plymouth to the Founding Fathers to Barack Obama's origin story today. Lepore offers at once a history of American origin stories and a meditation on storytelling."--Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"In an engaging and entertaining style, Lepore questions and exposes the political motives underlying commonly accepted versions of history. Each enlightening essay reveals that what most of us think of as history is often a tangle of prejudice, speculation, and imagination. An enjoyable and thought-provoking read for history buffs at all levels and for anyone seeking to understand how history is written."--Library Journal

"Elegant, enlightening, and engaging, [Lepore's] essays give the lie to the proposition that contemporary America lacks public intellectuals. . . . Most important, Lepore's analysis is smart, sharp, and sassy."--Tulsa World

"The appropriate audience for these stories will surely be the literate citizen, if not the student of history or American Studies. . . . Lepore's ability to bring characters and subjects to life might well persuade such readers to delve more deeply into the biographies of the famous as well as the less famous Americans she engages."--James Gilbert, H-Net Reviews

"[C]opiously researched, deftly written and anecdotally instructive."--John Cussen, Erie Times-News

"Simple, short and appealing, Jill has told the story of America well."--R. Balashankar, Organiser

"In this thoughtful and provocative book, Lepore offers at once a history of origin stories and a meditation on storytelling itself."--World Book Industry

"The Story of America is a must-read for anyone interested in American history and the history of American publishing and writing. A fascinating, engaging, and expertly written book. I cannot recommend it highly enough."--Politics Reader

"The author's fecundity is matched by the breadth of her reading and wit. . . .Lepore makes a great deal of sense, here and elsewhere. First rate sense."--Michael Kammen, European Legacy

From the Back Cover


"As both a Jeremiah and a troubadour, Jill Lepore has one of the most distinctive voices in American literary life. So skilled in the art of the essay, she has a sense of narrative that is breathtaking. She tells resounding, surprising stories about real people forging American roots and development, but always through a deeply documented history. Both subtly and explosively, Lepore brings the power of history right into your lap and makes you shudder at just how deeply tangled past and present really are."--David W. Blight, author of American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era


"Jill Lepore is one of America's most interesting scholars--a distinguished historian and a brilliant essayist. This prolific collection of articles and essays is a remarkable body of work that moves from early America to our present, contentious age."--Alan Brinkley, author of The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century


"Jill Lepore is one of our finest historians of the battle over the story called 'America,' which, as she says, is constantly being fought over and over. In this stunning collection of essays, Lepore makes the case that the rise of democracy is bound up with the history of its reading and writing. That history is conflicted, ragged, and contradictory but, in Lepore's capable hands, as gripping and compelling as a novel."--Cathy N. Davidson, Duke University


"Concise, clear, vivid, witty, insightful, and rich in turns of phrase. More than any other historian I know, Lepore cares about good writing and has a talent for making sophisticated ideas accessible to a broad readership."--Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies


"Jill Lepore's storytelling power is on full display here. As much literary exercises as historical inquiries, these essays are compact, highly readable, and often written from an unexpected angle. Combining a lightness of touch with the authority of a historian who knows her field inside out, Lepore moves effortlessly through the length of American history."--Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University



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Amazon.com: 26 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Splendid essays on American History 17 Nov. 2012
By David P. Chandler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a marvelous, scholarly and completely accessible tour of American history, perceived via assorted documents, ideas and personalities. Topics, to name a few, include debtors prisons, Noah Webster, Inaugural speeches, biographies of George Washington and Charles Dickens' 1843 visit to America, The chapters are written with charm, authority and brio.The extensive endnotes are an added bonus, and every page of the book is fun to read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Thoroughly enjoyable 13 Dec. 2012
By anon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a delight to read! The book is worth every penny I paid. In fact, after buying the Kindle edition, I purchased a second, hard copy as a gift for a friend. I am an admirer of Lepore's scholarship and writing anyway--found her book on King Philip's War enormously useful as a teacher and scholar. These essays are less academic. They're quicker and lighter but have just enough historical heft to leave a thinking reader with something to muse on.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Fun and Informative Hodgepodge from the New Yorker 31 Aug. 2013
By Jim - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This thoroughly enjoyable book is a collection of essays published previously in New Yorker magazine. It's a jumble of subjects that Lepore perhaps bumped into while professing at Harvard, then turned into articles for popular consumption in a venerable magazine. Her subjects vary widely: Edgar Allan Poe, the history of voting, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, debtor's prisons, Kit Carson, presentation of the U.S. in school plays, and others. Lepore did research on all of them and has her subjects in hand. She writes popular history drolly with a weakness for descriptive metaphors--both her own and others'. For example: In the pantheon of American "superhero" Founding Fathers, she writes, Tom Paine is a lesser demigod, made use of only occasionally, like Aquaman. Another example: she quotes farmer/ex-Revolutionary soldier William Manning in the 1790s: "It [the Constitution] was made like a Fiddle, with but few Strings, but so that the ruling Majority could play any tune upon it they please." Her book is surprisingly free of the political bias seemingly a prerequisite for a person who 1) has a Ph.D. in American Studies, and 2) chairs the history department at Harvard. I scrutinize history books assiduously, just waiting for political nonsense to appear and ruin them so I can grind my teeth. I had nary an objection to Lepore's book. Want to read a well written, entertaining collection of informative historical essays? Here is one worth the price.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Insightful history 15 Dec. 2012
By Stephen Foehr - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book should be required reading in secondary and high school history classes. It gives a human perspective to our nation's historical turning points. The reader can understand the very human motives and reasons and blunders that are treated so dryly and one-dimensionally in the ordinary history textbooks.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
We are the perception of our literary imagination 9 Mar. 2013
By R. S. Wilkerson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A delightful series of essays about the various ways we have written about and interpret our origins as a nation. I think she illustrates by means of a series of essays about significant writings in our history, and not always those one would expect, that we are what we have created from the literary imaginations of our people striving to bring the ideals of democracy, freedom, justice, and equality before the law to fruition in a rapidly changing world and a nation of changing political and social values. A very engaging study of how we have perceived ourselves and how those perceptions have passed into the public consciousness. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in American history.
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