In The Story of America, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore investigates American origin stories--some moving, some painful, and all of them fascinating, from John Smith's account of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural address--to show how American democracy is bound up with the history of print. Over the centuries, Americans have read and written their way into a political culture of ink and type.
Part civics primer, part cultural history, The Story of America excavates the origins of everything from the paper ballot and the Constitution to the I.O.U. and the dictionary. Along the way it presents fresh readings of Benjamin Franklin's Way to Wealth, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, and "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as histories of lesser-known genres, including biographies of presidents, novels of immigrants, and accounts of the Depression.
From past to present, Lepore argues, Americans have wrestled with the idea of democracy by telling stories. In this thoughtful and provocative book, Lepore offers at once a history of origin stories and a meditation on storytelling itself.
Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at the New Yorker. Her books include The Mansion of Happiness, The Whites of Their Eyes (Princeton), and Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin.
"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
Table of Contents:
1. Here He Lyes 17
2. A Pilgrim Passed I 31
3. The Way to Wealth 44
4. The Age of Paine 59
5. We the Parchment 72
6. I.O.U. 91
7. A Nue Merrykin Dikshunary 111
8. His Highness 130
9. Man of the People 146
10. Pickwick in America 159
11. The Humbug 178
12. President Tom's Cabin 197
13. Pride of the Prairie 209
14. Longfellow's Ride 220
15. Rock, Paper, Scissors 240
16. Objection 254
17. Chan the Man 268
18. The Uprooted 279
19. Rap Sheet 291
20. To Wit 304
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Jill Lepore: