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The Story of America


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Table of Contents

Introduction 1 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 Notes 319 Index 399

About the Author

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".


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."'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, "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

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