This America: The Case for the Nation

Liveright: Norton. May 2019. 160p. bibliog. ISBN 9781631496417. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631496424. HIST
Since the 1970s, claims Lepore (Harvard Univ.; These Truths), scholars have made more of an effort to emphasize the contributions of women, African Americans, and indigenous peoples. Lepore does not deny this importance because these groups were largely ignored by white men writing history and controlling governments. This concise volume calls for refocusing American history on the nation as a single entity because, as the author states, if people don’t acknowledge their past, it will be interpreted by extremists with specific agendas. Lepore presents a fascinating appraisal of the history of American nationalism, stressing that by the mid-20th century it had been diminished from a patriotic love of country to a violent hatred of the other. Liberalism is promoted as the foundation for a current American nationalism: a government that protects the rights of its citizenry. The 14th and 15th Amendments are depicted as the roots of modern U.S. liberalism, and Lepore draws on the work of abolitionists and intellectuals such as Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Dubois to bolster her argument.
VERDICT This is a call to reconsider what it means to be an American and for advocating liberalism as a corrective for “illiberal nationalism” pervading the country. Informed readers, especially historians, will welcome Lepore’s nuanced, graceful interpretation.

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