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Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. She has written several books including Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over vis mere American History, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Joe Gould's Teeth, and These Truths: A History of the United States. (Bowker Author Biography) vis mindre

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Værker af Jill Lepore

The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014) 1,362 eksemplarer
Blindspot (2008) 355 eksemplarer
Joe Gould's Teeth (2016) 227 eksemplarer
The Deadline: Essays (2023) 84 eksemplarer
Encounters in the New World : a history in documents (2000) — Redaktør — 59 eksemplarer

Associated Works

The 40s: The Story of a Decade (2014) — Bidragyder — 275 eksemplarer
The Matter of Black Lives: Writing from The New Yorker (2021) — Bidragyder — 88 eksemplarer
Slavery in New York (2005) — Bidragyder — 86 eksemplarer
The Best American Magazine Writing 2019 (2019) — Bidragyder — 10 eksemplarer

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As I set down Jill Lepore’s weighty one-volume history of the United States I was prompted to pick up the US Constitution to refresh my own understanding of what the whole thing was about.

One of the founding fathers of the American experiment, Alexander Hamilton asked in 1787 “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

In one (literally) blistering 789 page volume Lepore aims to answer the verdict of history.

How well has the American experiment in self-government succeeded...from the early explorations of the American continent, from the early baronial accommodations of the British sovereign, and from the blossoming of the Enlightenment to the election of Donald J. Trump?

For that I needed to go back to the preamble of the US Constitution. The authors of the constitution sought to create “a more perfect Union,” to establish “Justice” (meaning the operation of courts), ensure “domestic tranquility,” “promote the general welfare,” “provide for the common defence, “and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

If you take as the starting point the American Revolution and the endpoint the 50 years following the Constitution and omitted the War of 1812, you can justly argue that the Constitution did pretty well establishing courts, some domestic tranquility, improvement in the material wellbeing of the increasingly populated United States, and some of the “Blessings of Liberty” meaning relatively few cases of imprisonment without just cause, or random acts of violence disturbing the family dinner.

But the continuation of slavery, the absence of the franchise (the vote) for women, the depopulating of Indian lands, increasingly brutal working conditions for immigrant labourers and children in the North and wild swings in the economy meant that not everybody enjoyed what we would consider “the Blessings of Liberty” equally.

Domestic tranquility was broken by the Civil War, by the expansionist wars against Mexico, against Spain, against aboriginal peoples; by the depredations of the Jim Crow Era, by two world wars, by the launch of Sputnik, and by the fall of the twin towers.

It was also disturbed by at least three major religious revivals — including the Billy Graham-led revival beginning in the 1950’s — by the non-violent Civil Rights protests also beginning in the 1950s; by the anti-Vietnam War student disturbances and political assassinations in the 1960’s; and most recently by the Trump-inspired attack on the US Capitol.

But these are mostly political disturbances.

There were other kinds of disturbances including the massive organization of industry following the Civil War — mostly in the north — that led to the Gilded Age depredations of new industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and JP Morgan.

There were disturbances in communications with the early proliferation of newspapers, the rise of the telegraph, the telephone, the cinema, television, the Internet, and social media.

Then there were the broader technological innovations in electricity, the theory of evolution, the internal combustion engine, the discovery of the subconscious, quantum mechanics, the Special Theory of Relativity, advances in chemistry, weapons manufacture, digital electronics, the discovery of DNA and antibiotics, breakthroughs in aviation, in optics, astrophysics, and the new horizon of bioengineering.

Here is where Hamilton’s “accident and force” come in.

You saw in this segment of history the collision of social, economic, and political ambitions of this United States that could not possibly have been envisioned by the authors of the Constitution.

Now you can’t in fairness blame the framers for failing to see these momentous changes.

In a moment of pique Jill Lepore’s sympathies peek through the pages when she laments the fetishization of the US Constitution by legal “originalists,” justices including Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and I’ll include the new lot on board up and down the federal court system appointed during the Trump administration.

When I skip through the nuts and bolts of the US Constitution my eyes fall on the First Amendment in which Congress is forbidden from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion, “ or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Now most people interpret that as a kind of protection of religious freedom. I on the other hand interpret that as a repudiation of religion. It was as if the authors having forgotten to add that freedom in the body of the Constitution had this afterthought that the sacred operation of the people’s government would only be sullied by religions.

(Apparently, there was sincere heated debate about whether or not to include a bill of rights in the Constitution and it was left out for a lack of consensus.)

For me to see the American public positively clamour for a Christian President in these times amounts to absurdity. This obsession with ideological purity while obvious on the right is also there on the left.

And this is a country which professes a prohibition of religious tests in holding national office.

That, I think, is where the framers of the Constitution whether knowingly or unknowingly anticipated problems in the American experiment: in its dependence on the Enlightenment’s model of rational man (or woman).

And I’m not talking about the ravings of God’s militias or the white nationalists, or the American Nazis.

Simply for the flexibility of the system to accommodate the irrational in people.

Some of us like to complain that at election time politicians like to bribe us with our own money. That’s the only way they can get our attention.

To some degree, the Northerners may have done the same: they bribed the Southerners into joining their crusade against the King disingenuously guaranteeing them their slave economy.

This resulted in the massive and bloody conflict of the Civil War over slavery and the rights of states to protect their turf. It also resulted the horrid lynchings and treatment even of black servicemen for too many years following the Civil War, and the continued abomination of police brutality, de facto segregation in home ownership, and mass incarceration in what Michelle Alexander has called the new Jim Crow era.

Critics could argue it was a Faustian bargain from the beginning.

Lepore argues persuasively that it was the early slaves who were the first revolutionaries. The slaves who fought the abomination of slavery in the American economy, and also the slaves who fought the abomination of slavery in the sugar plantations of Haiti under the French, and the maroons in Jamaica.

America’s official revolutionaries, Northerners as well as Southerners, had a long way to go in believing that coloured people and women had an equal if not greater claim to the bounty of the land and the promises of freedom.

America is a society that has some distance to go in the quest to establish fairness, but America is not the only society in this predicament. Slavery and prejudice existed long before America came along. To expect it to deliver on the promise of a truly equitable society on its own was maybe asking too much. Other nations must and some do contribute to the quest.

Lepore’s revisionist history shows that there was nothing “self-evident” about “these truths,” that they’re as much aspirational and prescriptive as descriptive of the American experiment even today after state-sanctioned slavery is long gone.

She also clearly believes that contemporary Republicans aren’t doing nearly enough to promote the general wellbeing of the people.

I learned much from this book, including that the advances in communications don’t seem to have brought the people together starting from the get go.

However, the architecture of the story as it is told is not particularly imaginative or inspiring. I felt Prof. Lepore could have fleshed out her argument better and left out some of the tangential details.

The story gets going with a bang and ends with a whimper, almost as though the project exhausted her and she wanted to get working on her next New Yorker article.

As well, the book could have done with more proofreading before it went to press. Even this amateur reader found several errors that should have been caught by a Harvard professor.

Thomas Jefferson once said “Laws and Institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of human mind.”

“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant.” But when they do “They ascribe to men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human.” I forget who said this, but it makes sense.

I also appreciated her reference to Lincoln’s Gettysburg address where he complains “We cannot hallow this ground.” We are obliged, instead, to walk this ground, dedicating ourselves to both the living and dead.

America’s record on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is not reassuring. Donald Trump aside, something is amiss in the US’s federalist system and power-sharing with the states. And as of this writing, many Americans are not cooperating to control the spread of the disease.

And we are about to find out which nations have the moxie to adapt their laws and institutions to the needs of millions of displaced persons when climate change forces their hand.
… (mere)
 
Markeret
MylesKesten | 39 andre anmeldelser | Jan 23, 2024 |
To have book like this appearing in current times means that things have gone so deep and over the edge that they are [as far as I can see] unfortunately beyond repair. This is like reading about the civil wars and political violence decades after the event. History is like that, it tries to educate people using examples from the past but what can one do with the people acting as children who only want the shiny things and nothing else, people who dont want to enter the world of adults, people who only want to live forever young.

Sad.

Author writes wonderfully. This is a huge book but I read it so fast like it was a novel (and believe me it is not, some passages do require re-readings because sheer information bursting from the pages). She wonderfully shows how low has society fallen from the 1960's up til now, how some things that would worry and infuriate people before like manipulating people for political votes, tailoring politician's stands so they get elected are now treated like everyday thing. Historical awareness of people dropped not 2 years back but barely a month or (what is exceedingly worrying) a week. People have become what politicians (and ruling part of society past and present) always said they were - clay to be molded as they see fit. As long as people are not willing to learn from the past, to be aware of the past and always just chase the shiny new things there is no future for us, we will always be on a windy plateau thrown from one to other side by forces that we surrendered ourselves to, unscrupulous and ambitious individuals. History is anchor, starting point forward.

If one follows how entire social dynamic engineering process started and evolved over the years, it makes me wonder what took place in the background of Simulmatics and its deals with government and corporations. This was after all period of deadly experiments like MKULTRA, dangerous experiments with heavy drugs (LSD) - are we truly to believe no work related to Simulmatics was used somewhere in the background by other people, other organizations. Makes your blood run cold does not it.

Book also shows how easy it is to fall and start using terror and intimidation to destroy those that people do not agree with (various student movements in the 1960s during anti-Vietnam-war and anti Simulmatics protests). How easy it is to lose control and in process destroy the ideals one fights for?

Only thing that I found unnecessary in this book is awkward inclusion of men/women relationship comments. I do not agree that what characterized Simulmatic's scientists was that they were "white liberals". They were totally socially inept people that lived only for their work - they are marked by all the traits and cliches that mark today's IT people with one difference they lived in the 1960s so did not actually walk around in flip flops, they wore suits and regularly shaved (and I know what I am talking about). But for all means and purposes they were "weirdos", some with extremely debilitating psychological issues. Geniuses in their fields, hard workers but ultimately inept socially - one of the reasons why not a single one of them managed to save their marriage (as far as I can see majority remained in contact with their kids, which is at least one positive thing). Isn't it interesting that those that had at least some social life (Eugene Burdick being one of them) were very against the company and what it wanted to do? For me it is not, because people from the outside know a techie-weirdo when they see them, are not deluded by almost religious fervor they place in their work and very rarely they want to have anything to do with them (unless they run the weirdos but in that case they might err in other way - Greenfield's case and his cheating adventures but hey CEO's are rarely monks but do-or-die daredevils that attract others to flock around them). And for the level of weirdness - just look at Pool's statement how people will live in bliss when served only the news they want to read. This can be only statement of someone completely alienated from the reality (because one needs to ask what is university than place to challenge our views and ideas - if one reads only what ones likes and agrees with what is the point? for every logical and sound minded individual this screams danger, but alas for those looking for mysteries statements like this makes sense (religion is religion no matter whom the person trusts in - ethereal beings or machine)).

When one looks at the women linked to Simulmatics I am not sure why author stresses their life was so hard (with exception of Greenfield's wife tragedy). They all had challenging marriages that is true, but as far as I can see they weren't beaten up or physically threatened (Minew Mcphee (wife of Bill McPhee, straight out mad man) being exception albeit she also managed to place her husband into institution so apparently she was very capable woman). They all managed to get other jobs (rarely any left Simulmatic's even when they found out what happens in the company and what they are actually working on) and had pretty good careers after Simulmatics went down (majority having contacts with those that later became popular politicians of today - Clintons, Obama, various defense ministers and members of national security councils; again that maximum number of social paths between people eh).

Also talking about modern IT as man-only industry today is ridiculous. Just look at CEOs, directors of various departments (legal, policy making and control) you will see there are women there sometimes even predominantly. And this is without mentioning thousands of highly capable female engineers that enter the industry every year.

Why author decided on this is something I cannot wrap my mind around. It is awkward, sometimes outright strange. In any case it does not deduct from the book overall.

All in all very interesting book, highly recommended to everyone who wants to see how technology can be dehumanizing to the extreme by using and manipulating the very human nature. Do no evil stand does not imply that good deeds are done. Humanity needs to be brought back but no longer as a statistics. It needs to be re-instituted as a highest value for anything that has to do with humanity.

Highly recommended.
… (mere)
 
Markeret
Zare | 14 andre anmeldelser | Jan 23, 2024 |
 
Markeret
ITProf | 4 andre anmeldelser | Dec 12, 2023 |

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