Staff Pick

The central question of Jill Lepore’s ambitious and masterful book, These Truths: A History of the United States (W.W. Norton, $39.95), is whether America has lived up to the ideals of its founders. For Lepore, a Harvard professor and New Yorker staff writer, America’s defining struggle has been trying to adhere to the three truths articulated by Thomas Jefferson—political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people—while dealing with darker realities. Even at nearly 800 pages (not including footnotes), the book skips over a lot and focuses chiefly on political history, but it does tell a comprehensive and engaging story about the United States. It also serves, as Lepore intends, as “an old-fashioned civics book, an explanation of the origins and ends of democratic institutions.” By examining both the triumphs and failures of America, Lepore lays out not only the “uneasy path” the nation has travelled so far but leaves readers better prepared to navigate whatever lies ahead.

These Truths: A History of the United States Cover Image
$39.95
ISBN: 9780393635249
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 18th, 2018

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Staff Pick

Sarah Smarsh’s passionate Heartland (Scribner, $26) uses various narrative strategies to call attention to the overlooked “distance between how poverty is handled in public policy and what it looks like in human lives.”  Specifically focusing on rural white working class poverty, Smarsh notes both how hard it is to talk about class in America and how little what sparse language there is has to do with her family of Kansas wheat farmers, carpenters, and waitresses; her relatives neither fit the definitions of “redneck,” “roughneck” or “hillbilly,” nor conformed to the stereotypes for “trailer trash.”  Far from being lazy, Smarsh’s people work incessantly, often holding down three or more jobs at once. The product of generations who survived the harsh prairies by knowing that “you either work together or starve alone,” Smarsh learned early that “what poverty requires” are “creative, industrious people.” So why did these hard-workers have so much trouble paying the bills?  Looking around at her mother’s and aunts’ teenage pregnancies, multiple marriages, and frustrated ambitions, she decided not to bring a child into poverty, but to break the cycle that had made her own childhood so unsettled.

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781501133091
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Scribner - September 18th, 2018

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Staff Pick

The backstory to Elaine Pagels’s The Origin of Satan, Revelations, and groundbreaking studies of the Gnostic gospels is as much emotional as scholarly. As she realized when she was asked Why Religion? (Ecco, $27.99) her own life illuminates both why she’s made a career of studying religious texts as well as why religion itself still exists in the supposedly secular 21st-century. The daughter and wife of scientists, Pagels was taught early on to trust the rational, despite her biologist father’s unpredictable bouts of rage. At fifteen she went with friends to a Billy Graham crusade and was astonished, hearing Graham preach about nuclear weapons, to learn that science wasn’t always trustworthy. She was also intrigued by the shared spectacle of music and ritual, and craved experiences that would similarly “engage the imagination.” Pagels fell away from evangelicalism soon after finding it, but she continued to look for, and discover, experiences that could only be called spiritual. Then in 1987 Pagels’s five-year old son died, followed in July 1988 by the death of her husband, the physicist Heinz Pagels. Struggling to face these incomprehensible losses, Pagels plunged into the Gnostic gospels once again, she discovered other ways to shape grief and to interpret the problem of suffering in the world.

Why Religion?: A Personal Story Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062368539
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Ecco - November 6th, 2018

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