Jacob Klund, curious about what's in his deceased grandma's attic, snoops around. He finds a trunk full of old papers. Jacob's father, a history teacher, identifies this as a great treasure because of the dates on the papers, diaries, letters, and documents. The family decides to read through them at "sharing times," after dinner. The trunk cache reveals detailed family history dating back to 1738.
While immersed in the trunk's contents, the Klund family restores grandma's house and cheers for Liz, Jacob's sister, at regional and state spelling bees. They watch the civil rights movement on television and worry about the nuclear threat from the Soviets.
As the 1960s begin, Allen Klund, Jacob's dad, perceives subtle changes in America's worldview and follows closely historic Supreme Court decisions that could affect his future in public education. He shares his concerns with his wife, Harriet, but he continues to teach in the system.
Jacob, the novel's narrator, graduates from law school and joins a firm that handles freedom-of-religion cases. It is a step that his father hesitated to take, and he is proud of his son. Reflecting on the potential effects of Darwinism and Marxism, Jacob concludes the novel with a scathing parable called "The Project."