The whites of their eyes The Tea Party's revolution and the battle over American history

Jill Lepore, 1966-

Book - 2010

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Public square book series.
Public square (Princeton, N.J.)
Princeton : Princeton University Press c2010.
Physical Description
x, 207 p. ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. [169]-198) and index.
Main Author
Jill Lepore, 1966- (-)
Review by Choice Reviews

Within the US lexicon, few eras grip the popular imagination as does the war for independence, a heritage claimed by all as a symbol of an existence free from the tyranny of government. Yet, no other era is as misused and abused, its characters' deeds and views whitewashed to create what historian Robert Penn Warren termed "a useable past," its principles bastardized in order to legitimize a contemporary political ideology. Nothing illustrates this truth more profoundly than the modern Tea Party movement, whose unconscious remaking of the era is disconcerting. Lapore (Harvard) chronicles the leaders behind the Tea Party movement and how they utilize images from the US past. Writing with verve, wit, and careful attention to detail, Lapore systematically contrasts their use of Revolutionary imagery and ideas with documented facts. She provides a detailed yet disturbing portrait of a populist faction advocating devolution towards a society that would have excluded all of the Tea Party's own members. Yet, Lapore's goal is not to make this association look foolish, but to cast a critical light on all organizations, public as well as private, who misuse the past for their own selfish goals. For that reason alone, this is an important work for all Americans. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. Copyright 2011 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Professional historians, Lepore (American history, Harvard Univ.; New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan) believes, have with few exceptions been wary of employing historical analysis to reflect on the present, so leaving "plenty of room for a lot of other people to get into the history business." Here, Lepore is primarily concerned with the leaders of today's Tea Party movement, whose claim to the inheritance of the Founding Fathers she sees as "anti-historical" and "a variety of fundamentalism." In five brief chapters, she weaves reportage on today's Tea Party together with reflections on the organizers of America's 1976 Bicentennial celebrations and Revolutionary-era figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and others. Their world, she argues, was so vastly different from ours in ideas on religion, race, equality, and most everything else that convenient claims on our Revolutionary past, which recur throughout American history, need to be challenged. VERDICT This book is an expansion of Lepore's May 3, 2010, New Yorker article, "Tea and Sympathy." The reporting and the history both seem thin at book length, and readers who settle for the article will lose very little.—Robert Nardini, Nashville [Page 91]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Asserts that the Tea Party movement prefers to rewrite the history of the American Revolution as anti-intellectual and antipluralist.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Americans have always put the past to political ends. The Union laid claim to the Revolution--so did the Confederacy. Civil rights leaders said they were the true sons of liberty--so did Southern segregationists. This book tells the story of the centuries-long struggle over the meaning of the nation's founding, including the battle waged by the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and evangelical Christians to "take back America." Jill Lepore, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, offers a wry and bemused look at American history according to the far right, from the "rant heard round the world," which launched the Tea Party, to the Texas School Board's adoption of a social-studies curriculum that teaches that the United States was established as a Christian nation. Along the way, she provides rare insight into the eighteenth-century struggle for independence--the real one, that is. Lepore traces the roots of the far right's reactionary history to the bicentennial in the 1970s, when no one could agree on what story a divided nation should tell about its unruly beginnings. Behind the Tea Party's Revolution, she argues, lies a nostalgic and even heartbreaking yearning for an imagined past--a time less troubled by ambiguity, strife, and uncertainty--a yearning for an America that never was.The Whites of Their Eyes reveals that the far right has embraced a narrative about America's founding that is not only a fable but is also, finally, a variety of fundamentalism--anti-intellectual, antihistorical, and dangerously antipluralist.