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The Tea Party: A Brief History Hardcover – April 4, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Formisano merits attention for providing even-handed perspective on and clarifying misconceptions about America’s recent political phenomenon... The author makes valuable clarifications: the Tea Party and the religious right are not synonymous, and there are factional disputes... His most trenchant observation might have emerged from a Pirandello play: 'Its partisans and critics alike, as if reading tea leaves, often see in it what they wish to see.' within.

(Publishers Weekly)

Formisano examines the conditions that gave birth to the Tea Party and whether it is genuinely grassroots or directed by corporate interests and billionaires. A helpful primer on a movement that is changing the American political landscape.

(Vanessa Bush Booklist)

Written in a brisk, journalistic fashion, this informative book is an excellent snapshot of the Tea Party as it seeks to make further inroads in the political arena.

(Library Journal)

Formisano is a highly respected authority on the history of populist movements. In an evenhanded way he writes of the origins of the Tea Party or Tea Parties (there are many competing factions), in resentments against so-called 'elites,' and various alliances and rejections at the grass roots.

(Lexington Herald-Leader)

One of the most orderly presentations of this recent history I have read... Take a few hours in the waning days of summer to read The Tea Party: A Brief History so that you can explain to your students why the Paul Ryan candidacy is history in the making.

(Claire Potter Tenured Radical, Chronicle of Higher Education)

A fine and easy introduction to a brand new party and its concepts, recommended for any general collection strong in American history and politics.

(Midwest Book Review)

A succinct but enlightening history of the Tea Party in the US.


Ron Formisano dons a pair of fine historical lenses to read the tea leaves of the reactionary populism that has become an undeniable political force in 21st-century America. This is a lucid and intelligently constructed primer on the coalition of Americans longing and lobbying for (far too) simple answers to complicated questions. He gets it just right.

(Ellen Goodman)

Formisano offers more than a mere primer to the Tea Party's history, In addition to looking behind the movement's founding myths, he establishes interesting links between Christian conservatives' biblical fundamentalism and the constitutional originalism espoused by many Tea Partiers.

(Claudia Franziska Bruehwiler Political Studies Review)

About the Author

Ronald P. Formisano is the William T. Bryan Chair of American History at the University of Kentucky. His most recent book is For the People: American Populist Movements from the Revolution to the 1850s.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (April 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1421405962
  • ISBN-13: 978-1421405964
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #495,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on June 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have long been an admirer of the work of Ronald P. Formisano, a leading historian of antebellum politics. I remember having read his book, "The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s" (1971), while in graduate school, as well as other works he has published over the years. In every case I have found his studies thorough and insightful as well as compellingly researched and written. "The Tea Party: A Brief History" is a continuation of this tradition of excellence in historical work.

Formisano, who has also written on populist movements in the antebellum era, as well as about the Boston busing controversy, applies his lens of historical understanding to the Tea Party. He locates its origins in a strong animosity toward the political class, something that has been present in every populist movement in American history, but he finds this permutation strikingly different from what has gone before in its largely pro-business attitude. In the past populists have tended to view big business, industrialists, and the forces of the industrial revolution as enemies of the general public. In that context, earlier populists emphasized that the individualistic, libertarian America of the agrarian eighteenth century had been swept away by the forces of the industrial revolution, urbanization, centralization, and modernity. Accordingly, they advocated a new political consensus that included as its core using the power the federal government to ensure democracy and liberty for all Americans. They tended to emphasize the harnessing a national government that was more rather than less powerful than it had been as a bulwark against overbearing self-interest, greed, corruption, and unchecked power.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Regan VINE VOICE on July 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Tea Party a brief history contains a history of the Tea Party and presents the aims of the Tea Party, places the Tea Party within the context of other citizen movements and presents its place within the the context of the Republican Party as a whole. While this book served to reinforce some of my understanding of the Tea Party, enhancing what was previously only a cursory knowledge, most of of the material was new to me. While there are several chapters devoted to the history of the Tea Party, including the parties' pivotal influence on the 2010 mid term elections, much of the book is devoted to presenting the relationship between the Tea Party and other elements of the Republican party. Thus there are chapters devoted to the Tea Party and big business, and the Tea Party and the Religious Right. Surprisingly these relationships are somewhat tense. For example, while the Tea Party is primarily concerned with the government, whether it be corruption, waste, or the influence of the government of the lives of individuals, they are also concerned with the power of corporations. Yet, big business has found the Tea Party to be useful to it, especially in regards to the Tea Parties' support of removing laws that limit the right of big businesses to pollute and restrict their use of resources that help their businesses. The relationship of the Tea Party to the religious right is less tense; the older generation of the religious right support the Tea Party in overwhelming numbers. However, there are some tensions between the younger generation of evangelical conservatives and the Tea Party. These concerns revolve around the question of the character of President Obama.Read more ›
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on May 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ronald Formisano is a historian who specializes in the history of populist movements. The thesis in this short volume is that the Tea Party is a very unique type of populist movement, sharing with other movements a discontentment with the political class, but diverging from other populist movements in its (generally) pro-big-business attitudes.

Right off the bat, I must deduct one star from this work - not because it isn't thorough or interesting, but because this book is hardly a history of the Tea Party. Really, it is a sociological analysis. Only one chapter, Chapter 2 ("The Rise of the Tea Party") is a history of the Tea Party's formation and political activity, and about half of the chapter is devoted to the history of previous populist movements so that we can see how the Tea Party's history fits in with that tradition.

The rest of the book is devoted to examining the 'anatomy' of the Tea Party, from how religion (particularly Protestant Christianity) influences the movement ("The Tea Party and the Religious Right") to the Tea Party's relationship with big business, and particularly organizations with connection to the conservative Koch Brothers ("The Tea Party and Big Business"). These chapters are certainly not histories, but sociological analyses incorporating statistics about Tea Party members, etc, to make their case.

Another thing potential readers need to know: while the author is a very clear writer, the book reads less like a "popular history" than an academic analysis. While "casual readers" will certainly be able to read and understand the book, it is not a very casual read.

As far as bias, I think the author is quite objective, but if I had to guess, he is only very loosely sympathetic with (some aspects of) the Tea Party.
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