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The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History (Public Square) Hardcover – October 10, 2010


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Product Details

  • Series: Public Square
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 3rd Printing edition (October 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691150273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691150277
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2011 Gold Medal in History, Independent Publisher Book Awards

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2011

Winner of the 2010 Bronze Medal Book of the Year Award in History, ForeWord Reviews

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice for 2010

One of U.S. News & World Report's (online version) Top Debate Worthy Books of the Year for 2010

A Boston Authors Club Annual Awards Highly Recommended Book for 2011

Honorable Mention for the 2010 PROSE Award in U.S. History, Association of American Publishers

"Jill Lepore, a historian of the American Revolution and a staff writer at The New Yorker, has written a brief but valuable book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History, which combines her own interviews with Tea Partiers (mostly from her home state, Massachusetts) and her deep knowledge of the founders and of their view of the Constitution."--Alan Brinkley, New York Times Book Review

"Throughout her book Lepore's implicit question remains always: Don't these Tea Party people realize how silly they are? They don't understand history; they need to learn that time moves forward. 'We cannot go back to the eighteenth century,' she says, 'and the Founding Fathers are not, in fact, here with us today.'"--Gordon S. Wood, New York Review of Books

"Tackling the present, the near present, and the far-away past in one small volume, Lepore has not only penned an indictment of the Tea Party's crimes against history, she's also working in the tradition of Hofstadter, helping edge the academy closer to the public arena. And remaining a card-carrying historian, churning out intricate studies like New York Burning, Lepore has continued to step outside the safe boundaries of the ivory tower. At the risk of being accused of dilettantism, she's even tried her hand at historical fiction, co-authoring Blindspot in 2008. Now she's given journalism a go, making the case that Lepore is a better reporter than any historian, and a better historian than any reporter."--Samuel P. Jacobs, Daily Beast

"The Whites of Their Eyes isn't a screed of any kind, and the text is refreshingly free of ire. It is, instead, a warning shot across the bow. To tea-party activists of today, Ms. Lepore seems to be saying, 'Tighten up your game.' In its current iteration, the tea-party is a feat of storytelling. But in order to gain a foothold in American politics, it must aspire to more than that."--Molly Young, Economist.com

"Lepore's graceful grasp of both history and reality is important. 'The past haunts us all,' Lepore writes. 'But time moves forward, not backward. Chronology is like gravity. Nothing falls up. We cannot go back to the eighteenth century, and the Founding Fathers are not, in fact, here with us today.'"--Martin F. Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle

"For a number of years, the author has been contributing pieces to the New Yorker on American colonial history, pithy commentaries shaped by historical evidence and a storyteller's hand. Here she braids those essays together, which makes them more satisfying and meaningful than if they were merely collected in an anthology. . . . The author is not smug in her treatment of the Tea Partiers, but she refuses to allow them to kidnap and torture history so that it is reduced to fit their fundamentalist mold. . . . Learned, lively and shrewd."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In The Whites of Their Eyes, Lepore reviews the history of the American Revolution--in order to explore, and explode, the way the 21st-century Right uses that history. She criticizes history-according-to-the-Tea-Party on two levels. First, and unsurprisingly, she finds that the Tea Party's description of the past is simply incorrect at many turns. More interesting is Lepore's second criticism. In their asking the (unanswerable) question, 'What would the Founders do?', the Tea Party invites people to have a very strange relationship with the past: 'People who ask what the founders would do quite commonly declare that they know, they know, they just know what the founders would do, and, mostly, it comes to this: if only they could see us now, they would be rolling over in their graves. . . . We have failed to obey their sacred texts, holy writ,' Lepore writes provocatively. 'That's not history. It's not civil religion, the faith in democracy that binds Americans together. It's not originalism or even constitutionalism. That's fundamentalism.'"--Lauren Winner, Books & Culture

"The Whites of Their Eyes is a fascinating attempt to raise the level of US public policy debate. It is also a critique of the uses of history in politics and a brief, informative account of the ordinary people who lived at the time of the American Revolution. [It] is a valuable contribution to current discussions of public policy and should be read by anyone interested in serious political debate."--John Michael Senger, ForeWord Reviews

"In The Whites of Their Eyes, Lepore's liberal perspective is obvious although she largely sticks to history. Readers will find no exposé of an 'astroturf' movement funded by billionaire libertarians. What they will find is a trenchant, lively and devastating meditation on the uses and abuses of American history, most recently by the tea partiers. . . . Lepore counters what she assails as 'historical fundamentalism' (which, in the words of a chapter title, places 'the past upon its throne') with rich, if roaming, portraits of an American Revolution that she clearly loves. Thus, the book will have enduring value beyond the upcoming election."--Steven P. Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Lepore, a Harvard University historian and writer for the New Yorker, has a good ol' time shooting fish in a barrel. But by far the most interesting and biting parts of her story come not from cleaning up messy and false tea party tales of the olden days, nor from her parallel account of the leftist history promoted by activists during the nation's bicentennial in the 1970s. What Lepore does best is rescue forgotten people and moments from the Revolutionary era and remind us beautifully of the many-layered power of place. In some ways, this little book is not so much about the tea party and American history as about richly knowing a city, in this case Boston. To know a city through time, to look at a spot and know what once stood there is among the most intense--and often ironic--urban pleasures. Lepore conveys this beautifully."--Stephan Salisbury, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Lepore's acerbic wit (and its accompanying soul, brevity) makes The Whites of Their Eyes (Princeton, 206 pages, $19.95) a welcome change of pace from the 900-page biographies of George Washington now straining bookstore shelves across the country."--Matthew Buckingham, Willamette Week

"Recommended as an engaging, well-informed picture of a complex society suffering under a repressive regime and the subject of often unbalanced debate about American policy."--Elizabeth Hayford, Library Journal

"Writing with verve, wit, and careful attention to detail, Lepore 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, Lepore'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."--Choice

"Lepore mounts an obvious argument, but does so in a way that is eminently readable, shows flashes of wit, and punctures with fact the magical thinking that she justly terms 'historical fundamentalism.' The book's accessible, sensible history of a period prone to wild misrepresentation is a valuable contribution, and Lepore has ably reinforced that contribution in her journalism for the New Yorker and the New York Times--such as her recent, pleasing attack on Paul Ryan's budgetary demagoguery."--Feisal Mohamed, Huffington Post

From the Inside Flap

"Jill Lepore is a national treasure. There is no other writer so at home both as a trenchant scholar of American history and as an on-the-scene observer of our present-day follies. She etches the connection between past and present with a wisdom, grace, and sparkle that makes this book even harder to put down--if that's possible--than her previous work."--Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves

"No one writes about our Revolutionary history and its effects upon the shape of our culture and society today with more wit, verve, and sparkling intelligence than Jill Lepore. The Whites of Their Eyes offers the most compelling look we have so far at who we were and who we have become as a nation, and provides a cool and much needed context for the heated rhetoric of this 'new' reactionary moment."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

"The Whites of Their Eyes shows Jill Lepore at her remarkable best--accessible, authoritative, and wise."--Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

"Modern Tea Partiers have thrown facts overboard and recast the Revolution in their own image: white, Christian, and ultraconservative. Lepore demolishes the Tea Party's founding fable with deep scholarship and devastating wit."--Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic

"The Whites of Their Eyes offers a lesson in what history actually is and how it seems constantly to be used and abused. Lepore is a superb writer."--Eric Foner, author of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

"This book gives an informed account of the ways contemporary references to the Revolution ignore, distort, run roughshod over, yet somehow attempt seriously to evoke the events of the past. It nicely represents Lepore's distinctive genius as a historian."--Jack N. Rakove, author of Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution


More About the Author

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale in 1995. Her first book, "The Name of War," won the Bancroft Prize; her 2005 book, "New York Burning," was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2008 she published "Blindspot," a mock eighteenth-century novel, jointly written with Jane Kamensky. Lepore's most recent book, "The Whites of Their Eyes," is a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice.

Customer Reviews

One, the voice with which this author wrote the book is informative, but light.
J. Moore
Perhaps colonialists could make the case of not being represented in Parliament, but how does that apply to the Tea Party?
J. Grattan
The ad hominem attacks on Lepore and this book are as absurd as they are predictable.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The ad hominem attacks on Lepore and this book are as absurd as they are predictable. This is not intended to be a comprehensive book on American history or the revolutionary period. It sets out simply to record the ad nauseam remarks that have been made articulating the motivation of the so-called Tea Party, though Lepore in no way characterizes it as monolithic, and to cast it against what we know of the period being invoked to demonstrate how even a cursory knowledge of the people and events of that time necessarily problematizes the narrative they present, and thus raises doubts about its tidy simplicity. This does not really take much, for any expressed desire to "return to the intent of the founders" necessarily runs afoul of modern sensibilities on race, gender and class equality, given that the government they set up disenfranchised blacks, women and often those who did not own property. And in also analyzing Rifkin's leftist TEA (Tax Equity for All) Party of the early 1970s, Lepore makes clear that this distortion of history to serve a political narrative is nothing new nor is it the sole province of the Right. Thus her criticism over the (mis)use of history is aimed at both the Left and the Right, and also at the complacent scholars who have let it happen, notwithstanding the name-calling in negative reviews.
There is opinion in the work, to be sure, but there is also argument and evidence, two things that seem lacking in every ideological critique I have seen so far of this book (those that stop simply at "this is not conservative, ergo it's liberal, ergo don't read it").
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54 of 67 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jill Lepore's short but excellent look at the modern Tea Party movement well depicts its eccentricities and foibles. More importantly, Lepore also provides some badly needed reminders that our country's founders weren't divinities handing down some sort of blueprint from the heavens.

It is rare to find so much cogent thought and analysis packed into less than two hundred pages. In many ways this is a sad book, because Dr. Lepore and most of her readers find the hijacking of our national history by politicians and media personalities making false claims about "originalism" and the supposed evangelicalism of the Constitution's writers deeply depressing. Its also disturbing to be once more confronted with evidence of how ignorant and deluded so many of the modern Tea Partiers are. But there's hope in places, particularly those that deal with elementary school children who are learning about the American Revolution free of the distortions being imposed on so many of their elders.

Many of the modern Tea Partiers would find this book both accessible and informative, and its unfortunate that a number of them, seeing that its published by one Ivy League school and that its author is a professor at another while also writing for The New Yorker, will refuse to read it. But people who do read it will find its lessons in what history actually is and how easily it is distorted will find The Whites Of Their Eyes a gleam of sunlight in what seems to be gathering darkness.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Indielectual on January 19, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In five relatively to-the-point chapters, the author demonstrates how "Historical Fundamentalism" is akin to religious fundamentalism, wherein the meaning of ancient texts (and the intent of the authors of said texts) are absolutely known by the fundamentalist interpreter. And despite the myriad interpretations one might make of these older texts -- be they from the Bible or from the U.S. Constitution -- there can be but a single interpretation, according to historical fundamentalist.

In each chapter, Ms. Lepore juxtaposits the current crop of historical fundamentalists who claim to know exactly who the "founding fathers" are and what precisely these fathers intended the Constitution to communicate, with previous fundamentalist movements in the early- to mid-1970s, and with the struggles of the 18th century revolutionaries to craft the Constitution (and other documents) given the very specific circumstances of their time. Along the way, Ms. Lepore debunks some recently-popular notions about the role of Christianity in Federal governance, the Constitution as Scripture that is not to be tampered with, and whether revolution is an acceptable vehicle for government change, to mention a few. She also explains how the scholarship of history works given that history isn't often clean-cut and straightforward, as compared to the misuse and over-simplification of historical events and documents to score political and social points in our national discourse. The heavily-annotated text provides lots of leaping-off points for those who wish to learn more about any particular subject.

Note for Kindle users: In addition to fully linked contents and footnotes, the Kindle edition comes with an alphabetized, fully linked subject index. This index is 22% of the book, which indicates just how much information Ms. Lepore packs into this easy-to-digest read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Moore on May 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book for many reasons.

One, the voice with which this author wrote the book is informative, but light. She managed to make her point, providing great examples and justification, while using language that made the book accessible to non-historians.

Second, I found the contrast between the 1970s and now informative. When I read in the summary that she was not only going to talk about the American Revolution, but also the American Bicentennial, I was skeptical on its inclusion. But, as I read the book, it became clear that the comparison betweeen the American Bicentennial and the current Tea Party's use of American History was necessary to make the point of history fundamentalism. It also balanced the book's analysis of historical fundamentalism so as to make the book balanced. As a result, the book is neither anti-conservative, nor anti-progressive, but rather a defense of critical inquiry into history.

Finally, it was nice revisit aspects of the American Revolution and read the participants own conflicting intrepretation of the times they lived in. In this book, the founding fathers came down from the pedastal and showcased their humanity as opinionated men living during chaotic times.

Overall, the book was enlighting, engaging, and informative. I plan to share this title with family and friends.
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