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on October 20, 2010
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"). As Lepore repeats several times over, this is what history is: a combative, contentious, argument (like all academic disciplines) over how best to read the evidence, not a simplistic narrative reflecting (conveniently) the ideological purposes of its espousers, and couched in little more complexity than is found in an elementary-school play. Even less so, as her heart-tugging description of school children learning about the Revolution at the close of the book (which begs comparison to many of her Tea Party interviews even if she does not expressly offer it as such) so neatly illustrates.
History (like all other scholarly pursuits) is complex and messy, and requires critical research to uncover a past that is remote from us. This is not some new, radical, theorem; it is the bedrock of all academic pursuits. That does indeed frustrate ideological, political narratives, but then, that's what stubborn facts usually do.
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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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on January 19, 2011
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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on May 1, 2011
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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on August 13, 2015
This book is excellent and lays out the juxtaposition of the 1773 act of insurrection and the modern day tea party movement. The author does a really good job of putting to bed the 21st century tea partiers claims that they are a modern day manifestation of the spirit of the Boston Tea Party.
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on February 20, 2014
Don't take the title of this review as me not liking the work; it was a fantastic and well researched book. So good and quick that I finished it within a day. Yet it does contain a very narrow scope as others have mentioned, extremely biased stance against the Tea Party, and it is a bit disjointed due to the book's organization and writing style. The bias alone meant, in my opinion, that this is not a scholarly work, instead it is as the review title implies, a very well written and researched political/theoretical rant. This 'rant' centers upon the false beliefs of the present day Tea Party which have a very fundamentalist view of the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. This view, cannot be questioned or refuted and is on par with religious observance. In the author's opinion this is an unsubstantiated form of historiography which does not use primary evidence. She goes on to state that history goes in only one direction and that is forward. The Founding Fathers and the American Revolution have to be taken at face value and not applied to modern events or politics like the modern day Tea Partiers have done.

All in all I really enjoyed reading this book and it made me smile on several occasions, yet it is not a true historical work in regards to scholarship, organization and writing style.
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on December 30, 2013
This book examines the way in which one group of Americans (the Tea Party, indeed the right in general) is using their version of a key event in American history (the Revolution) to inspire and justify a political purpose. The author contrasts the Tea Party version with reports from the historical record, including extensive quotes from people who lived during the Revolution. She concludes that the Tea Party view is ahistorical, anti-intellectual, anti-pluralist, and fundamentalist. That's a clear-cut conclusion.

What is somewhat less clear is that the author, too, presents a version of history that inspires and justifies a current-day political view. Her history is certainly far closer to "what really happened" than the Tea Party narrative. Jill Lepore is a professor of American History at Harvard, where her courses focus on early American history, and on historical methods. But her narrative is inevitably selective, and selection favors a point of view.

Ms. Lepore certainly doesn't pretend that her version is an absolute truth -- she stresses that history is about stories. Nor does she suggest that the use of a selective narrative of history for political ends is either new, or particularly American. Every culture has a foundation myth, and at least as far back as Vergil's Aeneid this myth has been tied to history. What Ms. Lepore does, she says, is "-- to reflect on what's at stake when present-day political differences are expressed by waging battles over what happened in the past".

She does this by alternating between three sets of material -- ideas and events in Revolutionary times, political uses of Revolutionary history in the 1970's (mostly by the left), and political uses of Revolutionary history by the right today. This is all interesting, and leaves the right-wing version looking both misinformed and dangerous. But Ms. Lepore doesn't simply challenge the right wing version. She also presents another version, or more accurately an alternative approach to using the facts of history. She is an anti- originalist, arguing against using 18th century ideas (including many of the specifics of the Constitution) as a template for 21rst century political choices. It's a point of view with which I generally agree, but it is still a point of view.

I think the reader's response to this book will have even more to do than usual with what that reader brings to the book. Left wing intellectual types are likely to enjoy it a lot: it's not only interesting, it is charmingly written (Ms. Lepore is also a staff writer for the New Yorker"). Right wingers may well find it condescending, biased, and really, really irritating
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on March 27, 2014
Excellent short discussion of current political hot air by a competent historian, unlike the bigmouths on cable and internet. Enjoyable linking of current arguments to American history. Refresh your knowledge of our real history, which has probably been corrupted somewhat by current babble.
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on August 30, 2012
John Adams posed that question to Thomas Jefferson and over 200 years later we still hash out and argue over that topic.Jill Lepore is a well respected historian and expert of the revolution.This book looks at how the Tea Party has interpreted the revolution and how they harken to what they see as a departure from our earlier origins.Lepore has painted a much more subtle version of the Revolutionary period that includes discussions of slavery, the role of women and religious tolerance.Topics that often don't mesh with Tea Party ideology.(the Founders were never a monolith as some people would desire them to be- they had disparite beliefs on religion as well as worries about the abuses of religion in nation where church and state are one)Love and understanding of history is crucial in a republic such as ours and the Tea Partiers are entitled to there opinion but is that history? What is history? Can it be neutral? Can we find truth in our polarized times? The Right will dislike this book and the Left may enjoy seeing the Tea Party as zealots but Lepore gives us a much more subtle view of the revolution. This book will not settle the argument about the truth of the revolution or the Tea Party- but it does make you think. As Ben Franklin said"The Golden age was never the present age."
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on January 3, 2011
Some might be mislead by the title of Jill Lepore's book. The focus is not on the Tea Party, but on the recurring trend for historical fundamentalism and presentism in the United States. Today's Tea Party is only the most recent reiteration. The Tea Party, like other radical groups before them (Left and Right, as Lepore explains), invokes the Founding Fathers and the Revolution to defend and popularize their ideology. They believe that a public option in American health care is analogous to 1774's Intolerable Acts, that George Washington would lead the Tea Party charge if he were alive today, and that the Constitution is divinely inspired, inflexible, and to be interpreted in only their fashion.

Lepore spends most of her work in describing how complicated the Founding Fathers, the Boston Tea Party, and the Revolution truly were. The experience of early Americans was markedly different from that of Americans today; they faced conflicts and a culture unique to their times. In addition, their views on the matters of their day were not homogeneous or lacking in complexity. As much as Tea Parties may wax romantic over the days of the early Republic, they were not idyllic times. To link their modern circumstances and political ideology with that of the early Americans, the Tea Party must forcibly ignore, alter, or whitewash the realities of the past. Lepore does not suggest that one cannot learn from the past--quite the opposite--but that a historical perspective must be drawn carefully, with a realization that times gone are rife with their own particularities.

A brief, but informative book.
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