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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, SarahAmericans 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....

Title : The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History
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ISBN : 9780691150277
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 210 Pages
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The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History Reviews

  • Lauren
    2018-08-23 20:05

    I waffled between three stars and four, because even though Lepore does an excellent job articulating how political parties (with, as the title suggests, a particular focus on the current American political climate) have misrepresented and appropriated the Revolution for their own personal gain, I thought she could have perhaps engaged in more analysis and drawn more connections among the movements she discusses. But there's a lot of interesting stuff to be found here, including quotes that undermine the conservative claims that the United States was founded by Christian men to be a Christian nation and that we should be following the original intent of the Founding Fathers when considering matters of the Constitution (Thomas Jefferson would like to have a word with you about that.). Basically: I learned some new things (for example, Francis Bellamy, the author of the original Pledge of Allegiance, was a vehement socialist), and to me, that's the sign of a book that was worth my time.

  • Elliot Ratzman
    2018-08-21 21:01

    Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian, writes excellent New Yorker articles on a range of subjects. I read this short book expecting a systematic takedown of Tea Party revisionist history. Well, this isn’t that book, though Lepore certainly dispenses with a range of hyperventilating falsehoods about the alleged Christianity—and infallibility—of the “Founding Fathers” (a phrase first used by Warren Harding) and Constitutional “Originalism” (historical fundamentalism). Rather, this is a meditation on how History is created: the history of the appropriation of History for political purposes, starting with the first accounts of the Revolution. Most of her reportage, as well as her stories, centers on Boston and Cambridge. There are plenty of interesting tidbits and great portraits of cool figures like Tom Paine, Royall Tyler and Ben Franklin’s sister Jane Mecom. Poor Richard quipped “Force shites upon Reason’s back.” With the fight over Texas textbooks and Obama taxes, add “on History’s back.”

  • Kirsti
    2018-09-12 16:52

    Did you know that the guy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance was a socialist? Also, the term Founding Fathers wasn't invented till the early 1920s, when Warren Harding used it in his hideously bad inauguration speech.Historian Jill Lepore (she's a Cambridge resident AND a Harvard professor AND a New Yorker writer!) spends time with various people who consider themselves members of the Tea Party. They don't like her much--one of them yanks on her jacket and demands that she hand over fifty bucks because liberals want to give their money to everybody else--but I think she tries hard to portray them fairly, even though she disagrees with most of what they say. She also interviews third graders who are completing history projects on the American Revolution, and she seems to like them a lot more.I enjoyed learning more about Phillis Wheatley and Crispus Attucks, black Americans whom the Tea Party tends to ignore. And the information about Jane Mecom, Benjamin Franklin's beloved sister who married a man who went insane, was fascinating.

  • Alan Johnson
    2018-09-02 16:08

    Although I disagree with Lepore's "elitist" view that only academic historians can write accurate history (did Thucydides have a Ph.D.?) and although I probably disagree with what the book indicates constitutes her views on historiography (I have not yet read her writings on that subject), this is a book that had to be written. It contains many valuable observations, both past and present. One is reminded of the observation in Plato's Republic 519c-d that the philosophers have to be forced to come down from their ivory tower and address the political situation on the ground. No bona fide historian would relish interviewing actual Tea Partiers and attending their meetings, and I'm sure that Lepore forced herself to undertake this task. Writing about such contemporary political movements must also be distasteful. It's a dirty job, but somebody had to do it. One can thank Lepore for her courage and determination in coming down from the Ivory Tower of Harvard and correcting many popular historical misconceptions. Gordon Wood may disagree (see hisreview), but we cannot rest content with such irrationalism in politics (though, of course, we must never use governmental force to suppress it). As the young Abraham Lincoln said, "Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence." Abraham Lincoln, "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions," Address to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838, in Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858, ed. Don E. Fehrenbacher (New York: Library of America, 1989), 36.

  • Jay
    2018-08-29 17:14

    Jill Lepore’s short monograph is a significant piece of analysis and research. It should be required reading for all of the well informed—for all people who are truly considered in their understanding of the world about them. For all people who want to understand the rise and growing dominance of the Tea Party movement and its anti-historical nature.The work is short: a prologue, five chapters and an epilogue. A total of 165 pages plus notes. But it is carefully crafted. Each chapter touches on the rise of the new Tea Party; switches into selected moments of the American Revolution that unraveled in Boston; and concludes with reflections on the American Bi-centennial.In the course of the book’s movements, Lepore provides fresh understanding of the Tea Party and its linkages to the historic events of the later part of the XVIII century. She also provides new insights into the American Revolution and the people who were part of that movement. But for me, even more importantly, she reminds us of the failure, starting in the 1960s, of the academic historians to engage the world outside of the academy. Historical fundamentalism, fed by hagiographers who emerged during the preparations for the Bi-centennial and in the vacuum created by the isolation of the professional historians, became the underpinnings of the new “rabble's” (my characterization and not Lepore’s) anti-historical view of the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution.Greatly compacted, the work took a second reading on my part to begin to unpack its wealth. It is well worth the time.

  • Jaylia3
    2018-08-21 15:54

    According to Jill LePore’s book our founding fathers were not prophets and they didn’t want to be worshipped. They struggled to make an imperfect but working Constitution that contained many compromises none of them were happy about, including that found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person. In Federalist 14, Madison was disdainful of people who let a blind veneration for the past overrule their own good sense, knowledge and experience. The Tea Party has misunderstood much of early American history by conflating the past and the present, but that’s not surprising because political movements have been appropriating and misrepresenting the Revolution since not much after its last shots was fired. Both civil rights leaders and southern segregationists considered themselves the true sons of liberty. This book is thick with examples of competing ideologies claiming the mantle of America’s beginnings for themselves, especially during the preparations for the Bicentennial in the 1970s when a divided country couldn’t agree on what its lessons were. THE WHITES OF THERE EYES weaves back and forth between the country’s early history and the events of the present day, leading up to the November 2010 midterm elections. Rather than focusing on candidates, LePore spends time with the Tea Party members themselves, especially from the Boston area which is where much of the early American history she covers takes place. The historical sections are among the most interesting and moving parts of the book, especially the running back story on Benjamin Franklin and his sister Jane, which LePore uses in part to illustrate how easily the history can be misinterpreted.

  • Margaret Sankey
    2018-08-30 17:14

    After Gordon Wood's scathing review of this, I had to read it for myself. I agree with Lepore that the American Revolution has been grossly misinterpreted (but not for the first time) for current political use, and it is quite creepy how the ""founders"" have been made contemporary (the ""what would Benjamin Franklin think of the internet"" school of crap publishing), but Lepore's infiltration and sneering are as much a part of the problem as the people she's making fun of. We have a responsibility (and some of you have recently sat through my World History survey of the Am Rev) to teach seminal stuff like this well and give people the tools to go further rather than mock them as cretins if they don't agree--I hope my "lure them in with muskets, then bring out the Paine and Locke" work better than being snide with the choir.

  • Virginia Scharff
    2018-08-23 17:59

    Lepore gives us the very useful idea of historical fundamentalism.

  • Dr. Lloyd E. Campbell
    2018-09-13 20:55

    Historian Jill Lepore argues that American history, particularly the history of the founding fathers, is used by many politicians to support the position "I am just like the founding fathers and they would support me.". Instead of history being a description of what happened, what the experience of the people thought and felt about what they and others did; history is seen as a right perspective of events and that certain historical figures are deified. For example, Tea Party Republicans espouse that America is a Christian country, ignoring or minimizing the roles of atheists like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and misinterpreting or outright denying Thomas Jefferson's writing the separation of church and state was shared by most of the founding fathers. These people believe history is an expression of religion, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are sacred documents which should be studied like the Bible. They are Holy. In short, history is seen from a fundamentalist point of view. Questions about which events are important and what was said by whom are approached as agreed upon interpretations. They aren't. Some examples: throwing the tea in the harbor as protest is seen by many as more important than the Boston Massacre. Debatable. That someone said, "Dont shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,". Questionable anyone said this. Or, the importance of Paul Revere's ride. The warning system involved many men and Revere was deified a century after the war in a poem. In writings at the time little was written about Paul Revere.Beyond this if we thought our founding fathers got everything right: women would not be allowed to vote or own property, blacks would get 3/5 of a vote (if free), and only property owners were allowed to vote. Democracy was a pejorative term.She also takes on the belief public education is a liberal conspiracy to teach our children to be ashamed of what we as Americans have done. Richard Nixon actually said this. Bottom line:worth reading.

  • Mark
    2018-08-28 13:01

    A refreshing examination of the most recent American political movement to claim the revolutionary narrative of our nation's founding as their own. Harvard historian Jill Lepore jumps back and forth between the beginnings of the modern " tea party" movement in Boston, the history of the events surrounding our nation's birth in the same area, and a discussion about the meaning of history and the various political uses of the narratives of history. So far as I understood it, her premise seems to be that the modern tea party movement is one more in a long line of political movements claiming the founding narrative as it's own and as a legitimizer of it's own views. She contends that this modern movement is in fact a fundamentalist movement, not unlike religious fundamentalists, who not only claim their own narrative as the only narrative true to the original but declare others to be betrayals of it. In recounting some of the details from history she makes it clear that the truth is messier, more ambiguous, diverse, and multi- faceted than the simplified slogans and carefully selected quotes used to promote the tea party today indicate.The writing style is very engaging for a historian, the book is quite short and reads quickly. The historical sketches of the Boston massacre, Benjamin franklin's sister, Phyllis Wheatley, John Adams, Paul Revere's ride, the historical Boston tea party, and many others are fascinating, engaging, well documented and thoughtful. Her observations about modern political movements and the wrangling over the narratives of the founding are very thoughtful. I learned some unsettling things that I hadn't considered before like some of the ugly political concessions made to the southern colonies whereby our declaration of independence did not include liberty for enslaved peoples. In fact, the British Parliament outlawed slavery in England in 1772 and some of the British military leadership sent to America to deal with the rebellion offered freedom to any slaves who would leave their "master" and join the fight against the rebellion. As great as our founders were and as noble as their cause was, they utterly failed in their moral duty to free the slaves and it took almost another century and a horrific civil war before we took care of that unfinished business (with another century to really take care of it institutionally).Our nation's founding is a fascinating tale that laid the foundations that have enabled so much freedom and prosperity to take hold here and around the world. Beware of the one sided hijacking of the narrative of our founding to fit the most recent political movement seeking legitimacy by a simplistic and incomplete retelling of our nation's story.

  • Tom
    2018-09-20 16:57

    Historians use methods and have criteria of validity that are known to their profession. In this book Lepore, who is a historian writes of the various ways that 'history' is used for different ends. She compares what is historically agreed to about the American Revolution and the ways in which that history is distorted for different purposes. What she seems to miss is that there is history (as historians understand it) and there are the stories or narratives that people tell one another. Sometimes the latter endure over time and are so appealing we call them myths. The stories we repeat to one another tell us more about ourselves and what we deem important, but shouldn't be confused with being history.She mentions the concept of 'presentism': "For much of its history, the American historical profession has defined itself by its dedication to the proposition that looking to the past to explain the present-and especially to solve present-day problems-falls outside the realm of serious historical inquiry...Historians decry the fallacy of 'presentism": to see the past as nothing more than a prologue to the present introduces evidentiary and analytical distortions and risks reducing humanistic inquiry into shabby self-justification."Quoting Thomas Jefferson: "laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind." "Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the convenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human"Thurgood Marshall commenting on the bicentennial of the Constitution: "...I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever 'fixed' at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today."On the issue of separation of church and state:"In 1797...John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli, freeing the American captives in North Africa. Its Article II, an assurance that the United States would never engage in a holy war, declared, in no uncertain terms, that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

  • Susan in NC
    2018-09-10 17:52

    This very worthwhile read is a quick but fascinating survey of the Tea Party and their attempt to whitewash and rewrite American history; their yearning for "a past that never was". Lepore convincingly illustrates the oversimplification - or "vanillafication" as I see it - by Tea Partiers and other conservatives of the original intent of the Founding Fathers and framers of the Constitution. She does this simply by sharing the truth about the varied talents, temperaments and life stories of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Paine and other founders; we quickly see that they were not perfect, saintly men inspired from on high to act in total accord to write a document that could never be improved upon. Lepore coins the phrase "historical fundamentalism" to sum up the effort by Tea Partiers and other conservatives to recast the founders into clones of themselves; she warns against the dangers of such narrow interpretation and how it could be used and abused (citing the recent uproar over the Texas School Board's efforts to whitewash and impose a conservative slant on textbooks). I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in American politics and the continued selective amnesia and dumbing down of the American electorate.

  • Rebecca
    2018-09-18 20:56

    I think this book captures the struggle between academic historians and public history. While, Lepore focuses on the Tea Party's attempt to use the myth of the American revolution for their own political purposes during the early years of the Obama administration, she also discusses how the revolution has been used for political purposes throughout American history, from the revolutionary generation's own petty scrabbles over who did what to the New Left use of it during the Watergate scandal and impeachment of Nixon. I think it's also a useful book to read during an election season when people attempt to invoke the "Founding Fathers" (a term, Lepore notes, that was only coined a century ago by Warren G. Harding) to support their political opinions, despite the fact that the United States and the world are completely different from what they were 200 years ago.One of my favourite parts is when she discusses how John Adams criticized for Mercy Otis Warren for only mentioning him in four pages of her book, which she responded to by updating the second edition to argue that he was entirely inconesquential to the revolution.

  • Craig
    2018-09-01 19:02

    Any Tea Partiers who pick up this book hoping for a "history" of their movement are going to be sorely disappointed. But if they want a history of the Founding Fathers that's easy to read and informative that might help them better define their own political history, this is the book for them. So what if it's written by a resident of the People's Republic of Cambridge; she knows more about the Revolution than anyone these folks have ever been around. It might even help Sarah Palin find a favorite Founding Father, rather than all of them (odds are Thomas Paine and John Adams won't make her revised list).Lepore writes a little like a more scholarly version of Sarah Vowell and without quite as many popular cultural references. But this is a much quicker and, ultimately, more thought-provoking version of The Wordy Patriots or some of Vowell's other works.I still don't know much about what the Tea Party is hoping to accomplish, but I do have some great new stories of Revolutionary America that I'd like to share with others.

  • Larry
    2018-09-12 20:59

    Jill Lepore is a magnificent historian, as her award-winning books about colonial history ("This Kind of War" and "New York Burning") show. This book began as an article in "The New Yorker," and its expansion doesn't involve padding. Lepore is interested in the interplay between what historians know about the American Revolution and what the Tea Party's members know about it, and she cuts back and forth between the two in a way that isn't designed to be a mugging of the Tea Party. Having said that, the Tea Party understanding of the revolution is alarmingly out of kilter with the revolution's real nature, and Lepore shows the gulf. She writes wonderfully. What could be mere asides in the hands of someone less gifted become necessary parts of a constantly interesting argument about the nature of history. If the Tea Party disappeared tomorrow, this book would be worth keeping.

  • Leilani
    2018-08-25 21:17

    This book is short, but absolutely overflowing with research and fascinating historical ideas. Lepore moves back and forth between the lives of the heroes of the American Revolution, their wives, sisters, slaves, and their many disagreements with each other; the way Revolutionary history was used in the 1970s for modern political purposes; and the way people today have used certain facts and distortions about the past to promote their own ideas.Lepore's writing is packed with things I never knew, and supported with wonderfully detailed footnotes. Her prose moves quickly along and always conveys a passion for true historical inquiry.

  • Chris
    2018-09-04 15:17

    This book was an interesting look at the distortions of American history that are perpetuated by the TEA party movement. For the most part the book is centered in Boston and gives bits of history and details as to how Bostonians have celebrated the revolutionary events that took place in their city. My biggest issue with the book is that I wanted more depth and detail, not only in the historical analyse, but also in the examination of th TEA party movement and how and why they distort history the way they do.

  • Blake Grindon
    2018-09-07 15:50

    I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. Gordon Wood's scathing review (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi...) is probably a bit too harsh--the book's greatest flaw is just that it's lazy--which is even more of a pity as Lepore at her best is anything but lazy--but overall, Wood is right: the relationship Americans have with our history is a pretty complicated one, and simply pointing out that the version of history so often put to political use is often at alarming variance with the facts is not saying quite enough.

  • Harry Dangel
    2018-08-27 20:57

    Intriguing! I found myself laughing out loud at the recounts of the founding fathers and their struggles, infighting, and mistrust of one another in founding a new nation. And, I was amazed at their wisdom in separating church and state and cautioning that the future can not be held hostage by the past.

  • Michael
    2018-09-17 15:13

    Must read for anyone trying to make sense of political and religion claims as to what the Founding era and Constitution represents and means for today. In her epilogue captures well what history is and is not: "The study of history requires investigation, imagination, empathy, and respect. Reverence just doesn't enter into it."

  • Jim Drewery
    2018-09-17 15:59

    The ideal of what it means to be a true patriot, or a real American if you will, has proven to be an evolving quality over the past two hundred plus years, as Professor Lepore's insightful look at the twenty-first century's reincarnation of the Tea Party mantra illustrates. She announces from the start the book is “an argument against historic fundamentalism”(19), which she says is the basis of the current Tea Party movement which has rocked the traditional two party political system of the United States in recent years. Clearly she is not alone in her criticism of this conservative version of the Tea Party within the scholarly community, from which has come a host of similar articles and books on the topic. Lepore interweaves incidents separated by centuries in time, yet bound by a single physical place...Boston, in an engaging and easy read highlighting the many political causes which have attempted to present themselves as the true keepers of the revolutionary ideals over our history. She compares how history is remembered and perceived over time, looking at the lives, beliefs and values of three very different tea parties. The original one that happened in 1773 which every American school child has learned for generations; the current conservative flavored Tea Party that rose to national attention in 2009-10 after Rick Santelli's “rant heard round the wold”(3) and whose members are frequently quoted throughout the book; and the Peoples Bicentennial Commission led by Jeremy Rifkin, who she asserts wrote the Tea Party's playbook.(84) That the latter was a liberal movement only gives the ultra conservative modern Tea Party all the more reason to dismiss as yet another attempt, by what it sees as the leftist in higher education, to undermine the true spirit of America today. Thus most of this ilk will most likely never actually read the professor's work with an open mind and a willingness to at least entertain an opposing point of view to their own. This of course limits the book's audience potential and sadly so, for democracy is based upon a premise of free and open exchange and debate of differing ideas on topics of public concern and if this essential element is removed, then surely the past centuries of sacrifice shall have been for not. Doctor Lepore's world view is quite clearly presented as being somewhere quite far to the left of the conservative standard bearers of today's incarnation of the Tea Party, for which she neither apologizes nor defends in a positive sense. Instead she points out the half truths, misnomers, and gross misinterpretations upon which the Tea Party of today bases its claim as the true keepers of the spirit and desires of the “founding fathers”. This results in one of the work's few shortcomings, that its appeal will be largely lost to the thousands of ardent Tea Party members. Which might appear to be surprising on the surface, considering her Worcester roots, PhD from Yale, professorship at Harvard and staff writing position with The New Yorker. However Lepore makes no pretense at being a “Glen Beck of the left” as Tom Cutterham of Oxford University so aptly observed.1 She is merely pointing out the inaccuracies of the modern Tea Party's vision of the revolution and that President Obama's election in 2008, the catalyst which ignited the Tea Party's recent rise to prominence on America's political scene had more to do with events of the 1970's rather than the 1770's.(68)In this respect Professor Lepore's writing lives up to the ideals of Western history's cherished Greek roots, in that it both tells a good story and is based accurately upon documented evidence. The wit and at times satiric nature of her prose captures the reader's attention and asks they consider what it would truly mean to take the country back to the values widely held in American society almost two hundred and fifty years ago. Through the words of common folks of the era like, Jane Mecom the sister of Benjamin Franklin, Lepore brilliantly illuminates the reality that very few living today would for long succumb to the injustices which abounded in eighteenth century America. A place totally dominated by White MEN, where only White, Male land owners had the right to vote, debtors were tossed in prison, African and also Native Americans were still openly and legally held as slaves, and the insane, like Mecom's son Peter, are held tied up in barns.(50) Less glamorous, indeed quite messy and embarrassing facts like these are left out of the revolution in the eyes of today's Tea Party, who are quick to dismiss such scrutiny from academics, which they see as a large part of the problem with modern America. This is a real concern for Lepore as it ought to be for the rest of the country, because as the professor reveals, this movement is having a major impact on the direction the country is moving. She cites the fight over changes in the history curriculum taught in Texas public schools over a mandate for the teaching of the founding of America as a Christian nation.(158) Examples like this of what Lepore dubs “historical fundamentalism” are or should be of grave concern to all Americans today. Since 9/11 our government has been given unprecedented powers infringing upon rights long held sacred by generations of Americans. One need only be even casually aware of headlines from across the country and around the world over the past several years to have seen ample evidence of this. We've conducted an aggressive undeclared war in two nations for about a decade; held thousands of detainees in prison without charges, nor adequate legal counsel; and most recently exposed, the abuses of power by the IRS and the widespread warrant-less, ease-dropping by the federal government on the private digital communications of millions of Americans. Yes perhaps it is time for our citizenry to start asking harder questions of our leaders and expecting more on our investment in their salaries. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.” Surely no one is interested in a return of tyranny!Professor Lepore does get a tad towards the dramatic with nautical analogies tied back to the original Tea Party ship, the HMS Beaver and as well with the interesting life of Jane Mecom. Perhaps some of those pages might have been better spent further explaining how the history profession failed to provide a clear message about the real revolution during the Bicentennial, as she highlights that Thurgood Marshall was in 1976.(119-20) Instead the idea is left somewhat unsupported like an unfinished thought, but then again the volume was not meant as a conclusive history of the Tea Party or the revolution, as Cutterham criticized. Still it is a superb effort, worthy of serious and thoughtful consideration by today's scholars. She might well have added a reference to Abraham Lincoln's message to Congress from December 1, 1862. He said, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”2 This is what good history is and what professional historians like Lepore do for society. By faithfully preserving, analyzing and writing about our history concisely they insure that future generations will know what it meant to me an American of the past. Not just a famous person, just a person, anyone like Jane or Peter Mecom, for it is the common people who really make up a country. Because as Ken Stone put it, “Good history is a question of survival. Without any past, we will deprive ourselves of the defining impression of our being.”3

  • Jim Drewery
    2018-08-22 19:12

    The ideal of what it means to be a true patriot, or a real American if you will, has proven to be an evolving quality over the past two hundred plus years, as Professor Lepore's insightful look at the twenty-first century's reincarnation of the Tea Party mantra illustrates. She announces from the start the book is “an argument against historic fundamentalism”(19), which she says is the basis of the current Tea Party movement which has rocked the traditional two party political system of the United States in recent years. Clearly she is not alone in her criticism of this conservative version of the Tea Party within the scholarly community, from which has come a host of similar articles and books on the topic. Lepore interweaves incidents separated by centuries in time, yet bound by a single physical place...Boston, in an engaging and easy read highlighting the many political causes which have attempted to present themselves as the true keepers of the revolutionary ideals over our history. She compares how history is remembered and perceived over time, looking at the lives, beliefs and values of three very different tea parties. The original one that happened in 1773 which every American school child has learned for generations; the current conservative flavored Tea Party that rose to national attention in 2009-10 after Rick Santelli's “rant heard round the wold”(3) and whose members are frequently quoted throughout the book; and the Peoples Bicentennial Commission led by Jeremy Rifkin, who she asserts wrote the Tea Party's playbook.(84) That the latter was a liberal movement only gives the ultra conservative modern Tea Party all the more reason to dismiss as yet another attempt, by what it sees as the leftist in higher education, to undermine the true spirit of America today. Thus most of this ilk will most likely never actually read the professor's work with an open mind and a willingness to at least entertain an opposing point of view to their own. This of course limits the book's audience potential and sadly so, for democracy is based upon a premise of free and open exchange and debate of differing ideas on topics of public concern and if this essential element is removed, then surely the past centuries of sacrifice shall have been for not. Doctor Lepore's world view is quite clearly presented as being somewhere quite far to the left of the conservative standard bearers of today's incarnation of the Tea Party, for which she neither apologizes nor defends in a positive sense. Instead she points out the half truths, misnomers, and gross misinterpretations upon which the Tea Party of today bases its claim as the true keepers of the spirit and desires of the “founding fathers”. This results in one of the work's few shortcomings, that its appeal will be largely lost to the thousands of ardent Tea Party members. Which might appear to be surprising on the surface, considering her Worcester roots, PhD from Yale, professorship at Harvard and staff writing position with The New Yorker. However Lepore makes no pretense at being a “Glen Beck of the left” as Tom Cutterham of Oxford University so aptly observed.1 She is merely pointing out the inaccuracies of the modern Tea Party's vision of the revolution and that President Obama's election in 2008, the catalyst which ignited the Tea Party's recent rise to prominence on America's political scene had more to do with events of the 1970's rather than the 1770's.(68)In this respect Professor Lepore's writing lives up to the ideals of Western history's cherished Greek roots, in that it both tells a good story and is based accurately upon documented evidence. The wit and at times satiric nature of her prose captures the reader's attention and asks they consider what it would truly mean to take the country back to the values widely held in American society almost two hundred and fifty years ago. Through the words of common folks of the era like, Jane Mecom the sister of Benjamin Franklin, Lepore brilliantly illuminates the reality that very few living today would for long succumb to the injustices which abounded in eighteenth century America. A place totally dominated by White MEN, where only White, Male land owners had the right to vote, debtors were tossed in prison, African and also Native Americans were still openly and legally held as slaves, and the insane, like Mecom's son Peter, are held tied up in barns.(50) Less glamorous, indeed quite messy and embarrassing facts like these are left out of the revolution in the eyes of today's Tea Party, who are quick to dismiss such scrutiny from academics, which they see as a large part of the problem with modern America. This is a real concern for Lepore as it ought to be for the rest of the country, because as the professor reveals, this movement is having a major impact on the direction the country is moving. She cites the fight over changes in the history curriculum taught in Texas public schools over a mandate for the teaching of the founding of America as a Christian nation.(158) Examples like this of what Lepore dubs “historical fundamentalism” are or should be of grave concern to all Americans today. Since 9/11 our government has been given unprecedented powers infringing upon rights long held sacred by generations of Americans. One need only be even casually aware of headlines from across the country and around the world over the past several years to have seen ample evidence of this. We've conducted an aggressive undeclared war in two nations for about a decade; held thousands of detainees in prison without charges, nor adequate legal counsel; and most recently exposed, the abuses of power by the IRS and the widespread warrant-less, ease-dropping by the federal government on the private digital communications of millions of Americans. Yes perhaps it is time for our citizenry to start asking harder questions of our leaders and expecting more on our investment in their salaries. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.” Surely no one is interested in a return of tyranny!Professor Lepore does get a tad towards the dramatic with nautical analogies tied back to the original Tea Party ship, the HMS Beaver and as well with the interesting life of Jane Mecom. Perhaps some of those pages might have been better spent further explaining how the history profession failed to provide a clear message about the real revolution during the Bicentennial, as she highlights that Thurgood Marshall was in 1976.(119-20) Instead the idea is left somewhat unsupported like an unfinished thought, but then again the volume was not meant as a conclusive history of the Tea Party or the revolution, as Cutterham criticized. Still it is a superb effort, worthy of serious and thoughtful consideration by today's scholars. She might well have added a reference to Abraham Lincoln's message to Congress from December 1, 1862. He said, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”2 This is what good history is and what professional historians like Lepore do for society. By faithfully preserving, analyzing and writing about our history concisely they insure that future generations will know what it meant to me an American of the past. Not just a famous person, just a person, anyone like Jane or Peter Mecom, for it is the common people who really make up a country. Because as Ken Stone put it, “Good history is a question of survival. Without any past, we will deprive ourselves of the defining impression of our being.”3

  • Patrick Sprunger
    2018-09-19 17:15

    Disclaimer: This isn't so much a review as some thoughts inspired by the subject.I took a class on art in the 1980s. During a talk about apparent cultural stagnation in the United States, my professor showed a photograph of President and Mrs. Reagan from 1981. It really explained everything. There's no way to describe the vibe the photo gives off. The Reagans are the essence of old school WASP: square, puritanical, a little sinister in the plasticity of their smiles and coiffure. Beneath the practiced benevolent masks, there is an implicit threat: Don't get any ideas. This is our country now and we're going to have some new rules.President Reagan co-opted evangelicals (the so-called "religious right") to be the shock troops for his coalition of Goldwater conservatives and cold war shills. Those evangelicals - mostly decent people with their own varying levels of prejudices and tolerance, and otherwise largely apolitical - weren't necessarily sophisticated in their consideration of the larger world beyond the church and community level. But they'd follow anyone who claimed to be carrying the Christian moral standard, regardless of what was happening under that standard.Reagan didn't create them. He wasn't the first to co-opt them. However, he monetized them and turned them into the "Base" that made the Republican Party what it's been since 1981. No longer a coalition with economic and policy divisions, today's GOP is the monolithic apparatus for social conservatism. Candidates are grilled by sympathetic media to determine if they pass unspoken "purity standards," based on Ronald Reagan. The presumptive 2012 Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, has to fight his own party before he can focus on debating President Obama because many in his own party feel like Romney flunked the purity test. Governor Romney is conservative. Senator McCain is conservative. They just aren't as conservative as President Reagan was (according to his contemporary devotees) - and that's a deal breaker for today's conservative citizens. This could all be an amusing show for independents and liberals, if it wasn't such a volatile situation. Because when qualified candidates like McCain and Romney are thrown under the bus for apostasy, dangerous opportunists move in. On one hand we get Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain - individuals who aren't qualified for high public office and market themselves like celebrities rather than serious candidates. On the other hand, we get crusaders like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum - who have the qualifications and mental horsepower but are expected to treat election as a "winner take all" prospect, rewarding their supporters with policies that punish their opponents. The Robespierre attitude isn't consistent with American politics. The president is elected by a percentage of the population, but he must represent all of it, even those who voted against him. American political parties get to challenge each other for a turn at the wheel. They do not compete for a chance to eliminate their opponent and install an eternal regime.American history is not a sequence of slash and burn political revolutions. Neither is it wired, with a political movement's ancestors connected to their contemporary counterparts. The Tea (or TEA) Party candidates who claim to have inherited the spirit of '76 or '87 are part of no circuit connecting the present and the past. They actually expropriate imagery from the public domain for their own use.Going back to the portrait of the Reagans... Ronald Reagan's revolution depended on a significant number of unsophisticated voters to buy into a new characterization of history and purpose. They were benign enough in appearance - like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum - but hid brass knuckles in their pockets. The Reagan era stagnated cultural advancement. AIDS propagated, perhaps because of an unwillingness to educate people on the correct ways to avoid it. Iran-Contra was weighed, not by its implications, but by the perceived immorality of the Iranians and the assumption that any "right wing freedom fighters'" struggle against a "leftist" government must be morally correct.The years between 2001-2009 are in the same category, for many of the same reasons. President G. W. Bush was pushed over the top by evangelicals. When in office, President Bush sold Americans a version of the government that was either dumbed-down or patriarchal. Asserting that Americans should forego their own policy analysis and trust the president to decide what's right and wrong assumes the evangelicals who bumped him into office are trusting enough to make the next step: belief that Bush was ordained by God to be the president. Anyone ordained by God should have the people's complete, unconditional trust - according to this (admittedly speculative) premise. When Obama won the election in 2008, those social conservatives may have felt McCain must not have had God's ordination. If so, that must mean there was something wrong with McCain's platform. If so, that must mean true conservatives had to look around for righteousness. They found the Tea Party. Folks were dressed like Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams and gave sophisticated oratory. Furthermore, the Tea Parties themselves were a pirate ship. There was no qualification; no prior political education was needed; anyone may participate, regardless of what he or she has to say. It's darn appealing to a sector of society who takes comfort in the familiar - especially the Disneyfication of American history. Glenn Beck was a success for the same reason that Disney World's Hall of Presidents and the collectible World Trade Center coins were so popular. Shlock sells. Jill Lepore's thesis is that the Tea Party movement used schlock as its marketing model to enlist popular support for conservative politics. Those politics were marketed as something they weren't, but the marketing was so appealing most suckers never even knew they were had. What the author is disgusted by is the same thing anyone with a little knowledge feels toward the rape of a pet subject. Glenn Beck's, the Heritage Foundation, and Liberty University's mangling of American history is as offensive to history enthusiasts as a Las Vegas Revue of Beatles songs is to a Beatles fan.I understand her revulsion. I admire her evenhandedness, particularly to those she interviewed. But I don't like the way she composed the book. It's as roundabout as these thoughts I've just jotted down - which is fine for me, because I'm just some guy, but is not okay for a Pulitzer finalist. I get everything The Whites of Their Eyes is trying to say - but it needed to find a better way to say it. Just ranting about how American history is mischaracterized (by the left and right, the author points out) isn't special. Sure, it's a point that needs to be made. But it's a point that's always being made, all the time, by everyday people like me. What is needed is a more articulate, pulverizing argument; an argument capable of setting the matter to rest. Alas, this isn't it.Short read, though.

  • Mark Dickson
    2018-09-08 20:06

    As a historian, Lepore, acts as a time traveler to bounce back and forth between contemporary conservative conclusions about the motives and actions of the "Framers" to the actual deeds and reflections of the same in their and others' writings.As a college educated person, I find her argument against conflating history and religion a compelling one. I find no value in establishing "historic fundamentalism" in American history and am even more convinced that the separation of church and state protects BOTH from each other.

  • James
    2018-09-03 16:00

    I wanted to read a book on the Tea Party (know your enemy and all that), and this seemed to be the most relevant one Amazon turned up on the Kindle - and excellently, turns out it was a good choice.Rather than approach the tea party from politics, it approached them from a historical perspective (the author is a historian), and the gist of it is that they're massively distorting American history, and that appealing to the founding fathers and deifying them is bloody stupid. Which was great - it was packed full of brilliant quotes and consistently dismantled tea party mythology.What was a bit odd though was that at times it was like reading three books at once - one on the tea party, one on the American revolution, and one on the bicentennial celebrations in 1976 (where there was apparently another tea-party-esque movement that evoked the founding father mythology). The links were not stunningly obvious - and at times it felt as though the author was going off on a bit of a tangent. It was all terribly interesting, don't get me wrong, but not amazingly relevant.I also enjoyed the author's editorialising. As I bought the book on a bit of a gamble, I was worried she'd turn out to be a tea party sympathiser rather than someone who can confirm my prejudices, but it turns out these fears were unfounded - there's lots of snarky asides and digs at them, which is nice.Some of my favourite quotes dug out of the book:“Serving God is Doing good to Man, but Praying is thought an easier Service, and therefore more generally chosen.” - Benjamin Franklin“I come from Almighty God to tell you that if you do not repent of your sins and believe in our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, you will be damned,” Paine replied, “Pshaw. God would not send such a foolish ugly old woman as you.” - On Thomas Paine, confirming that he was amazing.I wanted to read a book on the Tea Party (know your enemy and all that), and this seemed to be the most relevant one Amazon turned up on the Kindle - and excellently, turns out it was a good choice.Rather than approach the tea party from politics, it approached them from a historical perspective (the author is a historian), and the gist of it is that they're massively distorting American history, and that appealing to the founding fathers and deifying them is bloody stupid. Which was great - it was packed full of brilliant quotes and consistently dismantled tea party mythology.What was a bit odd though was that at times it was like reading three books at once - one on the tea party, one on the American revolution, and one on the bicentennial celebrations in 1976 (where there was apparently another tea-party-esque movement that evoked the founding father mythology). The links were not stunningly obvious - and at times it felt as though the author was going off on a bit of a tangent. It was all terribly interesting, don't get me wrong, but not amazingly relevant.I also enjoyed the author's editorialising. As I bought the book on a bit of a gamble, I was worried she'd turn out to be a tea party sympathiser rather than someone who can confirm my prejudices, but it turns out these fears were unfounded - there's lots of snarky asides and digs at them, which is nice. For example:"Paine, Beck once said on his show, was the Glenn Beck of the American Revolution. Paine’s not rolling over in his grave, though. In 1819, ten years after he was buried, his bones were dug up, and they’ve since been lost. All things considered, that might be for the best."Some of my other favourite quotes dug out of the book:“Serving God is Doing good to Man, but Praying is thought an easier Service, and therefore more generally chosen.” - Benjamin Franklin“I come from Almighty God to tell you that if you do not repent of your sins and believe in our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, you will be damned,” Paine replied, “Pshaw. God would not send such a foolish ugly old woman as you.” - On Thomas Paine, confirming that he was amazing.

  • Wise_owl
    2018-09-19 19:58

    This short little book was really rather enjoyable. A Melding of narratives about the American Revolution, the Bicentennial of that Revolution in the early 1970's, and the Tea Party Movement of the late 2000's early 2010's makes for an interesting tale that is ultimately about this: What governs historical memory, and how is that memory put to use.Her general thesis, in truth, is that American Historical scholarship, as it moved into analysis of 'common people' and issues like Women's Studies, African-American Studies, and so forth, while decrying the prior narratives, didn't have anything to replace it with in the Big celebrations of the Bicentennial. That out of this came the narrative that the Tea Party now clings to, one that is as she puts it 'Historical Fundamentalism' and rather 'Anti-history'. A belief in a single essential period(the founding) in which the people who existed were some-how purer and more perfect, and whose documents are fundamentally scripture. Her analysis of how their idea's of the revolution are at odds with it's actual events and the complexities of the period(and detailing the absurdities of trying to fit modern political issues into the context of the 'founding') is fascinating.If the book has a weakness it's the relative brevity. It feels like it could have had more. While she does talk about the modern Tea Party movement, including quotes both from it's major figures and from people on the ground, you get the feeling it might have been served better by a more in-depth discussion of the various beliefs of the various factions of the Tea party. I admit the central piece of her work; the Reproduction of the 'Beaver', the Ship that was one of those from which Tea was dumped in the original Tea party, and that was reproduced for the Bicentennial, is really interesting. It's hulk, now only half restored after fires and neglect, is a fitting metaphor I think for how the artifacts of history vanish, becoming less important than the myths they are meant to represent. Though on another level it's scary to realize how much this 'Historical Fundementalism' has permeating American Culture. I think a degree of it exists within any society. History often serves a political purpose. Yet save in Totalitarian states, one would be hard-pressed to find people harking back to some past era as existing outside of history, in some perfection to which we must aspire. It reminds me some-what of Classical Confucianism without that Philosophies humanist elements.Anyways, for those interested in History, Histiography, or how those subjects impact Modern politics, I think this is a great little book that deserves to be talked about.

  • Nick
    2018-09-07 19:03

    There is quite a bit to be said for Jill Lepore's concise indictment of "historical fundamentalism." Though she weaves without warning through the Revolution, the Bicentennial, and the emergence of the Tea Party, all in close detail, never once is her message bogged down. Everything here builds up to a point as sharply declared as if this were more a long essay than a book: the folly of grasping for truth, from a world not your own. I'll admit, I picked it up looking for some well-placed jabs at Tea Partiers and their silly "bitching and moaning about health care is like being oppressed by an occupying army" nonsense. While those were certainly present, what was more important was the broad statement made about history and heritage.It's hard to spend all of your time reading, studying, and immersing yourself in history without becoming attached to the material, maybe even coming to see the perceived reality as more real than your own. But as I read about Lepore's experiences growing up in Massachusetts, and recalled my own memories of a Tea Party rally which I visited out of curiosity, I couldn't help but feel detached from it all by the end of the book. She takes for granted that she's grown up in the midst of all this history and culture that is definitive of the Revolution, but which most Americans are by geography and social class completely removed from, whether they realize it or not.Said Tea Party rally was in Greensboro, NC, far from Boston in distance and experience. Sure, there was a battle with redcoats here, but however little we can count on the distant past for infallible truth, we can count on it even less for comfort when it is so foreign. At that rally there was something ridiculous about men in Continental uniforms with their Piedmont dialects, cheering to pop-country performances defiant of socialist taxes. I guess I mean to say that I left the book with the sense that attachment to the New England reality of the war, for someone not from New England, makes the whole deal even more absurd. For a Harvard academic who grew up near Boston, she was surrounded by that heritage.It made me question not only whether the Revolution is relevant just to politics and legislation, but whether it's truly relevant to any of us at all unless we're born in a place whose reputation is the direct result of it. Her writing is great, and her points and evidence are all very engaging and satisfying. I finished it feeling a little insecure, but all the same it's a great book for amateur historians who may have too much faith in their reasons for studying history.

  • Forest
    2018-09-11 16:58

    Lepore writes, "History is an endlessly interesting argument where evidence is everything and storytelling is everything else." It's very easy to overlook how important both of these things are. Glenn Beck and others associated with the present day Tea Party movement are largely succeeding in rewriting history because they have created a new type of history where storytelling is everything and evidence, while not completely irrelevant, can easily be manipulated. Historians who rely on evidence at the expense of storytelling can't compete with this. Lepore is a rare example of someone who is trying to do both. This book, as many critics have pointed out, is a little rushed and probably doesn't show her at her best. But there are a lot of great moments here, and what I hope is that this is another step towards what may be her life's work, a definitive 21st century history of the American Revolution. Lepore's great gift is her ability to interpret modern events in our country through its history, particularly events or people that are overlooked, misunderstood, or completely unknown. Interspersed through this book are a number of what might be called "Jill Lepore's Unsung Heroes of the American Revolution". Some of these, like James Otis, Jane Mecom (Ben Franklin's sister), Benjamin Edes, Royall Tyler and Phyllis Wheatley, are well-documented but their importance is not generally appreciated. Others, like Thomas Paine, John Adams, and Paul Revere are certainly well-known but perhaps misrepresented or misunderstood. Others, like Crispus Attucks and the other key players present at the Boston Massacre or (original) Boston Tea Party, and the many women of the era who never learned to write, aren't documented and we can never know the true impact of their contributions. Lepore clearly believes that the key issue in America in the Revolutionary Era, and remaining so today, is race, and how it is intertwined with liberty. Her title refers not so much to the alleged command from the Battle of Bunker Hill, but to the whites of the present day Tea Party's imaginary conception of what life was like in that era. White, as in a country for and favoring only white men, but also whitewashed, so that they can paint their present-day desires onto the past in order to equate and justify them. "There were only the Founding Fathers with their white wigs, wearing their three cornered hats, in their Christian Nation, revolting against taxes and defending their right to bear arms."

  • Rk Wild
    2018-09-09 15:17

    A Brief Argument Against Historical Fundamentalism, January 19, 2011 This review is from: The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History (Kindle Edition) 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.

  • Doug Mcnair
    2018-09-16 18:59

    A review-blurb on the front cover of this book says "Lepore is a better reporter than any historian, and a better historian than any reporter." That short, muddled review is actually quite apt for this short, muddled book, mainly because it points up the fact that the author spends so much time being a reporter that she never quite makes it as a historian. Her basic thesis is sound enough: the Tea Partiers are guilty of "historical fundamentalism," which she defines as "the belief that a particular and quite narrowly defined past -- "the founding" -- is ageless and sacred and to be worshippd; that certain historical texts -- "the founding documents" -- are to be read in the same spirit with which religious fundamentalists read, for instance, the Ten Commandments; that the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired; that the academic study of history (whose standards of evidence and methods of analysis are based on skepticism) is a conspiracy and, furthermore, blasphemy . . ." But once she states her thesis she launches into a journalistic history of the days before the American Revolution, with lots of entertaining anecdotes about the Founders interspersed with anecdotes about modern-day Tea Partiers. Real analysis of the facts she reports only pops up now and again, and is soon cast aside for more reportage. She states that the current Tea Party movement has more in commmon with the 1970s than the 1770s, but anecdotes from the '70s once again supplant any thorough discussion of the facts. By the end she's giving an extended narration of her child's grade-school history project, using that as an example of the work of real historians. I'm sorry, but it's all too cute by half. It would have been better if she'd just left this in its original form: an essay in the New Yorker. There's not enough here for a whole book, and it's not nearly a good enough work of history to justify its own demand that the Tea Partiers stop undermining the study of history.