The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History

In This Review

The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History (The Public Square)
By Jill Lepore
Princeton University Press, 2010
224 pp. $19.95
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Do Harvard professors of history have a more complex, nuanced, and grounded understanding of the American Revolution than rank-and-file Tea Party protesters? If anybody was in any doubt, The Whites of Their Eyes lays the question to rest. Lepore, a Harvard professor, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and New Yorker staff writer, brings to this book great erudition, along with a richly layered vision of the American Revolution and the uses to which it has been put by various generations since. Even though that vision lists mostly to port, readers of every political persuasion will learn about the Revolution and its place in American memory. But Lepore's point -- that liberals really love and understand their country, while Tea Party conservatives just make noise -- is undermined by her failure to engage more deeply with the convictions and perceptions of the Tea Party members she uses as foils for her views. She seems less interested in figuring out what these people really mean than in deriding the simplistic and ahistorical ideas they express. A historian who took this attitude toward her sources would produce superficial and unsatisfactory work; Lepore enjoys herself perhaps a little too much as she contrasts the richness and humanity of her own views with the tawdry errors of the common herd.