By Jill Lepore
Princeton University Press, $19.95, 210 pages
Jill Lepore, professor of history at Harvard, has a written a brief, but content rich, examination of the modern Tea Party. She finds their thinking a kind of ‘antihistory’, “enslaved” in “reverence” to a mythical American past, instead of critically aware, engaged participation in the nation’s democratic processes. ||In prose that reads swiftly, Lepore elegantly juxtaposes the beliefs of this movement the actual events of the American Revolution. She demonstrates her claims through what is to her a better history, utilizing proper standards of evidence and rhetoric, to counterweight their abundant ‘presentism,’ plucking from the past whatever facts support a preexisting dogma. The reader gets a deep reading in many familiar founders and events alongside the superficial, motivated Tea Party interpretations. Her nuanced understanding of the messiness of history contrasts with the reflexive consumption of politically slanted biography shared by the Tea Party.
Lepore has written a worthwhile primer on what history can and should do, but ultimately finds fault as one would expect of a historian. Perhaps that is her point – with history, how we do it matters.
Reviewed by Neil Liss