Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, July 18, 2011

Jill Lepore, _The Whites of their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History_

THIS IS LEPORE more in her New Yorker mode, writing for a general audience, than in her Bancroft Prize mode (even so, there are 30-plus pages of notes), seven chapters with the grace and movement of essays that braid together several strands: her conversations with current Tea Party members at various rallies and other events in Boston, other movements and events (abolition, the bicentennial) when Americans looked back and tried to see an image of themselves in the people and ideas of the founding of the republic, and her own accounts of those people, events, and ideas (the original Tea Party, Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Phyllis Wheatley, Paul Revere...).

A fine book, really -- well-informed, well-written, thoughtful. All in all, hard to figure out why Gordon Wood decided to blow the whistle on it in NYRB.

Lepore knocks down the Tea Party's vision of the Revolution without even really trying -- the number of people who know more about the period than she does is probably in the low single digits -- but she does not disrespect the people she interviews, it seems to me, nor suggest that they are more ignorant than most about the Revolution. People with politics 180 degrees away from those of the Tea Party, she acknowledges, are just as likely to make up self-serving myths about the founding era. She seems to welcome curiosity and interest in the period, and even takes historians to task a bit for not trying harder to connect with a broader reading public (67-69).

All in all, hard to tell how the bee got in Professor Wood's bonnet. It couldn't be because Lepore gave Wood's contribution to the Oxford History of the United States a respectful ho-hum when she was in the reviewer's chair? Surely not.

No comments: