As soon as the Tea Party movement began, so did the war to define it. The groups' activists positioned themselves as grassroots populists, "normal, hardworking Americans fed up with government." Their critics searched for connections that would let them decry the movement as Astroturf. The pervasiveness of both partisan arguments, along with the movement's often confusing decentralized structure, have made it difficult to understand the phenomenon with clarity.
Now a collection of academic essays, Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party, attempts to provide such an "informed and profound understanding." But as Charles Pearson reports, whether the book succeeds is debatable.