Vanessa Williamson is coauthor (with Theda Skocpol) of The Tea Party: Remaking of Republican Conservatism (Oxford University Press, 2012), a New Yorker magazine "Ten Best Political Books of 2012"). Williamson is a Ph.D. student at Harvard University and Skocpol is professor of government and sociology at Harvard University.
A lot has been written about the Tea Party, much from journalists and commentators. Williamson and Skocpol add a welcome scholarly vantage point, but don't rest on the distance many academic prefer. They travel the country, interviewing Tea Party advocates, attending Tea Party gatherings in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Arizona. They also mine traditional social science sources of information as well.
What results is a nuanced portrait of a very complex modern political phenomenon. The Tea Party, according to Williamson and Skocpol, is in part the result of grassroots activism, part top-down policy entrepreneurship, and part modern media promotion. This book unearths many of the institutional dimensions of the Tea Party movement that help explain how it grew so quickly - 1,000 Tea Party groups formed in just the initial period - and grew so powerful - millions of dollars coalesced to help fund, train, and mobilize supporters and candidates. The electoral successes in the 2010 elections and subsequent policy victories in state tax, budget, and voting policy are the most obvious legacy to date.