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The Radicalism of the American Revolution [Paperback]

by Gordon S. Wood
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 2, 1993 0679736883 978-0679736882 Reprint
In a grand and immemsely readable synthesis of historical, political, cultural, and economic analysis, a prize-winning historian depicts much more than a break with England. He gives readers a revolution that transformed an almost feudal society into a democratic one, whose emerging realities sometimes baffled and disappointed its founding fathers.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The gifted Wood offers a fresh take on the formative years of the United States, explaining the astonishing transformation of disparate, quarreling colonies into a bustling, unruly republic of egalitarian-minded citizens.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Historians have always had problems explaining the revolutionary character of the American Revolution: its lack of class conflict, a reign of terror, and indiscriminate violence make it seem positively sedate. In this beautifully written and persuasively argued book, one of the most noted of U.S. historians restores the radicalism to what he terms "one of the greatest revolutions the world has ever known." It was the American Revolution, Wood argues, that unleashed the social forces that transformed American society in the years between 1760 and 1820. The change from a deferential, monarchical, ordered, and static society to a liberal, democratic, and commercial one was astonishing, all the more so because it took place without industrialization, urbanization, or the revolution in transportation. It was a revolution of the mind, in which the concept of equality, democracy, and private interest grasped by hundreds of thousands of Americans transformed a country nearly overnight. Exciting, compelling, and sure to provoke controversy, the book will be discussed for years to come. History Book Club main selection.
- David B. Mattern, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 2, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679736883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679736882
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gordon S. Wood is Alva O. Way Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Radicalism of the American Revolution, the Bancroft Prize-winning The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, and The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History. He writes frequently for The New York Review of Books and The New Republic.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
107 of 109 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I first read the work of Gordon Wood in graduate school a quarter century ago, especially his magnificent and massive 1972 book, "The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787." This study, "The Radicalism of the American Revolution," is essentially a continuation of that earlier work, probing the intellectual underpinnings of the era. It, too, is a magnificent work and fully deserving of the Pulitzer Prize that it received. While covering some of the same ground as Bernard Bailyn's "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution" (Harvard University Press, 1967), this book develops a more detailed, rigorous, and compelling portrait of a society transforming itself from one of feudal relationships to one predicated on republicanism, democracy, and market-driven capitalism.

At a fundamental level, Wood argues, the American Revolution was truly a radical episode in world history. He comments that "The republican revolution was the greatest utopian movement in American history. The revolutionaries aimed at nothing less than a reconstitution of American society. They hoped to destroy the bonds holding together the older monarchical society--kinship, patriarchy, and patronage--and to put in their place new social bonds of love, respect, and consent. They sought to construct a society and governments based on virtue and disinterested public leadership and to set in motion a moral government that would eventually be felt around the globe" (p. 229). They advocated ensuring equality as the first task of society; Wood calls this "the single most powerful and radical ideological force in all of American history" (p. 234). And all Americans, he argues, embraced the idea of equality as manifested in labor and accomplishment.
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76 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Prudent Revolution December 2, 2002
Format:Paperback
Gordon Wood covers much the same ground as did Bernard Bailyn did in "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution," but charts it in a more linear fashion. Wood illustrates how the American colonies emerged from a monarchical system into a Republic, and eventually into a Democratic society. The focus is on representation, beginning with the colonial assemblies. The American colonies had a legacy of representative institutions, which helped in forming the necessary consensus in order to achieve independence.
Throughout its revolutionary history, Americans felt they had a moral imperative for self-determination, dramatized by such events as the Boston Tea Party. The colonies took great pride in their assemblies, and in many ways felt they were the ultimate authority. If the Americans were anwerable to anyone it was the King, not the parliament, which increasingly exercised more control over the colonies, especially in the form of taxes to pay for the various services it provided the colonies, such as protection. Wood notes how agents, such as Benjamin Franklin, petitioned for the rights of the colonies in the parliament. When these petitions were no longer heard, the colonies chose to rebel.
What is intriguing about Wood's analysis, is the reluctance many Americans had about making a complete breach from England. Americans realized that their institutions were an outgrowth of English Republican ideas. It was a slow, evolving revolution, carrying these principles to their fullest realization. Never short of praise for themselves, the Americans thought they had succeeded where the British had failed in creating a truly representative government.
Wood offers an especially fine analysis of the events which shaped the American Revolution, and how it was a natural outgrowth of an increasingly dynamic society. The book is copiously annotated and well indexed. It is a book that you will refer to again and again.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Radicalism, American Style September 16, 2005
Format:Paperback
Gordon Wood's "Radicalism of the American Revolution" is truly an eye opening and long overdue study of the true radical nature of the American Revolution. Wood shatters the myths perpetrated by the conservative "consensus" historians that the American Revolution was "conservative" and "mild".

Wood shows that America, even in colonial times, was quite different from the rest of the Western world of kings, nobles and priests. Sure, Americans were governed by a herediatary monarchy and it's sycophants and minions, but that rule was shaky at best. This shaky rule was further weakened by the lack of a nobility residing in the colonies. Yes, there was an aristocracy, but they were not nearly as powerful as in Europe.

Wood begins by laying out the foundations of the colonial governments and society. He points out that the American colonists were contentious, and sensitive to any infringments on their liberty. He also brings to light the beginnings of a market economy, which began to liberate Americans from their mercantilist and elitist economic elites.

The American Revolution literally brought ordinary people into government. This did not happen overnight, but the concept of "gentlemen" ruling a society as the masses meekly submitted gave way to the forces of classical liberalism and democracy.

The Revolution caused an upheaval in all areas of American life: religion, slavery, commerce, government, voter sufferage,

and family relationships.

Americans no longer saw themselves as living for the ideal of "virtue" and in subservience to their "betters", but saw individual freedom and economic prosperity as an end in and of itself.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique
Gives me a view of things I have not encountered in other histories. Unique; of real interest!! Well worth you time.
Published 3 days ago by James Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly researched.
Full of insights that make it clear that we cannot turn back the clock, and that we must make our own interpretations of what America is and what it should be.
Published 28 days ago by Laurence M. Yorgason
5.0 out of 5 stars A Failed Revolution
The American Revolution was a failure.

That is not the opinion of Wood. It was the opinion of the Revolutionaries. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Randy Stafford
5.0 out of 5 stars Read anything Wood has writen
A social history of America in the18th century during the time of the American Revolution, the first democratic revolution and perhaps the best. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Robert Gill
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, it all makes sense
For me, the problem with the American Revolution has always been why it turned out to be such a cataclysmic event while at the time, compared to the blood-in-the-gutters affair in... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Peebee
4.0 out of 5 stars Pultizer Prize Winner
It's not my favorite on the subject, but the Pulitzer Prize winning books are always useful in one's library. The pulitzer website is a great source for ideas on books.
Published 4 months ago by wgreen
5.0 out of 5 stars The Radicalism of the American Revolution is a book to be read by...
Delighted to get this book to read. Finished it within a week.It is a book to be read by every American to understand how we arived at the political arena we are in today
Published 4 months ago by spot
5.0 out of 5 stars LIBERTY AND FREEDOM ARE NOT THE SAME THING
The best part of this work is the description of the evolution from revolution to republic to democracy with enough provocative information thrown in to make the reader wonder... Read more
Published 4 months ago by K. Egan
5.0 out of 5 stars Greater appreciation for the Revolution
Learned a lot, was well written. I actually purchased it to have a better understanding of the OUTLANDER series. Read more
Published 4 months ago by mamrn
2.0 out of 5 stars Asserts with insufficient evidence... but raises some troubling...
NOTE: This review is based on listening to the audiobook, which has no footnotes. I do not know if Wood was better at providing cites and evidence for his assertions in the print... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kristan O. Overstreet
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