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The Radicalism of the American Revolution Reprint Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679736882
ISBN-10: 0679736883
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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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 2, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679736883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679736882
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,216 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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Wood's book is interesting and worth reading as social and economic history.
The question addressed is whether the American Revolution was "conservative" or "radical". Wood likes the word "radical" and says it a lot, but of course he isn't talking about Bolsheviks or anti-globalism protesters; he means old-style (Adam Smith) Liberals, or modern Libertarians.
And Wood paints an interesting and convincing picture of cultural change, from an early colonial society structured around hierarchy and personal relationships to freewheeling, atomistic culture arranging everything by contract. What he never does, unfortunately, is convincingly demonstrate that the American Revolution (the war, or the restructuring of the government under the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution) was either a) fought for the purpose of bringing about this societal change or b) a significant catalyst in accelerating the change.
1. Wood clearly exaggerates the degree to which the colonies, just prior to the Revolution, were hierarchical and conservative cultures.
Some of the evidence he adduces for hierarchy is silly: does the prevalence of Christian churches really indicate a hierarchy, even if they do preach Romans 13 (p. 18)? How about the existence of a hierarchical military (p. 20), or vagrancy legislation (p. 20)? What about the use of titles, like "Esq." (p.21)? We see all these phenomena today, of course -- so if they do indicate hierarchy and conservatism, they also indicate that we are still a hierarchical and conservative culture.
Frequently Wood presents evidence of great freedom and egalitarianism in the colonies, but then wills it away with an unsupported conclusion.
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