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The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800 Paperback – September 2, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

Fresh and brilliant, this is the book that completely redefines the founding era. As the 1790s began, America was struggling to survive at home and abroad, and the world was gripped by an arc of revolutionary fervor stretching from Philadelphia and Paris to St. Petersburg and Cairo--with fatal results. While a fragile United States teetered on the brink of oblivion, Russia towered as a vast imperial power, the Islamic peoples were gearing for war, and France plunged into monumental revolution. In The Great Upheaval, acclaimed historian Jay Winik masterfully illuminates how their fates combined in one extraordinary moment to change the course of civilization and bequeath us the nation--indeed, the world--we've inherited. Below we see a brief taste of the incredible events and people who shaped this most memorable of decades.

A Timeline of The Great Upheaval

1787 George Washington and the founders gather in Philadelphia to create the Constitution. Meanwhile, Russia's Empress Catherine the Great prepares her bloody assault on the Islamic Ottoman Empire, thus unleashing the first modern holy war between Islam and Christianity.
1789 When the Bastille falls, it is a sound heard around the world: George Washington is sent the key to the fortress, while upon the hearing the news, Russians dance in the streets. King Louis XVI asks, "Is this a revolt?" and is told, "No sire, it's a revolution."
1791-92 Having helped midwife the American rebels to independence, an outraged Catherine seeks to stamp out the French Revolutionary menace. Undaunted, a radicalized France soon declares, "war on the castles, peace on the cottages," triggering a savage world war that lasts 21 years and costs millions of lives.
President George Washington
1793 George Washington receives Revolutionary France's new envoy, Citizen Genet, who audaciously seeks to foment insurrection at America's borders, pitting American against American.

An ocean away, the French king, who had been America's staunchest ally, is beheaded.
1794 The Whiskey Rebellion begins, threatening civil war in America. To Washington's chagrin, as the Terror heats up in France, the Whiskey Rebels in Pennsylvania carry mock guillotines, shoot up likenesses of George Washington, and threaten to march on Philadelphia. Washington frantically assembles a force larger than used at Yorktown.
The excecution of King Louis XVI
1795 Catherine's armies carve up the ancient kingdom of Poland, where the rebellion was led by a hero of the American revolution, Thaddeus Kosiusko, sending a dire signal to the infant American Republic about the perils of military weakness.
1797-98 As Napoleon's armies ominously devour Europe "leaf by leaf," president John Adams fears the young republic will be invaded next. With war fever gripping the country, the administration harshly represses civil liberties.
1800 In the most contested election in U.S. history, military forces are mobilized and the nation again hangs on the precipice of civil war. But unlike in France and Russia, America manages an unprecedented first--a peaceful transfer of power between antagonists, making Thomas Jefferson America's third president.
Empress Catherine the Great

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The years 1788 to 1800 must be numbered among the most tumultuous in history, as bestselling author Winik (April 1865) magnificently demonstrates in this aptly titled book. The nascent United States, tormented by three rebellions of its own, tottered as France descended into bloody terror and imperial Russia fought the Ottomans. Republicanism, liberalism, democracy, nationalism, as well as authoritarianism: all these potent ideologies, whose effects remain with us, sprouted from this fertile soil.The emphasis on Russian and French affairs marks Winik as being in the forefront of a growing campaign to globalize America's national history: to view the larger age and frame the story as one continuous, interlocking narrative rather than to focus myopically on events in the United States. The world then was far more interconnected than we realize, Winik writes. [G]reat nations and leaders were acutely conscious of one another.In this version, Washington, Jefferson and Adams no longer receive exclusive star billing, but instead share the stage with such greats as the Empress Catherine, the doomed Louis XVI, Robespierre, Napoleon and Kosciuszko. If there is a criticism to be made of this approach, it is that Winik has greatly underplayed the importance of Britain in the struggle for global mastery and the quest for international order.Buttressed by impeccable research, vividly narrated and deftly organized, this is popular history of the highest order and is sure to create a stir in the fall market. 16 pages of b&w photos, 3 maps. (Sept. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006008314X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060083144
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jay Winik, one of the nation's leading historians, is renowned for his gifted and creative approaches to history. He is the author of The New York Times and #1 bestseller April 1865 (2001), which received wide international acclaim and became an award-wining documentary on the History Channel, watched by 50 million viewers.

His new book, much awaited, is 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History, to be published by Simon & Schuster in September 2015.

In April 2003, "April 1865" premiered as a critically acclaimed and Emmy award-nominated two hour feature documentary special on the History Channel, with a special preview at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Profiled on the cover of Washington Post TV Guide, the award winning special has been watched by some 50 million people. Winik is also a regular contributor for history to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on October 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a history of the last 12 years of the 18th century, which, according to historian Jay Winik, was a period which set the world firmly on the path of human rights, human equality, freedom, and representative government. Beginning in fits and starts with the American Revolution, it the moves east to France, and finally to Poland, which at the time was under Russian control. Of the three, the American Revolution was the most successful; the French Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the ancien regime and lasted for about a decade, but was eventually put down by Napoleon; and the liberal experiment in Poland was suppressed before it even got started by Catherine the Great.

We have long been aware of the kinship between the French and American Revolutions; both were born of Enlightenment ideas put into practice. Many of the main players - Jefferson, Lafayette, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin - participated on both sides of the Atlantic. What is new and novel about this work is that Winik shows how these two revolutions were more interconnected than previously thought, and how they were connected with the events in Poland and points east. The world that Winik describes is one in which people and ideas "freely crossed and recrossed borders." The beginnings of globalization, one might say.

In 1789 the American Constitution was ratified, although contentious at the time, it remains our founding and governing document to this day. It was a success by anyone's standards. As these events were unfolding, the European continent was looking on with bated breath. They were waiting to see if the masses would rise up and demand their rights as citizens. The French, during this same year, were storming the Bastille.
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72 of 79 people found the following review helpful By cruzan on September 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is riveting. Just as Jay Winik changed the way we see the end of the Civil War in April 1865, he's done it again for the Founding period in The Great Upheaval. America was never isolated from the rest of the world--from the moment of its birth it was enmeshed in events in Revolutionary France and far-off Russia. Winik exquisitely recreates this world--from the tortured in-fighting of our nation's founders, to the bloodshed of the French Terror, to Catherine the Great's Russian armies making (ultimately futile) war on Islam. Woven into these events is also a heart-breaking history of slavery and a fantastic look inside the heart of the Islamic Ottoman empire. I was engrossed by Winik's renditions of not just the Americans, like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams and their epic struggles to build a nation, but also his depictions of Catherine the Great--so vital to these times and so often ignored, as well as the Louis XVI and Marie Antionette, Napoleon, and Robespierre. Unike too many books, which are great only for the first 50 pages, this one builds with drama--the French Revolutionaries actually sought to start a rebellion on American soil and George Washington believed that America's envoys to France had been guillotined. But beyond the incredible story of holy war, revolution, and fierce rebellion inside the U.S., the lessons from this book stay with you: In Russia, imperial hubris drove flawed crusades against the Islamic world. In France, the political opposition guillotined their opponents. In America, George Washington learned to tolerate them--and taught others to do the same. This lesson of tolerance, of respecting divergent views, of balance and compromise in the face of the most bitter disputes is one the nation can desperately use again today. But these lessons can also give us hope. The Great Upheaval is a masterpiece, and it couldn't have arrived at a better time.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Great History Lover on September 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Jay Winik's newest book, The Great Upheaval, is better than his award-winning April 1860 only because the pleasure of reading it lasts so much longer at over 600 pages. This history of the last decade of the 18th century, which juxtaposes events taking place in the United States, France and Russia, will make many schools and universities rethink the way they teach American and modern European history.

In most learning institutions these subjects are treated in separate courses. Winik's thesis challenges that approach. He asserts, and then proves beyond doubt, that events in these three countries during this time had considerable effect on one another. He artfully explains how in a comprehensive work that obviates the need for three separate courses by alternating chapters that artfully picture for us those interrelations.

Benjamin Franklin knew everyone who was anyone in the period during the French Revolution. Catherine the Great had Voltaire and other philosophes in her pocket. Polish nobility played at a role approaching that of La Fayette in the American Revolution. The war between Islam and the Infideles was a hot, not a Cold War.

For anyone interested in any part of this historical period, this book is a must. And if your interest starts with only one of these three countries, I guarantee that you won't be skipping any chapters; you will quickly become a convert to Winik's position that you cannot understand events within your country of interest without understanding what was happening elsewhere.

For anyone who loves to read history when it is not dryly presented, you will be overwhelmed at the pleasure of reading this just for fun.
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