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1688: The First Modern Revolution (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History) Hardcover – September 29, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"[A]n important, fresh, and imaginative work of scholarship. . . . It will have recast the origins of modern England as well as the history of the revolution of 1688."—Bernard Bailyn, New York Review of Books
(Bernard Bailyn New York Review of Books)

“Mr. Pincus’s cogently argued account of what really happened during England’s revolution destroys many comforting notions that have prevailed for more than 200 years…. It leaves the reader with something much more exciting: a new understanding of the origins of the modern, liberal state.”--Economist

(Economist 2009-10-17)

"Utterly extraordinary."—Don Herzog, University of Michigan
(Don Herzog)

“We all know that the year 1688 is a milestone in England's history; now, thanks to Steve Pincus, the book 1688 will be a milestone in its historiography.  Pincus transforms what once seemed a peaceful compromise among agreeable aristocrats into a fractious and all-encompassing crisis, the ‘first modern revolution.’ Provocative, erudite, and accessible, 1688 is a must read for anyone interested in seventeenth-century Europe and its possessions.”—Cynthia Herrup, University of Southern California
(Cynthia Herrup)

"In this remarkable work of scholarship, vast in scope and profound in its implications, Pincus challenges Macaulay and the orthodox view that the Glorious Revolution was moderate, peaceful, and conservative, and reveals a violent transformational event that revolutionized England's state, church, and political economy, and introduced political modernity."—Bernard Bailyn, Harvard University
(Bernard Bailyn)

"A radical interpretation of a radical revolution.  Steve Pincus's brilliantly researched account of the extraordinary events of the 1680s and 1690s mounts an insuperable challenge to the comfortable view that the Glorious Revolution was another instance of British consensus politics, pragmatism, and common sense.  1688 recaptures the revolutionary nature of the Glorious Revolution and its far-reaching and interconnected conflicts over foreign policy, political economy, religion, and the nature of the modern state."—John Brewer, California Institute of Technology
(John Brewer)

“A magnificent, fully documented, very well written study of how the first thorough-going modern revolution was achieved with effort and against substantial obstacles over several years.  It was bloody and popular, not merely a palace coup achieved with little loss of life, as is commonly held.  Taking a broader chronological view and considering more aspects of society than previous historians, Pincus convincingly shows how England had become a commercial society by the 1680s, and the race was on to harness new wealth—a race between the absolutist modernizing vision of James II and the more tolerant and liberty-minded vision of his opponents.  What emerged was the first modern state, with independent financial institutions and a strong sense of national and civil, as opposed to confessional, interest.  The triumph of William III and his supporters was a conscious re-ordering of the place of the three kingdoms on the European and world stage.  Pincus's commitment to vigorous argument (in which he overturns many received views; his definition of revolution itself is bracingly refreshing) makes this book exciting reading, and will raise fascinated interest in the late 17th-century for many years to come.  For anyone interested in modern liberal society, its origins, and why it is worth defending, this book is indispensable.”—Nigel Smith, Princeton University
(Nigel Smith)

Bronze Medal winner for the 2010 Independent Publishers Book Awards in the History Category
(Independent Publisher)

"Meticulously researched and deftly written" —Andrew Stuttaford, National Review
(Andrew Stuttaford National Review 2009-01-01)

Honorable Mention in the Non-Fiction category of the 2009 New England Book Festival sponsored by the Larimar St. Croix Writers Colony, The Hollywood Creative Directory; eDivvy, Shopanista and Westside Websites
(New England Book Festival 2009-12-01)

“One of the most ambitious works of history to appear in recent years--a radical reinterpretation of events that intends not merely to update and improve prior accounts but to vanquish them conclusively. The book is a marvel of scholarship.”--The National
(The National 2009-12-24)

undefined (Connecticut Book Award finalist Connecticut Center for the Book 2010-08-23)

"The grand aspirations of this book and the broad sweep of its claims will insure that it is taken seriously by scholars working on the Glorious Revolution for years to come...It will stand out as the opening salvo in a series of historical batkes that wukk light up 1688 in newly vibrant tones."--Paul Monod, Journal of Church History (Paul Monod Journal of Church History)

Winner of the 2010 Morris D. Forkosch Prize given by the American Historical Association
(Morris D. Forkosch Prize American Historical Association (AHA) 2010-11-08)

Named a Top 10 Book of 2010--Wilson Quarterly
(Wilson Quarterly)

"A significant contribution to the scholarship of the period. . . . Pincus develops his analysis through lively writing informed by extensive primary-source research. . . . There is much to be said for Pincus's approach, blending economic and political theory together with seemingly effortless ease in a well-written and highly readable account...In the end, there is every reason to think that his analysis of the events of late-seventeenth-century England will, for want of a better term, revolutionize our understanding of the period."—Scott Hendrix, Canadian Journal of History
(Scott Hendrix Canadian Journal of History)

About the Author

Steve Pincus is professor of history at Yale University. He is the author of Protestantism and Patriotism and England's Glorious Revolution. He lives in New Haven, CT.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History
  • Hardcover: 664 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300115474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300115475
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,126,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger Berlind on January 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Previous readers have all shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of this important book by Steve Pincus. While the author has clearly done very significant research on England's Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, his book will not appeal to casual readers who primarily want to know what happened and why the Glorious Revolution was important.

The problem is that Pincus is overly focused on showing that the Glorious Revolution was actually a modern revolution and on comparing his interpretation with interpretations of other historians. Instead of providing a linear narrative of the events, he summarizes what makes some revolutions modern and then demonstrates that the Glorious Revolution meets all the criteria. Unfortunately, this leads Pincus to jump around a lot within the overall chronology. For historians interested in the period, this probably won't matter; they will find the book rich in analysis and very thought-provoking. I would not be surprised to see Pincus win awards for his book based on the quality of his scholarship. I found his arguments generally persuasive and can see his interpretation eventually becoming the mainstream interpretation. If that occurs, he will have certainly met his main goal in researching and writing the book.

Given the author's focus on justifying his interpretation of the Glorious Revolution, it is not surprising that he fails to paint full portraits of the main actors. While he does give a good sense of what James II was all about, he does not give any insight on why William III was willing to risk invading Great Britain when he was already the ruler of the Netherlands. The same is true of the bit players; Pincus is really only interested in quoting them to support his argument.
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There are easy subjects, hard subjects, very hard subjects, and those precious few subjects that center around the question, "How did we become Modern"? In this last group, the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 is a particularly tough one to get right, and Pincus succeeds both with the strength of his argument and the clarity (and ease) of his writing. He manages to explain what the old "Whig history" of Macaulay gets right, while also making clear what it gets wrong. The same goes for the more recent revisionist history, where he manages to pick out the very few grains of the revisionist critique that are correct. More than that, he paints a new picture of the events of 1685-1689 that are more vivid, richer, and more plausible than either of these views--this picture partly draws on the largely lost "Radical Whig" narrative, and partly on Pincus' own reading and assembly of the current evidence about the Revolution. In addition to simply being the best, most complete telling of the story of this period that I've read, there are three strengths and one weakness that are worth highlighting, I think:

Strength 1. What stands out in this book is Pincus' new theory of revolutions. Instead of seeing revolutions as a revolt of the new against the old, he argues that the *first* step is that the ruling regime *breaks* with the past to offer a new vision of a modernized state we can call "Model A". That is, the entrenched power structure begins a program of modernization on Model A. A revolution is the result of a new group, who have a different ideal for a modernized state, which we can call Model B, rising up against Model A, not the old traditional ways.
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A superb history of one of the foundation events upon which the modern Western/liberal state was built.

Professor Pincus brings broad and deep scholarship to this book, which, in turn, provides impressive value to the serious reader.

If you want to learn more about why the English turned away from James II and his style of modernization (focused on the French model) and the effects of this revolution on foreign relations, military (blue water navy or a standing army?), economics (land vs. manufacturing as the source of a country's wealth), religion (tolerant?), read this book.

It is not focused on personalities: you will not learn much about William and Mary, for example. However, this book is a remarkable synthesis of various strands of historical thought on what many heretofore have viewed as almost a peaceful, conservative non-event.

Professor Pinucus hammers his firmly held opinions home repeatedly, backed up by multiple citations. His views on the Glorious Revolution seem to this common reader to be sound and quite useful toward explaining not only 1688 England, but also much of the political, economic, and religious world of today.
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In 1688, James II of England fled the country and the following year his daughter, Mary, and son-in-law William of Orange were named Queen and King. In recent times, this "Glorious Revolution" has been portrayed as either a typically English sensible conservative movement to protect the ancient constitution or as a reaction to the increasing encouragement of Roman Catholicism by James. In either case, this was not a true modern revolution unlike e.g.the French or Russian ones. Steve Pincus, professor of history at Yale University sets out, and I believe convincingly, to overthrow this view and establish 1688-9 as "The First Modern Revolution".

Pincus argues it is wrong to assume that revolution is due to a failure of the existing regime to react to changing circumstances. He argues that, in fact, revolutions only occur when the regime attempts to modernize and is faced with competing ideas as to how to do that. He traces the steps that changed the popular mood from enthusiastic support of James in 1685 to one that forced him to flee in 1688. James II wished to develop a modern, centralized, absolutist monarchy modeled on that of Louis XIV, the"Sun King" of France. During this process he alienates not only the reforming Whigs but also many of the Tories (who fear the expanding power of Louis) and Catholics (who do not agree with his approach to Catholicism). Pincus examines the events of the revolution itself and shows how it was much more popular, violent and divisive then is often portrayed, with a significant minority remaining Jacobins, culminating in a foiled assassination and invasion plan in 1696. After William becomes king, Pincus argues convincingly that in foreign policy, the economy and the Church of England radical changes were made.
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