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1789: The Threshold of the Modern Age First Edition Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374100131
ISBN-10: 0374100136
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Guiding readers on a journey across the three interlocked powers of the late 18th century—France, Britain and the new United States—historian Andress (The Terror) regales with stories of such leaders as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, who stoked the flames of revolution, and Edmund Burke, who tried to extinguish the blaze. Looking at the social, economic, political and imperial factors coming together in 1789, Andress weighs the ironies of that revolutionary moment: the Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man both appeared in that year, but Andress points out the familiar truth that the freedoms proclaimed by these documents were often compromised by the very governments that trumpeted them. A new language had emerged to confront those holding power, but that language too often licensed aggression against slaves, women and others seen as not subject to guarantees of liberty. Although Andress pedantically covers much familiar ground, he reminds us that the struggle between individual rights and oppressive social systems might have begun in 1789, but it is still with us today. Illus., maps. (Mar. 10)
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From Booklist

Author of The Terror (2006), a popular history about the most radical phase of the French Revolution, Andress is more ambitious in this prequel. Setting events in France alongside contemporaneous politics in Britain and the U.S., Andress tests how Enlightenment ideals of liberties and rights met with the ancien régime of traditional privileges. In all three countries, this contest was made more acute by a common problem they faced: heavy debt incurred by the American War of Independence. Whose ox would be gored to pay it stressed existing political institutions to the limit and agitated both elite and popular grievances against existing states of affairs. Andress evokes the anxious atmosphere of the 1780s, while his presentation of schemes offered to master the financial crises illustrates an Atlantic world on its way toward constitutional democracy. With in-depth narrative and analysis about 1789’s events surrounding the new government of the U.S.; the Estates-General in France; and Parliament in Britain, Andress will intrigue readers piqued by this crucial year in history. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374100136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374100131
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,167,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark Mellon on June 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Reams of prose, both fiction and non-, have been written about the revolutionary events that commenced with 1789. David Andress, a noted historian who has already contributed to the scholarship on that period with his work, The Terror, takes a new slant on this age of upheaval by taking a synoptic view of events as they contemporaneously occurred in the United States, Great Britain, and France.

Despite this fairly novel approach, most of the personalities, situations, and anecdotes which Andress relates will be familiar to students of the period. His approach does pay dividends when he focuses on subjects such as how the American experience with creating a constitution influenced and changed French efforts to do the same for their own country. His synthesis of events works particularly well in his discussion of the growth and evolution of the cotton industry, vividly illustrating how the nascent Industrial Revolution was given impetus.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the French Revolution or in 18th century history in general.
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Format: Hardcover
1789 was a monumental year in history. In this new and soberly written work the British scholar David Andress explores in depth the developments of that year. We learn from these pages that:
France was in the throes of the beginning of the French Revolution with the attack on the Bastille in July, 1789. Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their hedonistic court were reactionary and oppposed to any changes in the ancien regime. Attempts by finance wizards such as Necker were unable to staunch the bloody mortal wounds inflicted on the Gallic body politic. France was ravaged by poor crops, a harsh winter, starvation and rural unrest among the peasantry. Taxes were high as France became bankrupt following participation in the American Revolution and loss in the Seven Years War (1756-63). Works of such men as Voltaire, Mireabeau and Thomas Paine called for radical change in the government. The Church was corrupt. The meetings of the Estates General in the spring and summer which had not met since 1614 saw the emergence of the third estate of middle class persons eager to bring down the aristocracy. France would later execute the King and be forced into European warfare against defenders of the divine right of Kings. Napoleon would emerge to lead the land to total defeat at Waterloo and a return to monarchy in 1815.A huge slave revolt in Hati was defeated but caused widespread alarm at natives who dared to rise up to defy their imperial masters.
Great Britain was reeling from defeat inflicted in the American Revolution. King George III went mad for a time leading to parliamentary jousting between Whigs under Charles Jame Fox who favored a regency for George IV and defenders of the king.
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Format: Paperback
I liked this book a lot; it is one that will stay with me. The basic idea of plotting the histories of three great nations, showing their interactions with one another and their effect on one another as they each pursue their own peculiar destinies and identities, and exert their own influence on the world at large -- it is like one of the grand unified field theories pursued by scientists.

During the reading of the book I thought I would likely give 4 stars only. An entertaining read on various bits and pieces of history and historical characters -- Benjamin Franklin's only son was a Loyalist(!) Joseph Priestley not only elucidated the properties of oxygen, he was also a political radical inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. His lab was burned, he was burned in effigy and ended by becoming a political refugee in the fledgling American republic. The full story behind the mutiny on the 'Bounty' involved an eminent British scientist at the other end of the political spectrum. The very act of formulating grievances and choosing representative deputies to the Estates-General summoned by the king mobilized revolutionary opinion and events in the French provinces.

"An entertaining read but lacking coherence" was my take on the book until I got to the concluding chapter. That I read twice, parts of it three times. The conclusion is where Andress imposes his own ideas on history and politics.
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Format: Hardcover
I never took much history during high school or college, yet have always had a interest in how ideas have interacted with events. This book weaves many threads across the three countries that are features with as much clarity as is possible given the inherent complexity.

We look at Tom Payne from his promotion of our own Constitution, to his supporting the early stages in France, before he fully understood the cost in chaos and suffering that was being unleashed. Andress brings in the differing cultural and historical events of both European powers, with their long tradition of feudal castes, absolute power in France and limited power in England.

There are several vignettes such as the experience of French Saint Dominque, as the Jocobin ideals of liberty were translated into a society with the vast majority enslaved. At first the free subgroups, colored, white aristocrats and bourgeois ignored the black slaves assuming they would just be appendages to the post revolution culture, only to find out that the spirit of freedom was contagious, and was to depose them all.

We also have the interesting story of Edumnd Burke, whose book "Reflections on the French Revolution" I read many decades ago, shocked by his position which was antithetical to the praise of Fraternity, Egality and Liberty that I had expected. He was a royalist, and made the argument that once you have killed the king, there is no stopping destroying all authority. Needless to say, he was not of that Zeitgeist, and paid for it in social ostracism.

Yet, when we look at the failures, the conflict that is inherent in democratic political systems, and see how in most countries of the world it takes centuries to take hold, if it ever does, we have to at least appreciate his point.
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