- Series: American Century
- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: Hill & Wang; Third Printing edition (July 1985)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0809001624
- ISBN-13: 978-0809001620
- Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,133,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The American Revolution (American Century) Third Printing Edition
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"A balanced view of how the Revolution was made by a variety of social groups-ordinary farmers and artisans as well as merchants and lawyers, women as well as men, blacks as well as whites-and how, in turn, these groups were transformed by the Revolutionary experience." -- Gary B. Nash, University of California at Los Angeles
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Countryman strikes a balance here that is a rare achievement in academic works. He writes about things, but doesn’t go into deep detail. He skims through things, but in a way that gives the reader enough information for them to understand what was going on, but not deep enough that they have no need of other information. In fact, he is instead prodding the reader to think about things which in akin to problem-solving teaching methods. He makes it clear that the Revolution was not a simplistic rebellion against Great Britain, but instead a messy and extremely complicated affair which resulted in massive change in spite of the people that resisted change.
The ultimate paradox of the Revolution was that while it was originally meant to prevent change from taking place, it quickly took on a life of its own leaving nothing unaffected by its sheer existence. Something unknown in the world at that time was unbottled by those revolutionaries and it has never been put back in the bottle despite many attempts to do so. In this revised edition, he references Gordon Wood several times which shows the impact Wood’s Pulitzer Prize winning work, Radicalism of the American Revolution and the work Wood and Bernard Bailyn did with the political pamphlets of the period had on Countryman.
Rather than give us a Great Man version of the Revolution, Countryman explains how the people were the ones that began it before the men known as Founders began to be involved. He explains how many of them were opposed to it at first, but later became enthusiastic participants while at the same time some who were actively involved in early events could not bring themselves to break their connections with Great Britain. I also was interested to see him explain how the Revolution was definitely not a conservative event, but rather an extremely liberal one. He does explain how the Constitution can be seen as a conservative reaction to the excesses of democracy which is something that most historians agree with. Yet, as they also note, that was in itself a liberal event compared to previous governments.
All in all this is an outstanding book. I would have no problem assigning it in my classes, especially my survey course. I actually think it is a better work covering three chapters than many other books and would be a great supplement to the textbooks and documents I have my students looking at now. I give it four stars and if I could give in 4.5 I would.
Edward Countryman is currently a University Distinguished Professor at Southern Methodist University and has written extensively about 18th century America and awarded the Bancroft Prize in 1982 for The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760-1790. At the time of publishing, very few works on the social aspects of the American Revolution had been seen and Countryman has contributed a substantial amount to this subfield of United States history.
Countryman brings his concepts together in this work, skipping over the details of bloody battles and tells the stories of the men that fought them. Exploring rural and urban communities, socially, very little is not covered. Mob mentality is explained fully and how it affected 18th century legislation and public opinion. He makes claims that, with the help of individuals like Thomas Paine and his work Common Sense, the mob is actually what shifted public opinion to support organizations such as the Sons of Liberty and eventually the Continental Congress and military campaigns. The American Revolution is written in an easy to follow, chronological manner geared to academia and greater readership offering both detailed statistical information and class analysis.
In previous works, the successful founding of the United States has typically been credited to the founders. Countryman does offer credit here, especially to Thomas Jefferson, but relies heavily on crediting other, much lesser known names and provide a much more balanced view of how American life, identity, and culture transformed from that of its British brothers and sisters. He also raises questions and is critical of what the framers of the Constitution had to personally gain, sharing the ideas of progressive American historian Charles A. Beard in that the Constitution marked not much more than a triumph for men who were on their way to wealth at other men's expense.
In works such as this, it is difficult to be critical. However, in a time when slavery and Indian relationships with both Colonial and British armies had a huge impact on social life in America, Countryman's work concerning this leaves some to be desired. Although books and articles have been written on specific geographical areas, Countryman strives to cover all areas east of the Appalachians. New England and the middle states receive the majority of the attention in The American Revolution, leaving the southern states out in most instances, even when nothing but statistics are shown.
In this comprehensive work, the author offers a fresh look into previous publications in comparisons to each other with a fresh analyzation of the establishment of America. To speak of the Revolution in terms of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson is to understand the work of heros. Countryman's The American Revolution is a well documented, vivd narrative that proves it was far more than that.