- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 2, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679736883
- ISBN-13: 978-0679736882
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 124 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Radicalism of the American Revolution Reprint Edition
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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 the MP3 CD edition.
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Wood's detail and period reference material was worth the price.
Wood's goals for this book are incredibly ambitious and the language he invokes is equally grandiose: "It was the Revolution, more than any other single event, that made America into the most liberal, democratic, and modern nation in the world" (7). But if one can bear a concise introduction that reads a bit like historical grand-standing, Wood uses three well-designed and equally convincing sections (monarchy, republicanism, and democracy) to legitimate his enormous claims.
The first section of the book presents an exhibition of how the British monarchical system permeated most aspects of colonial social life. A traditional patriarchal system of hierarchy tied each subject, in turn, to another through a common tie to the king, as the head (patriarch). The responsibility of patronage--"the lifeblood of monarchy"--by those in higher levels of the social structure, beginning with the king, kept the system of accepted (and expected) inequality intact and functioning. The colonial system of patriarchal patronage, in part because of distance from the king, was not quite as sound and solid as that of the English isle, and the loosening of the patriarchal bonds between subjects promoted a larger sense of independence. Wood's analysis here rings with notions of the American social transformation from Filmerian patriarchy to Lockean familial ties posited by Jay Fliegelman in Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority 1750-1800 (Cambridge Paperback Library). Accordingly, "by the middle of the eighteenth century so repugnant was the idea of dependency among free men in the English-speaking world, and so elusive and presumably mutual were these innumerable personal attachments, that only the term 'friendship' seemed universal and affective enough to describe them" (58).
The second section demonstrates the importance of social and political literature to the American transition from monarchy to republicanism. Drawing upon the influential analysis in the first third of Bernard Bailyn's The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,originally published in 1967, Wood credits the eighteenth-century British literature of social criticism as the dominant and pervasive literary influence on the republicanism of colonial leaders. Despite Bailyn's contention that the colonists did not thoroughly read and fully grasp (yet liberally cited) the classical republican writings of Cicero, Virgil, and others, Wood concludes that the colonial revolutionary leaders and future national leaders attempted to embody and live out classical republican values as they understood them. The strain of trying to revive Roman republican values in a nascent North American nation eventually led to dissent, disappointment, and disillusionment of those who dedicated so much to the revolutionary endeavor.
One of the more important aspects of the book is its understanding that eighteenth-century American equality "did not mean that everyone was in fact the same, but only that ordinary people were closer in wealth and property to those above them and felt freer from aristocratic patronage and control than did common people elsewhere in the Western world" (171). Virtuous gentlemen "free from dependence and from petty interests of the marketplace" and educated in the liberal arts were supposed to lead the ordinary people in the establishment a modern republic free of corruption (104). Ordinary individuals could not sustain republican virtue and guard it against corruption because they were not free as long as they depended on the marketplace to prosper. This Roman model of republicanism, however, was untenable in eighteenth-century America. Though the American colonies possessed a few rich and many poor, even fewer among the rich could serve the new nation without worries of continuing to manage their personal wealth. Therefore, after 1776, propertied men, merchants, and farmers were elected and served side-by-side in state legislatures.
The most arresting part of the book, the third section, explores how the dream of revolutionary leaders for an American republic secured by the disinterested actions of elite gentlemen gave way to a democratic system and society they never imagined. Despite a valiant effort by proponents of a national constitution in the 1780s to create a central government structure to balance competing interests, "so much did private interests come to pervade the halls of Congress and the corridors of the various statehouses that many Americans found it harder and harder to conceive of disinterested leadership anywhere in the society" (267). So strange did the post-revolutionary, constitutional United States seem to some of the revolutionary leaders that many concluded, like Alexander Hamilton, that "this American world was not made for me" (367).
The Radicalism of the American Revolution is breathtaking in its scope and magisterial in its writing. For scholars, undergraduates, and general readers, it is a page-turner. Wood mounts an impressive intellectual arsenal of primary source evidence that corroborates and confronts the major historical works of the past half-century. In one book, Wood sensitively introduces readers to major arguments within the historical discipline and then leads them with prowess and passion to his point of view. The author's sparse (and I mean sparse) treatment of women, African slaves, and Native Americans are valid sources for complaint and criticism in a work of such caliber. But it is, indeed, the sheer caliber of Wood's work that will afford him some level of absolution by all but the staunchest of cultural historians.
Yet within two generations these expectations were in tatters. Evangelical religion was rampant, traditional elites were shunted aside (except in the South), and the government had been taken over by interest groups and political parties. Even worse, the culture had become thoroughly commecialized and "ungentle": ordinary American slobs were mad to work hard and amass wealth. Gentlemen deists like Thomas Jefferson were appalled by upstarts such as Andrew Jackson and never really understood what happened to their dreams for the future.
"The Radicalism of the American Revolution" tells the story of this epochal transformation. It's already a classic text: the writing is fluent, the learning is deep, and the argument is convincing. Few books move so seamlessly back and forth between high intellectual history and the nuts and bolts of ordinary life. That said, the author sometimes seems too bent on proving his theory, leading him to downplay nuances or take note of exceptions to his sweeping generalizations. But with that cavil aside, there's no denying the book's greatness.
A book like this gives one a better perspective of text book accounts or even historical novels.