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The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Penguin History) Paperback – December 4, 1984

4.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Christopher Hill is the former Modern History Fellow and Tutor and Master of Balliol College, Oxford. His many award-winning books include The World Turned Upside Down and The English Bible and the 17th Century Revolution.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin History
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (December 4, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140137327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140137323
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There were two revolutions in mid-seventeenth century Britain, Christopher Hill writes in the introduction to The World Turned Upside Down. One was the successful Glorious Revolution that established the constitutional monarchy and secured the rights of property. The other was "the revolution that never happened;" one that threatened to create a political and economic democracy that would have turned Britain on its head.

The World Turned Upside Down documents the second revolution and the ideas and ideologies of the English radicals who sought to redefine freedom, faith and property, "the revolt within the Revolution" and the fascinating flood of radical ideas which it threw up." (13). Though he focuses on what he concedes could be characterized as the "lunatic fringe" of the English revolution, Hill argues that their ideas reflected a widespread popular challenge to power, class and authority in the 1640s and 1650s whose study permits "a deeper insight into English society than the evidence permits either before 1640 or after 1660." (15)

The English Civil War was not merely a struggle between Parliament and the Crown - the "first revolution" - it also unleashed the forces of class antagonisms that had been simmering in the wake of a breakdown of the feudal economy and society in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. A growing population of "masterless men" had begun to undermine the traditional bonds of "loyalty and dependence between lord and man" (32), incubating subversive ideas in the towns, forests and, above all in the parliamentary New Model Army and growing religious sectaries.
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Format: Paperback
Hill's book taught me an ironical lesson. I've been smugly complaisant about a country I long viewed as smugly complaisant. What I knew of England's history before Hill's work, I learned from the usual unreliable sources: school textbooks, TV, PBS, "thin red line" movies, Churchill's rodomontade, etc. In short, like other Americans, my image of a distant people was molded by all the approved sources of official fact, acceptable stereotype, and general misinformation. The result - the English are a highly dutiful people who dearly love their Queen mum, are respectably unimaginative and hardworking, make good detectives, but most of all, obediently march off to war in the name of the king, the East India Company, The Empire, NATO, or any other patriotic banner that keeps the rabble in line. That is, an orderly society on which to pattern an orderly profit-yielding planet.
Thanks to Hill, I now count Gerrard Winstanley as one of my personal heroes. Because I now know that for one brief, shining period of English history, the spirit of that man and others like him stormed the heavens, smashed the idols, and brought forth the vision of a better society. One that can join with the best of other national inheritances. (There were even disreputable rumors that women might be capable human beings.) It's almost exciting to follow the heroic efforts of the Diggers, Ranters, Levelers, and other assorted itinerants, visionaries, and Biblical scholars, all trying to throw off the oppressive weight of God, King, and the Rising Professional Class. They failed. But England and the rest of us are surely the worse for it. This is hidden history at its best, a magnifying glass held to the beliefs and thoughts of people whose beliefs and thoughts are usually passed over in the grand sweep of events.
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Format: Paperback
For those who think that anti-establishmentarianism started with Woodstock or the Punk scene this book is a must read. Christopher Hill shows the roots of the modern left and the populist movement going back to the English Revolution of the 1600's. He shows a variety of different groups that rocked the status of the era, including movements for land reform and quite radical notions about religion.
If you want to understand American history, this book is a must read because many of these movements could be seen later in the American Revolutionary war. It may also surprise many that the friendly face you see on a box of Quaker Oats has more in common with counter-culture rather than corporate culture.
Hill sticks to his theme and writes well. While filled with footnotes, this book was very easy on the eye. In addition he manages to show how these movements change over time. Never a dull page here!
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Format: Paperback
In a culmination of a long period of challenges to royal prerogatives, Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army overthrew the royal government. His foot soldiers, if you will, included some of the most original, radical and exuberant political thinkers in Western history. For a brief moment the king was gone and radical leaders like John Lilburne and Gerrard Winstanley and their ideas held sway, although Cromwell and the gentry were shortly able to reassert control (before eventually losing power in the English reformation). Cromwell considered the radicals "a despicable and contemptible generation of men."

Hill's book tells the marvelously exciting stories of the Ranters and Seekers, Levellers and True Levellers (or Diggers), and the Quakers. Diggers, so called because they cultivated land they held in common in communes, were the most radical strain. They vied with the Levellers, who "merely" supported the universal right of every male head of household to vote for parliament. These events scared to death the usual powers-that-be. Thomas Hobbes' wrote the Leviathan in reaction against the chaos, as he saw it, of the English Civil War.

In summarizing the impact of the radicals' ideas, Hill quotes their enemy Clement Walker that they had "cast all the secrets and mysteries of government...before the vulgar (like pearls before swine)...[and] made the people thereby so curious and so arrogant that they will never find humility enough to submit to a civil rule."

Hill states, "For a short time, ordinary people were freer from the authority of church and social superiors than they had ever been before, or were for a long time to be again." Hill's excellent book tells the story of how such an event came to be and how the lords and gentry regained power and smashed the radicals.

A must read for anyone interested in the history of political ideas or English history.
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