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The Radicalism of the American Revolution Paperback – Mar 2 1993


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 2nd Revised edition edition (March 2 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679736883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679736882
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #325,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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To appreciate the extent of change that took place in the Revolution, we have to re-create something of the old colonial society that was subsequently transformed. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

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By A Customer on June 13 2003
Format: Paperback
Wood depicts the changing early colonial setting very precisely; at first the society was structured around hierarchy and personal relationships that grew to an unrestrictive culture based on contact. Wood makes it clear in his chapter on patronage that the early colonies essentially had no other option than to operate on a personal relationship basis. With no paper currency and a small population, everyone kept "book accounts" of the debts they owed each other. "Such credits and debts... worked to tie local people together and to define and stabilize communal relationships" (p. 68). He does not immediately attribute this to the exponential growth of the New World at the time, which was a major cause for the change in the colonies and eventually forced the Revolution to occur.
But of course this was coming apart before the Revolution, simply as a result of population growth. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the colonists had accepted paper money (p. 141); they needed it because they had "expanded their inland trade" (p. 140) -- i.e., they were no longer just dealing with their neighbors. These developments, Wood even notes, "suggest the various ways in which ordinary people ... were becoming more independent and more free of traditional patron-client relationships" (p. 142). What Wood fails to convincingly express is if the American Revolution, the war and the restructuring of the government afterward, was either fought with the intentions of bringing about this societal change or at least a considerable catalyst in accelerating the change.
Wood clearly exaggerates the degree to which the colonies, just prior to the Revolution, were hierarchical and conservative cultures.
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Gordon Wood is perhaps the worst kind of historian: one that just hasn't had a new idea in some 30 years. He's been writing the same book under different headings and cute titles (i.e. "Radicalism"), yet there is nothing new here... except for a really shoddy (and wrong I might add) narrative of how the Revolution was so "radical." Yet when one reads this book you understand just about everything you need to know by a simple statement that, to paraphrase Wood, "What was so radical about the Revolution is that it made all white men equal." What is that exactly? Perhaps yet another old school historian, with the archaic, white male elitist view that tends to ignore say, African Americans, women, and Native Americans, and just about everyone BUT the white males. What you are left with is essentially an incorrect statement (i.e. The Revolution was radical), and a very, very, narrow look at what Wood thinks the Revolution was. I do think though that people should read this book to understand what the Rveolution was not, and go read someone else to understand what it was. The bottom line is that just because Wood's "Creation" some 30 years ago was a profound work and fresh at the time does not mean that they still "get it." Bernard Bailyn's work can attest to that...
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Gordon Wood covers much the same ground as did Bernard Bailyn did in "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution," but charts it in a more linear fashion. Wood illustrates how the American colonies emerged from a monarchical system into a Republic, and eventually into a Democratic society. The focus is on representation, beginning with the colonial assemblies. The American colonies had a legacy of representative institutions, which helped in forming the necessary consensus in order to achieve independence.
Throughout its revolutionary history, Americans felt they had a moral imperative for self-determination, dramatized by such events as the Boston Tea Party. The colonies took great pride in their assemblies, and in many ways felt they were the ultimate authority. If the Americans were anwerable to anyone it was the King, not the parliament, which increasingly exercised more control over the colonies, especially in the form of taxes to pay for the various services it provided the colonies, such as protection. Wood notes how agents, such as Benjamin Franklin, petitioned for the rights of the colonies in the parliament. When these petitions were no longer heard, the colonies chose to rebel.
What is intriguing about Wood's analysis, is the reluctance many Americans had about making a complete breach from England. Americans realized that their institutions were an outgrowth of English Republican ideas. It was a slow, evolving revolution, carrying these principles to their fullest realization. Never short of praise for themselves, the Americans thought they had succeeded where the British had failed in creating a truly representative government.
Wood offers an especially fine analysis of the events which shaped the American Revolution, and how it was a natural outgrowth of an increasingly dynamic society. The book is copiously annotated and well indexed. It is a book that you will refer to again and again.
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Wood's book is interesting and worth reading as social and economic history.
The question addressed is whether the American Revolution was "conservative" or "radical". Wood likes the word "radical" and says it a lot, but of course he isn't talking about Bolsheviks or anti-globalism protesters; he means old-style (Adam Smith) Liberals, or modern Libertarians.
And Wood paints an interesting and convincing picture of cultural change, from an early colonial society structured around hierarchy and personal relationships to freewheeling, atomistic culture arranging everything by contract. What he never does, unfortunately, is convincingly demonstrate that the American Revolution (the war, or the restructuring of the government under the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution) was either a) fought for the purpose of bringing about this societal change or b) a significant catalyst in accelerating the change.
1. Wood clearly exaggerates the degree to which the colonies, just prior to the Revolution, were hierarchical and conservative cultures.
Some of the evidence he adduces for hierarchy is silly: does the prevalence of Christian churches really indicate a hierarchy, even if they do preach Romans 13 (p. 18)? How about the existence of a hierarchical military (p. 20), or vagrancy legislation (p. 20)? What about the use of titles, like "Esq." (p.21)? We see all these phenomena today, of course -- so if they do indicate hierarchy and conservatism, they also indicate that we are still a hierarchical and conservative culture.
Frequently Wood presents evidence of great freedom and egalitarianism in the colonies, but then wills it away with an unsupported conclusion.
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