- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (Aug. 25 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780807050071
- ISBN-13: 978-0807050071
- ASIN: 0807050075
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.3 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 662 g
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,596,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic Paperback – Aug 25 2001
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"For most readers the tale told here will be completely new. For those already well acquainted with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the image of that age which they have been so carefully taught and cultivated will be profoundly challenged." -David Montgomery, author of Citizen Worker "A landmark in the development of an Atlantic perspective on early American history. Ranging from Europe to Africa to the Caribbean and North America, it makes us think in new ways about the role of working people in the making of the modern world." -Eric Foner, author of The Story of American Freedom "What would the world look like had the levelers, the diggers, the ranters, the slaves, the castaways, the Maroons, the Gypsies, the Indians, the Amazons, the Anabaptists, the pirates . . . won? Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker show us what could have been by exhuming the revolutionary dreams and rebellious actions of the first modern proletariat, whose stories~until now~were lost at sea. They have recovered a sunken treasure chest of history and historical possibility and spun these lost gems into a swashbuckling narrative full of labor, love, imagination, and startling beauty." -Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Yo' Mama's Disfunktional! "The Many-Headed Hydra is about connections others have denied, ignored, or underemployed. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europe, Africa, and the Americas came together to create a new economy and a new class of working people. Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker tell their story with deep sympathy and profound insight. . . . A work of restoration and celebration of a world too long hidden from view." -Ira Berlin, author of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America "More than just a vivid illustration of the gains involved in thinking beyond the boundaries between nation-states. Here, in incendiary form, are essential elements for a people's history of our dynamic, transcultural present." -Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic "This is a marvelous book. Linebaugh and Rediker have done an extraordinary job of research into buried episodes and forgotten writings to recapture, with eloquence and literary flair, the lost history of resistance to capitalist conquest on both sides of the Atlantic." -Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States
About the Author
Peter Linebaugh, professor of history at the University of Toledo, is a contributing editor of Albion's Fatal Tree and author of The London Hanged.See all Product description
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The book's title comes from the legend of Hercules attempting to slay the hydra; whenever he cut one of the heads off the fearsome beast, two would grow in its place. The use of the story from the seventeenth century on was not just a boast of knowledge of the classics or a mere rhetorical ornament. The hydra, over and over again, stood for the mob, dispossessed commoners, religious radicals, pirates, sailors, slaves and more. Essentially, in religious and political harangues, the many heads of the hydra stood for all the unseemly factions that were standing in the way of those with possessions to get more possessions. As the book shows, mentioning decapitation of the hydra was in many cases not a figure of speech, but was a call to actual capital punishment, or simple murder. The main subjects of the book (and the authors write many of them up as heroes) are the often obscure sailors, slaves, and women who were caught up in the eighteenth century's enthusiasm for revolution and liberty. There were several engines that drove the protest. The claiming of the common land as personal property of those with wealth meant that (as was written in 1655) "the wealthy men would devour the poorer sort of people... and rich men, to make room for themselves, would jostle the poor people out of their commons." The indentures of workers sent to the colonies were often little better than slavery. Sailors were impressed into the Navy against their wills. By these means the elite strove to maintain political and economic power, and they were horrified whenever the hydra showed any protest.
The authors are professors of history who have both written about the eighteenth century, and here they have dug into books, diaries, and pamphlets of the period to look at the view of ordinary people. It is a dense book, a serious study lightened by biographical sketches and moving portrayals of men and women persecuted for damning tyranny and advocating liberty. There are accounts of rebellions large and small, of slave uprisings all over the New World, of sailors who mutinied against oppressive captains, and of pirates who, surprisingly, ran humane and democratic ships in opposition to the elite. What if all the dispossessed had won and something more egalitarian than capitalism as we know it had become the main operating system for the world? I suppose we would still have dispossessed of other categories, and we'd always have the poor around us. But the book shows that history as it happened was not what had to happen, and the global economy of centuries ago casts light on the troublesome global economy of our own time.
As the subtitle makes clear, this is mainly a history of sailors, slaves, and common people who are often ignored or downplayed in history books. The authors contend that these were the men and women mainly responsible for the rebellins and revolts and wars for independence fought in the Atlantic world from 1600 to 1800. In this book, the poeple who actually led the struggle, such as Crispus Attucks in the Boston Massacre, take center stage. The so-called leaders, from Cromwell to Jefferson, end up with supporting roles and sometimes even play the antagonists' part.
Although the authors write in a lively, engaging manner, some general readers may find the going tough at some points. Both of the authors are history professors, and they clearly feel strongly about what they've written. They don't use lots of specialized historical terms, but they do use many words specific to the periods they are considering. I think they could've helped a lot by including a glossary of some expressions hard to find without an unabridged dictionary. (There's only so much that one can guess from context.)
Also, general readers should approach this book as they would a good novel. For example, sometimes the authors mention people almost out of the blue, as if they'd already been introduced. In fact, they are participants from upcoming chapters. In short, some readers will need to give the authors a little leeway to tell their story, as we would in a novel.
Unlike a novel, this story is complete with many "endnotes" and excellent illustrations covering all the periods they looked at. The book also has a helpful index, but there's no one single list of books and articles. Readers who want to learn more about a particular person or topic will have to follow the trail of notes to the first time a work is cited.
Since this is a book about the Atlantic world, I was a little disappointed to find only one map, a map from 1699, and it's on the very last page before the notes (p. 354). I would've put it earlier, near the start, and I would've added a more modern map of the region for those readers not familiar with the old names.
All in all, the shortcomings are few and the strengths many in this well-written book about the origns of our modern world. (I haven't read as passionate and engaging a history since C.L.R. James's _The Black Jacobins_, Vantage Press, 1989.)
This kind of book may turn our world upside down, but it's about time we saw it from a different perspective.
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