The Radicalism of the American Revolution Paperback – Mar 2 1993
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
THIS BOOK WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT> It used mostly secondary sources, which were eclectically selected, and ignored all of the secondary literature about women in the Revolution,... Read morePublished on May 19 2003 by Paerau McQuark
The Radicalism of the American Revolution written by Gordon S. Wood is a powerful book that explains how a revolution transformed Colonial American society and events leading upto... Read morePublished on Aug. 13 2002 by Khemprof
Gordon Wood attempts to show that despite the fairly recent historical trend by progressive and neo-progressive historians to label the American Revolution as merely a conservative... Read morePublished on June 9 2002
Gordon S. Wood - refuting earlier historiographies - argues that the American Revolution represented a truly radical movement. Read morePublished on March 5 2002 by Z. Weir
Anyone sitting down to read this book should know that Gordon Wood is a socialist historian who views events through the lense of class conflict. Read morePublished on Feb. 17 2002
Since its publication in the early 1990s, this text by Gordon Wood has faced mix reviews. Some are overly positive, some deceptively negative. Read morePublished on Sept. 29 2001 by Art History Professor
Wood in this book set forth a new and fresh view of the American Revolution. He in no unsimple terms challenges American's View of the Founding Fathers. Read morePublished on Aug. 8 2001
Radical speech and radical action are two different things. This book focuses on the radical speech and proposals of the revolutionary leaders, but doesn't show the inconsistency... Read morePublished on July 26 2001