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The Radicalism of the American Revolution
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The Radicalism of the American Revolution [Paperback]

Gordon S. Wood (Author)
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

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.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 2, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679736883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679736882
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #5,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
    #17 in  Books > History > United States > Revolution & Founding

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Gordon S. Wood
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Inside This Book (learn more)
First Sentence:
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
Key Phrases - Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs): (learn more)
old monarchical society, traditional monarchical society, proprietary wealth, monarchical world, revolutionary state constitutions, revolutionary gentry, classical republican values, patrician order, classical republican tradition, patronage connections, white servitude, colonial gentry, great planters
Key Phrases - Capitalized Phrases (CAPs): (learn more)
New York, New England, John Adams, South Carolina, United States, Great Britain, Benjamin Franklin, New Jersey, Rhode Island, American Revolution, North Carolina, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Rush, George Washington, New Hampshire, James Wilson, Thomas Hutchinson, William Byrd, Charles Carroll, David Ramsay, Henry Laurens, House of Burgesses, North American, Adam Smith, Declaration of Independence
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Customer Reviews

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Average Customer Review
4.4 out of 5 stars (57 customer reviews)
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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stunning Analysis of the Intellectual Underpinnings of the American Revolution, November 9, 2005
By Roger D. Launius "Historian" (Washington, D.C., United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Radicalism of the American Revolution (Paperback)
I first read the work of Gordon Wood in graduate school a quarter century ago, especially his magnificent and massive 1972 book, "The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787." This study, "The Radicalism of the American Revolution," is essentially a continuation of that earlier work, probing the intellectual underpinnings of the era. It, too, is a magnificent work and fully deserving of the Pulitzer Prize that it received. While covering some of the same ground as Bernard Bailyn's "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution" (Harvard University Press, 1967), this book develops a more detailed, rigorous, and compelling portrait of a society transforming itself from one of feudal relationships to one predicated on republicanism, democracy, and market-driven capitalism.

At a fundamental level, Wood argues, the American Revolution was truly a radical episode in world history. He comments that "The republican revolution was the greatest utopian movement in American history. The revolutionaries aimed at nothing less than a reconstitution of American society. They hoped to destroy the bonds holding together the older monarchical society--kinship, patriarchy, and patronage--and to put in their place new social bonds of love, respect, and consent. They sought to construct a society and governments based on virtue and disinterested public leadership and to set in motion a moral government that would eventually be felt around the globe" (p. 229). They advocated ensuring equality as the first task of society; Wood calls this "the single most powerful and radical ideological force in all of American history" (p. 234). And all Americans, he argues, embraced the idea of equality as manifested in labor and accomplishment. He notes, "Perhaps nothing separated early-nineteenth-century Americans more from Europeans than their attitude toward labor and their egalitarian sense that everyone must participate in it" (p. 286).

Wood closes "The Radicalism of the American Revolution" with this, "No doubt the cost that America paid for this democracy was high--with its vulgarity, its materialism, its rootlessness, its anti-intellectualism. But there is no denying the wonder of it and the real earthly benefits it brought to the hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people. The American Revolution created this democracy, and we are living with its consequences still" (p. 269).

Above all, Wood argues that ideas and ideological issues matter in the context of American history. Self-interest is very real, but ideas and ideals serve as powerful motivations for actions. This is a stunningly significant book that must be read by all who seek to understand the origins of the United States.

60 of 64 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars A Prudent Revolution, December 2, 2002
This review is from: The Radicalism of the American Revolution (Paperback)
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.

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Radicalism, American Style, September 16, 2005
This review is from: The Radicalism of the American Revolution (Paperback)
Gordon Wood's "Radicalism of the American Revolution" is truly an eye opening and long overdue study of the true radical nature of the American Revolution. Wood shatters the myths perpetrated by the conservative "consensus" historians that the American Revolution was "conservative" and "mild".

Wood shows that America, even in colonial times, was quite different from the rest of the Western world of kings, nobles and priests. Sure, Americans were governed by a herediatary monarchy and it's sycophants and minions, but that rule was shaky at best. This shaky rule was further weakened by the lack of a nobility residing in the colonies. Yes, there was an aristocracy, but they were not nearly as powerful as in Europe.

Wood begins by laying out the foundations of the colonial governments and society. He points out that the American colonists were contentious, and sensitive to any infringments on their liberty. He also brings to light the beginnings of a market economy, which began to liberate Americans from their mercantilist and elitist economic elites.

The American Revolution literally brought ordinary people into government. This did not happen overnight, but the concept of "gentlemen" ruling a society as the masses meekly submitted gave way to the forces of classical liberalism and democracy.

The Revolution caused an upheaval in all areas of American life: religion, slavery, commerce, government, voter sufferage,
and family relationships.

Americans no longer saw themselves as living for the ideal of "virtue" and in subservience to their "betters", but saw individual freedom and economic prosperity as an end in and of itself. Private life became separated from public life and people pursuing their own interest was soon seen as an ideal that was good for society.

Wood correctly relays to the reader the radicalism of the American Revolution as extending beyond the dreams of it's Founders and an expansion of the ideals of the Revolution to all areas of society. This is what makes the American Revolution more radical than the French or Russian Revolutions. Both of those revolutions ended in despotism, while America, with all of it's flaws, ended with giving more liberty to it's citizens. The creation of private reform, and other associations and socities was unheard of in Old Europe. Groups opposing slavery, and for a wider sufferage blossomed and Americans joined private groups with an avidity unseen in despotic nations.

One reviewer, John Chuckman, seems to hate the American Revolution and believes America is a racist, and non-revolutionary nation. This is, of course a leftist view of America which unfortunately too many people buy into. Don't believe such nonsense. Instead pick up this book and see the radicalism of the American Revolution first hand. You will not be disappointed.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars The Revolution
The author, although an irrasable old man, fills his pages with erudite thoughts, bringing history alive and revealing; remarkably cogent, his writing as captivating as Patrick...
Published 1 month ago by stanford beebe

5.0 out of 5 stars A mind expanding view of the American revolution
I've read Gordon Wood's work with the Oxford History of the US and so I decided to read his other works.
Published 5 months ago by Robert Kirk

5.0 out of 5 stars Revolution?
In an amalgam of historical, political, cultural, and economic analysis, Gordon Wood brings to presence much more in The Radicalism of the American Revolution than a rupture from...
Published 8 months ago by Miguel B. Llora

5.0 out of 5 stars Book was in excellent condition
Although, it would be nice to have known which year it was published. Maybe it was there and I missed it. Otherwise, I am happy with the whole process.
Published 9 months ago by Victor Jones

5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the single most essential work on the American Revolution
I am currently reading, as part of Amazon's Vine Program, a prepublication copy of Gordon S. Wood's latest work, EMPIRE OF LIBERTY: A HISTORY OF THE EARLY REPUBLIC, 1789-1815, the...
Published 13 months ago by Robert Moore

5.0 out of 5 stars A Social History of the American Revolution
This book provides a very interesting social history of America from the decades before the American Revolution to the 1830s.
Published 17 months ago by Roger Berlind

5.0 out of 5 stars For more casual readers like myself-- don't be put off by the length and density.
This book is a big ask for the reader in terms of time, attention and patience. Particularly for the armchair historian like myself, it can be very heavy going.
Published 18 months ago by frumiousb

5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, Demanding, Rewarding
Gordon Wood's qualifications as an historian of American colonial and revolutionary history rank with Edmund Morgan [The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 (The Chicago History of...
Published 20 months ago by Douglas S. Wood

5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book on the American Revolution - Ever
Not a book about battles & generals. This is a book about the Revolution of Ideas that sparked the war. Every student of history should have this on his/her bookshelf.
Published on March 21, 2008 by C. Sanders

1.0 out of 5 stars Please!!!!
"Hamilton's Dream of making the United States a great fiscal-military state dissipated in the face of America's emerging democratic society.
Published on December 24, 2007 by Edward Jolin

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