The Radicalism of the American Revolution

The Radicalism of the American Revolution

by Gordon S. Wood

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In a grand and immemsely readable synthesis of historical, political, cultural, and economic analysis, a prize-winning historian describes the events that made the American Revolution. Gordon S. Wood depicts a revolution that was about much more than a break from England, rather it transformed an almost feudal society into a democratic one, whose emerging realities sometimes baffled and disappointed its founding fathers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307758965
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/24/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 123,893
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Gordon S. Wood is Alva O. Way Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Radicalism of the American Revolution, the Bancroft Prize-winning The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, and The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History. He writes frequently for The New York Review of Books and The New Republic.

Table of Contents

I. Monarchy

1. Hierarchy
2. Patricians and Plebeians
3. Patriarchal Dependence
4. Patronage
5. Political Authority

II. Republicanism

6. The Republicanization of Monarchy
7. A Truncated Society
8. Loosening the Bands of Society
9. Enlightened Paternalism
10. Revolution
11. Enlightenment
12. Benevolence

III. Democracy

13. Equality
14. Interests
15. The Assault on Aristocracy
16. Democratic Officeholding
17. A World Within Themselves
18. The Celebration of Commerce
19. Middle-Class Order

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The most important study of the American Revolution to appear in over twenty years...a landmark book." —-Pauline Maier, The New York Times Book Review

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The Radicalism of the American Revolution 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Massive in research, size, information, and most notably scope. An incredible essay, focusing on the social ramifications of both the American Revolution and the War for Independence, and Wood draws and clear distinction between the two. Not a ¿light¿ read by any stretch of the imagination, and it¿s not suggested for those not already well-versed in the history of America in the late 18th century. Wood¿s arguments are thought-provoking and concrete whether he¿s discussing that even today self-interestedness is the bond that ties Americans to one another after the demise of a monarchical government and the patriarchal society, or the democratic migration of state capitals westward (ie the capital of Virginia moving from Williamsburg to Richmond) and becoming more centralized, so not to alienate any of its inhabitants. Wood misses nothing in this social study of the greatest epoch in American History.
Roweking More than 1 year ago
I ask my students if the American Revolution was radical or as their textbook (American Pageant) puts it accelerated evolution. Mr. Wood puts forth a great argument as to the radicalism - I have passed much of this on.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wood's Pulitzer-winning essay on revolutionary America isn't to be missed. His exceptionally clear writing style couples with his subject matters to produce a work of unparalleled significance. Wood tackles the issues of economic/market changes and social stratification with confidence, utilizing them to prove his thesis: that the American revolution was a revolutionary event that shaped every facet of its citizens lives, and was not simply a war for independence. A MUST in every American History library.
Angelic55blonde on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading this book it is no wonder that it won the Pulitzer Prize. The author did extensive research and his writing style made it interesting and easy to read. The book begins with a background of the colonies prior to the revolution so the reader can better understand how the revolution was so radical and what it changed about American society and politics.It is a great book, well-researched with easy to reference footnotes and the author did effectively prove his thesis that the revolution was indeed radical. The only downside to this book is that is does get a little slow/boring towards the middle and end of the book which made it a little difficult to finish but it is still a great book.If you are interested in this topic I highly recommend this book because it is thorough and mostly interesting.
johnclaydon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I tried to reread THE RADICALISM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Gordon Wood. I disliked it when I read it when it first came out and my opinion is far lower now. He has almost nothing to say. It is just an endless parade of snippet quotations. Not even of any use for reference.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 American Civilization)] and Bernard Bailyn (The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution). His 'Radicalism of the American Revolution' sets forth his thesis that the American Revolution, contrary to its reputation in some quarters as a mere war of independence and generally conservative in nature, fundamentally changed American society. By the end of the revolutionary era, America had transitioned from a deferential society subject to rule by an aristocracy to a republican one governed by elected elites to a rowdy democracy dominated by commerce. Wood's book is challenging both in the sense of being difficult and in the sense of questioning accepted wisdom (at least as it was when he first published the book in 1993). A sound grounding in the history of the era is almost a prerequisite; this is not a narrative history marching from event to event. Wood's main focus is on social change, not to say upheaval, and he slowly, even indirectly, builds his case. Specific events are referenced illustratively to demonstrate a point he has developed over many pages. (In this way, the book called to mind one of my law school professors, Mark Tushnet (Taking the Constitution Away from the Courts), who often took several lectures to develop one critical insight. Lose track briefly and you would be lost in the woods for days.) Wood (no relation, but tastefully named) makes a compelling case. In a nub, Wood credits the revolution because the dramatic changes occurred while America remained rural and preindustrial. Very high recommendation for any reader interested in history, whether generally or of the American revolution. Radicalism of the American Revolution is a book that warrants and demands your full attention, if not a second reading.
Othemts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well-researched and engaging historical work in which the great social revolutions (as opposed to the political one) of the American War for Independence are analyzed. The people of the time made some great lurches forward toward true democracy that in some sense has been lost and remains unrealized to this day. Great book!
JBreedlove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The philosophical underpinnings of colonial society, the war, and the changes that ensued after the Americans won the war.
Aspblom More than 1 year ago
excellent social science
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Marcel_Hidalgo More than 1 year ago
The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood lives up to its commitment of portraying the transformational sequence of people who were ready to cast off old skin, like molting creatures. Wood claims that the American Revolution was ".the single most powerful and radical ideological force in all of American history" (234) and he opposes his contemporaries who say that this revolution was conservative and not radical. His opposition would most likely come from historians who write on women's suffrage, the slave system, and the plight of the indigenous people, whom would undoubtedly criticize Wood for not recognizing them in his historiography. Yet, unlike today, Wood reminds us that we were people who were not born free but had to fight to free ourselves. His argument on the radicalism of the revolution is well supported throughout the book as he offers a thorough and detailed discussion on the dismantling of monarchial rule, the establishment of republicanism, and the creation of democracy. According to Wood, the powerful motivators for this radical transformation came from their ideas and ideals of society and government, and their desire to maintain affluence. He supports this claim by outlining the intellectual and emotional impetus, and the need to change a social structure that they were out growing. The slow dismantling of monarchial ideology replaced by a republican institution did not happen overnight, says Wood. And the arrival of democracy was the collective manifestation of people that wanted the most revolutionary idea possible, a prosperous egalitarian nation. The morphing from subject to citizen required a rearranging of the antiquated ways of thinking toward an enlightened way of living with capitalism at its center. The three hundred and sixty nine pages that Wood dedicates to presenting his argument on the radicalism of the American Revolution was worthy of its Pulitzer Prize. Wood's argument springs from the dependency of the colonials with mother country and without the argument on dependency it would be difficult to assess the radicalism of this period and the strong desire for independence. He begins his discussion by first offering a model of monarchial rule and how mid-eighteenth century colonials largely remained loyal to a monarchial ideology. They lived by the idea that man was designed for a specific purpose and stature, Wood emphasizes, and that contributing this quality was an advantage to all, creating order and stability. At this point in history, colonials did not think of themselves as Americans but as Britons. However, Wood says they were also defiant of social and political authority, and established their own constitutions dedicated to liberty. But, the faultiness of this liberation was that Englishmen for the most part belonged to some other Englishmen and were in awe of the monarch. This dichotomy resulted in the copying of their persona. It went even deeper than the façade, Americans had a strong trade exchange with England and profited from it, creating a strong royal governorship in the colonies. And according to Wood, this relationship with mother country supported a colonial society that honored a social hierarchy. From this psychological and emotional attachment, this included both the gentlemen and a plebian class, Wood builds a compelling argument on how arduous it was for the Americans to cut the strong cord connected to the mother country.
GeoffSmock More than 1 year ago
This book was like a bag of trail mix; there were some good components (M&Ms) and some bad ones (raisins). The breadth of it is impressive (if not a little excessive) and you can tell that Professor Wood has studied his subject for decades. Agree with him or not, his analysis and interpretation is provocative.

He errs in a few ways though. The point of the book is to stress the complete break with English society and culture that the Revolution brought about (the source of its "radicalism"), but in so doing he exaggerates a bit. For as much as the post-bellum American society was different than Great Britain's, there was still much in common between the two Anglo cultures. As Professor Wood himself touches upon, Americans inherited and modeled their opposition to tyranny and their belief in natural rights from the English tradition of the Magna Carta, English Civil War, and Glorious Revolution. In fact, the Revolution wasn't so much a "clean break" as another notch in the line of historical progression from absolute monarchy to republican and/or democratic government. The Revolution was not a total departure from the Anglo tradition and to write of it without placing it in historical context is no less a folly than examining the French Revolution without addressing the effect the American one had on it.

What Americans did change in the Revolution they recalibrated, not so much changing the what but the how. Instead of an inherited aristocracy, they sought a ¿natural¿ one, where the superlative talent would rise to the top and assume positions of leadership. Elite standing would be determined by merit, not the fortune of birth.

The book runs a bit longer than it should, so if you¿re pressed for time read Sections 5-7, which excellently examine the colonial society Americans were trying to preserve and the European society they were trying to avoid.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was suprised at the simplicity with which the subject was approached. No new or apocalyptic insights were revealed. There was little to document (within appropriate context) the historical references and much of what was profered seemed to be derived by inference. The first 40 pages delt with little but the definition of a 'gentleman' and the last 40, it seemed, with a sketchy outline of what was to become the derivation of the 'middling class' in this new Republic. Perhaps, this book's failure was that it could not compete with the replete interpretation of this conflict by Scheer and Rankin in 'Rebels and Redcoats'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Im being kind when I say that this is possibly the worst book I have ever read. It is slow, dull, and quite simply lame. If you are considering reading this book, do as you have been taught through your life.. JUST SAY NO!