The radicalism of the American Revolution /

Shows that the American Revolution was not a conservative movement, but was as radical as any revolution in modern history, and produced a society that was free and democratic, far beyond anything thought either possible or desirable by the founding fathers.

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Main Author: Wood, Gordon S.
Format: Book
Published:New York : A.A. Knopf, 1992.
Edition:1st ed.
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Review by Choice Review

This complements Wood's highly regarded Creation of the American Republic (1969) and extends the argument broached by J. Franklin Jameson in The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement (1926). Wood (Brown University) refutes a generation or more of scholarship that has labeled the American Revolution "conservative" because, unlike the French and Russian Revolutions, comparatively little blood was shed and the American leaders ended up in charge after the rebellion, rather than losing their heads to the guillotine or assassination. Under the broad categories of monarchy, republicanism, and democracy, Wood explains how the US was transformed from a society that took for granted a nonworking elite and a dependent servile underclass to one in which the free-standing individualist, who worked for a living, became the norm. At the same time, political leadership passed from an aristocracy to common people. Wood concludes with the observation that the founding fathers, who believed a republic would succeed only if controlled by a virtuous people, lived long enough to despair as making money became the modus operandi of American life. In a short review it is impossible to convey the richness and logical argument of this readable book based on hundreds of primary and secondary sources. All levels. E. Cassara; emeritus, George Mason University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Wood vivifies the colonial society out of which the American Revolution arose, delineating in particular the gulf between aristocrat and commoner (he notes in passing that students at Harvard were ranked by social status), then shows how the disintegration of the traditional monarchical society prepared the way for the emergence of the liberal, democratic, capitalist society of the early 19th century. The author dwells lightly on the Revolution itself, concentrating instead on the before-and-after aspect. The study explains the astonishing transformation of disparate, quarreling colonies into a bustling, unruly republic of egalitarian-minded citizens. Most noteworthy is Wood's analysis of the ``explosive'' entrepreneurial forces that emerged during the war and turned Americans into a society ``taken over by moneymaking and the pursuit of individual interest.'' This gifted historian ( The Creation of the American Republic ), who teaches at Brown, gives us a new take on the formative years of the country. History Book Club main selection. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Perhaps, as is often noted, the American Revolution was not as convulsive or transforming as its French and Russian counterparts. Yet this sparkling analysis from Wood (History/Brown Univ.; ed., The Rising Glory of America, 1971) impressively argues that it was anything but conservative. Wood's contention that the Revolution was ``the most radical and far-reaching event in American history'' may stretch the point (did it really have more of an impact than the Civil War?). But from now on it will be hard to argue that the rebellion was a genteel event that left fundamental institutions unscathed. Wood pictures colonial society as overwhelmingly deferential--to king, to family patriarch, and to aristocrats--with ``personal obligations and reciprocity that ran through the whole society.'' But patriots such as Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, aspiring to become gentlemen, resented this entrenched order of patronage and kinship. Their classical republicanism stressed benevolence and government by an enlightened elite. To their dismay, however, they discovered that their rhetoric unleashed all the latent entrepreneurial and egalitarian energies of American life, which even the elaborate mechanism of the Constitution could not completely contain. Among the results, Wood says, were a new concept of the dignity of labor, improvements in the lot of women, the first significant antislavery movement, and the frank acceptance of private interest underlying the political party system. Above all, Wood suggests, the Revolution produced the messy, fractious politics of liberal democracy, dominated by ordinary people pursuing commercial interests. A provocative, highly accomplished examination of how American society was reshaped in the cauldron of revolution.

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