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The Radicalism of the American Revolution


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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.


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.)

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

"A breathtaking social, political, and ideological analysis. This book will set the agenda for discussion for some time to come." --Richard L. Bushman

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

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