THE RADICALISM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Gordon S. Wood

THE RADICALISM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

KIRKUS 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.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-40493-7
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1991




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