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American Revolution [Audiobook] [Audio Cassette]

J. R. Pole , Gordon S. Wood


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Book Description

Dec 1982
“An elegant synthesis done by the leading scholar in the field, which nicely integrates the work on the American Revolution over the last three decades but never loses contact with the older, classic questions that we have been arguing about for over two hundred years.”
-Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers

A magnificent account of the revolution in arms and consciousness that gave birth to the American republic.

When Abraham Lincoln sought to define the significance of the United States, he naturally looked back to the American Revolution. He knew that the Revolution not only had legally created the United States, but also had produced all of the great hopes and values of the American people. Our noblest ideals and aspirations-our commitments to freedom, constitutionalism, the well-being of ordinary people, and equality-came out of the Revolutionary era. Lincoln saw as well that the Revolution had convinced Americans that they were a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty. The Revolution, in short, gave birth to whatever sense of nationhood and national purpose Americans have had.

No doubt the story is a dramatic one: Thirteen insignificant colonies three thousand miles from the centers of Western civilization fought off British rule to become, in fewer than three decades, a huge, sprawling, rambunctious republic of nearly four million citizens. But the history of the American Revolution, like the history of the nation as a whole, ought not to be viewed simply as a story of right and wrong from which moral lessons are to be drawn. It is a complicated and at times ironic story that needs to be explained and understood, not blindly celebrated or condemned. How did this great revolution come about? What was its character? What were its consequences? These are the questions this short history seeks to answer. That it succeeds in such a profound and enthralling way is a tribute to Gordon Wood’s mastery of his subject, and of the historian’s craft.


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Review

"Professor Wood of Brown University, a distinguished expert on the period, has the difficult but invigorating task of condensing this immensely complex topic into 180 or so pages. He does so with commendable clarity and (on the whole) admirable judgement. For most people here is everything they need to know about this deonator of the modern world." Paul Johnson, MAIL ON SUNDAY --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

The noblest ideals and aspirations of the peoples of the United States of America - its commitment to freedom, constitutionality and equality - came out of the Revolutionary era. The story is a dramatic one. Thirteen insignificant colonies of His Britannic Majesty King George III, three thousand miles from the centres of Western civilization, fought off British rule to become, in fewer than three decades, a huge, sprawling, rambunctious republic of nearly four million citizens. It is also a complicated and at times ironic story that needs to be explained and understood, not blindly celebrated or condemned. How did this great revolution come about? What was its character? What were its consequences? These are the questions this short history seeks to answer. That it succeeds in such a profound and enthralling way is a tribute to Gordon Wood's mastery of his subject, and of the historian's craft. 14.99 in UK only Gordon S. Wood received his B.A. from Tufts University and his Ph.D. from Harvard. Since 1969 he has been at Brown University where he is a professor of history. In 1970 his book Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787 was nominated for the National Book Award and received the Bancroft Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize. In 1993 he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Radicalism of the American Revolution. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. Weidenfeld & Nicolson History A Phoenix Press Book Orion Publishing Group Orion House 5 Upper Saint Martin's Lane London WC2H 9EA Jacket photograph: Jacket design: --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  59 reviews
93 of 97 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compact, Straight Forward Look at Revolution 19 Feb 2002
By Ricky Hunter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Gordon S. Wood faithfully fulfills the objectives of the fine Modern Libary Chronicles series, in The American Revolution (A History). The author, in a short space, effectively gives a history of the American Revolution from its ecomonic, demographic and ideological origins through the war itself and into the second revolution, that of the creation of the constitution. The story is told clearly and made interesting, sticking conservatively to the basic outline without adding any of the more radical views of recent years. This volume is definately not for those overly familiar with the Revolution but would be a good beginning or a refresher for those interested in the outlines of this fascinating event. All the major personalities makes brief appearances but the focus is on the revolution itself, as it should be.
57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A short book that will expand your mind. 25 Feb 2005
By Epops - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It is written by a professor at an Ivy League university (Brown), and yet from reading his book I am unable to determine his personal political leanings. Either he thinks the same way I do, or he is that "rara avis", a historian whose only ax to grind is that of the search for objective truth about the past.

He is a superb writer. There is not a dull sentence in the book, and the narrative flows like a good novel. It is a brief book, intended to be an introduction for general readers as part of a Modern Library series, and yet as a knowledgeable but non-specialist reader of the period, I learned something new on almost every page. Professor Wood has made himself one with the Revolutionary era, and has at the same time cultivated the ability to describe it clearly to us moderns. I suspect he was an excellent classroom instructor for freshmen students.

These quotations illustrate his insightful thought and graceful style:

"... the Revolution was not only about home rule; it was also about who should rule at home."

"The Revolution, like the whole of American history, is not a simple morality play; it is a complicated and often ironic story that needs to be explained and understood, not celebrated or condemned."

Note the skillful use of the semicolon, the mark of a good prose stylist, and the concise expression of some very complex concepts in two brief sentences.

In a few pages he discusses in a very lucid manner a number of very complicated subjects, for example, the conflict between Burke's theory of "virtual" representation and the experience of "actual" representation in the new frontier towns of the American colonies, the development of a new conception of sovereignty as residing in the people to explain the proposed Constitution of 1789, the commonality of ideas shared by the Puritans of the English Civil War and the American revolutionists of a century later, the basis for the continued and unique American belief that we are "exceptional", outside the mainstream of history, and uniquely chosen as guardians of human freedom.

Wood delves rather deeply into the evolution of American religious belief and practice and its effect on American society in the post-Revolutionary era. He also succinctly outlines the effect of the Revolution on slavery and women's rights.

He devotes only 12 pages to The War of Independence, and yet in that brief space gives a surprisingly complete and detailed picture of the military, political, and diplomatic course of the war. His comments on the strategic problems of each side are quite incisive, and his narrative is much clearer than Higginbotham's, for example.

The last chapters on the social and political changes set off by the Revolution are his best. I'm not a big fan of the "new history" emphasis on social and economic issues. I think history is mostly about war and politics, in that order. But Professor Wood shows that my prejudice is absurd, that history is history, war and politics can't be separated from culture and money, and that it is all interesting.

He probably doesn't emphasize enough the origin of the problems in the Constitution that led to its ultimate failure in the crisis of 1860. But that is a complicated subject, and he lays a sufficient groundwork for further study of that issue.

The bibiographic essay at the end is superb.

I didn't notice any typos - apparently the publisher has corrected in subsequent printings the "Yorktown, Pennsylvania" error noted by a previous reviewer.

Recommended without reservation.

Note: (April 15, 2007) For a broader view of Gordon Wood's thought I highly recommend the review that recently appeared in the Winter 2006/07 edition of the "Claremont Review of Books", V. VII, #1, pps. 27-30, by Steven F. Hayward, entitled "The Liberal Republicanism of Gordon Wood."
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly comprehensive given its brief size 12 Dec 2003
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Gordon S. Wood is one of the deans of scholarship on the American Revolution, and this volume in the Modern Library Chronicles series (each volume dedicated to providing a brief but sound introduction to a specific subject) is the distillation of a lifetime of study of the subject. Although short, this is not a book lacking in content. Some of the reviewers seem to misunderstand the subject: the American Revolution was not primarily a military adventure but an intellectual one. Therefore, the book rightfully dedicates most of its pages to the ideas that drove the revolt against Britain and the formation of a completely original form of government based upon equality and the sovereignty of the people.
The genius of the book is not merely that Wood finds space to mention every significant aspect of the American Revolution, but that he is able in a very brief space explain the why and the wherefore. For instance, in explaining why the people making up the new nation did not respect the rights of Native Americans and consider them equals, Wood explains that the widespread view was that independent individual owned and cultivated land, and since the Indians were hunters, they could not could that they were potential citizens like themselves. Therefore, they could only treat them as foreigner nations. Wood does not condone their conclusions, but he does a great job of explaining their thinking. Likewise, when he addresses the question of slavery, he points out that while the founders did not carry through with the logical implications of the notion that all men are created equal, the foundations where nonetheless laid for its eventually expungement. As he writes, "The Revolution had a powerful effect in eventually bring an end to slavery in America. It suddenly and effectively ended the social and intellectual environment that had allowed slavery to exist everywhere for thousands of years without substantial questioning." The book contains a host of similar insights. Although I have read other and longer books on the Revolution, I have read few that were filled with as much insight.
The book proceeds on a series of topics that are largely chronological, beginning with the changes in American society following the end of the French-Indian Wars and the refocusing of the British government on the colonies after several decades of some neglect, and ending with the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Philadelphia. His focus is overwhelmingly on the ideas that drove the Revolution. He is almost entirely unconcerned with the battles of the War, which he does not view as especially decisive. As he points out, the odds of the British defeating the colonists were long at best, given the overwhelming hostility felt against the Crown and the widespread sentiments for independence. Wood spends approximately fifteen pages on the actual military campaign. There is little regret for this because he is so superb in discussing the nonmilitary aspects.
Although the account is first rate, an additional reason this is such a valuable book is the exceptional bibliographical essay that closes the book. Wood provides a ten-page survey of the literature on the Revolution, and if one is unfamiliar with the period, he or she will have a host of suggestions of additional books to read upon completion of Wood's book.
I really find it difficult to praise this book too strongly. This book is ideal for someone unfamiliar (or even those familiar desiring a brief survey) with the central factors of the Revolution and wanting a brief but superb analysis of the events leading to the creation of the United States.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars America's Revolution of the Mind: 1763-1787 16 May 2004
By Omer Belsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What was the American Revolution? While most people would probably identify the American Revolution with the American War of Independence, Gordon S. Wood sees it as something more: a complete change in the ideological and political structure of British America, from the Royal colonies of 1763 to the Unites States of 1787. Within a single generation, America twice revised its views about the government and sovereignty.
Wood does not disregard the material causes for independence, the interest groups and the petty local politics that fed fuel to the conflict between the colonies and the mother country, but his focus is on the ideological and philosophical issues - the British, who saw Parliament as the source of authority to all of the British Empire, whether the constituents voted for the MPs or not, and the Americans, who held to the principle of "no taxation without representation", and the ideology that contrasted liberty and self rule with the tyrannical power of the divine rights of kings.
With the deepening, crisis, the Colonists, although willing in principle to acknowledge that Parliament had the right to regulate external commerce and navigation laws "from the necessities of the case, and a regard to the mutual interests of both countries" (p.44), could no longer reconcile that view with the British all-or-nothing perspective, in which sovereignty lay within Parliament and Parliament alone. The widespread violence and King George III's declaration that the colonies were in open revolt helped push the Americans into declaring their independence.
Under the Articles of Confederation, the Founding Fathers of the United States formed an alternative form of government to the Imperial system - no longer a centre and a periphery, but a collective of equal, cooperating states. With the Northwest Ordinance, the Americans acknowledged the Western settlers as the equals of the thirteen original colonies. Proportionally representative legislative councils were seen as the instrument of government, the protection against executive tyranny.
The failure of the all-powerful legislatives to adequately answer the needs of the public good, and the lack of cooperation between the states, led to another change in the American political philosophy. Local legislative councils changed from being the ultimate expression of Public sovereignty, to one element in a complex national system, meant to keep checks and balances between the states and the Federal Union, and between the branches of government. The ultimate purpose was to keep sovereignty in the hands of "we, the people of the United States of America"
There is far more in Wood's book then I can do justice to in a short review. But Wood's detailed investigation of the political and ideological aspects of the revolution means that much remains neglected. The social changes of America are hardly more then alluded to, and the economic changes are never coherently explained. The worst neglect, though, is the Military history aspects of the Revolution - the American War of Independence is dealt with almost entirely in about 6 pages. Nor are the major personalities of the Revolution given due attention: Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Henry and Washington are mentioned but only in the context of their ideas or public actions. There is only a single exception - Wood's short discussion of Washington's choice to re-enter political life and participate in the 1787 Philadelphia Convention.
In the past couple of years, I've tried to read three different accounts of the American Revolution, and have been unable to finish any of them. Gordon S. Wood's short book is a fascinating read and a good introduction to the Revolution and to the changes it brought on America.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice, brief introduction to the topic 13 Jun 2002
By Steve - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This 166-page book introduces us to the American Revolution, with an emphasis on its causes and effects--economic, political, legal, social, racial, and religious. The writing style is a bit too factual and dry for me, perhaps because Wood is just briefly covering the topic, but I would have liked to see more details on the leaders and events to "bring them to life." For example, Wood writes that "it was mob violence that destroyed the Stamp Act in America," but there is little given us about the violent acts themselves, and the people who instigated them. Also, few details are presented about the battles of the Revolutionary War. (Read A. J. Langguth's Patriots to learn more about Samuel Adams, George Washington and others, as well as about most of the military campaigns.)
Wood's book is particularly useful for its discussion of the effects of the war: on the class structure, slaves, indentured servants and the Indians, monetary inflation, education, governments, and on the role of women. Wood summarizes some surprising trends: For example, he points out that wealth was distributed more unequally after the Revolution even though Americans believed that society was more egalitarian. He also gives us some fascinating details, such as that some women objected to the use of the word "obey" in the vows taken at their weddings in the last quarter of the 18th century.
This is a good overview of the American Revolution, although it is not written in the most exciting style. In addition, there is a good list of other sources of information, with comments about them at the end of the book.
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