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The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Penguin History) [Paperback]

Christopher Hill
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Dec 1991 Penguin History

Within the English revolution of the mid-seventeenth century which resulted in the triumph of the protestant ethic – the ideology of the propertied class – there threatened another, quite different, revolution. Its success 'might have established communal property, a far wider democracy in political and legal institutions, might have disestablished the state church and rejected the protestant ethic'.

In ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ Christopher Hill studies the beliefs of such radical groups as the Diggers, the Ranters, the Levellers and others, and the social and emotional impulses that gave rise to them. The relations between rich and poor classes, the part played by wandering 'masterless' men, the outbursts of sexual freedom, the great imaginative creations of Milton and Bunyan – these and many other elements build up into a marvellously detailed and coherent portrait of this strange, sudden effusion of revolutionary beliefs.


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The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Penguin History) + The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714 (Routledge Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (12 Dec 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140137327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140137323
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 42,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Christopher Hill was educated at St Peter's School, York, and at Balliol College, Oxford, and in 1934 was made a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. In 1936 he became lecturer in modern history at University College, Cardiff, and two years later fellow and tutor in modern history at Balliol. After war service, which included two years in the Russian department of the Foreign Office, he returned to Oxford in 1945. From 1958 until 1965 he was university lecturer in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century history, and from 1965 to 1978 he was Master of Balliol College. After leaving Balliol he was for two years a Visiting Professor at the Open University. Dr Hill, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the British Academy, has received numerous honorary degrees from British universities, as well as the Hon. Dr. Sorbonne Nouvelle in 1979.

His publications include Lenin and the Russian Revolution; Puritanism and Revolution; Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England; Reformation to Industrial Revolution (second volume in the Penguin Economic History of Britain); God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution; The World Turned Upside Down; Milton and the English Revolution, which won the Royal Society of Literature Award; The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries; A Turbulent, Seditious and Factious People: John Bunyan and His Church, which won the 1989 W. H. Smith Literary Award; The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution, which was shortlisted for the 1993 NCR Book Award; and Liberty against the Law. Many of these titles are published by Penguin.

Dr Hill is married with two children.


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POPULAR revolt was for many centuries an essential feature of the English tradition, and the middle decades of the seventeenth century saw the greatest upheaval that has yet occurred in Britain. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Milestone in Civil War Historiography 13 Aug 2009
Format:Paperback
Love it or loath it 'The World Turned Upside Down' is a landmark in the history of the study of the Civil Wars, and arguably the zenith of the career of Christopher Hill. The original was published in 1972, and as a schoolboy I was lucky enough to attend a seminar at which he, Koenigsberger, and GR Elton were all present. A close run thing but Hill was probably the star turn. I finally got my own paperback penguin edition in 1981 - its still here now, and remains influential in the way we think about the period. It is particularly interesting to note that after the first edition Hill took on board many suggestions and corrections from a swathe of luminaries including Roots, Hobday, Thomas and Capp.

So what is actually in this volume ? The thrust of the book is that the Civil Wars were a 'revolution', and that within this event - which did turn over the world as men knew it - both 'common people' and a middle class played an important intellectual role. Hill's main concern is not chronology, but the ideas and philosophy. The moot point of course is whether what actually happened is reconcilable with the 'social tensions' and 'class antagonism' which Hill regarded as a mainspring of events. Whatever your opinion on this crucial matter Hill clearly researched extensively, covered widely, and wrote with great elegance and conviction.

Key players in Hill's thoughtful vision are the Diggers, Levellers, Seekers, Ranters and Quakers, all of whom he probed and explained with great lucidity. The unleashing of these non-comforming idealists who ranged across the spectrum from the sober and pacifist to the most wonderful and bizarre of crackpots did indeed have an impact on religion and society that stretched far beyond 1660.
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66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Christopher Hill is one of my favourite historians, and of his books, of which I have about a dozen on my bookshelves, this is probably the best. Its style owes much to EP Thompson's monumental 'The Making of the English Working Class', both in terms of structure and historical methodology. Hill is a Marxist historian, but there is little dogmatic or reductionist about his work, and, contrary to the review below, a familiarity with Marxist concepts is not at all necessary to appreciate the value of this important book.
Hill begins the work with a general survey of the social, religious and economic background to the English Revolution; the forces which created it, and the openings it itself created through, eg, the New Model Army, the consequences of the Protestant Reformation, and so on. Hill is looking at 'internal' and 'external' causes of the 'flourishing of radical ideas' in the revolutionary decades, 1640-1660. He traces the development of the ideas in themselves, and the response to social conditions, conceived here in the broadest sense possible. Thus his work follows a sophisticated dialectical structure, whereby 'ideas' are discussed in themselves, but always related to the social and cultural millieu in which they operate.
And what ideas! Christopher Hill shows enormous sympathy for the 'exhilirating freedom' of the revolutionary decades. He shows us, like Thompson, people making their own history, not because but in spite of thier 'circumstance'.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderfully explorative evocation of its subject 13 May 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
If the English Civil War is your concern, then this book is a must. Hill even makes you consider the Ranters (who believed it their duty to sin as frequently and openly as possible) as a group with logical ideas. Hill is concise, clear and often very witty. This book has helped my study of the period a great deal.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
As a history sudentent Christopher Hill appeals to me because of the way he presents his ideas. His works are great in helping you develop your own ideas, partly because of his selective use of evidence, he gives you something to contest. Christopher Hill has an agenda - but who doesn't. The same can be said for any text- you must read with care. He has a fantastic style and this work is one of my favourites. 'The World Turned Upside Down' is engaging and exciting.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best history work in English? 6 April 2005
Format:Paperback
Certainly a candidate for it. Hill's monumental work is probably the definitive work of the British Marxist Historians group of scholars who appeared in the immediate after of World War II. It featured such lumanaries as E.P. Thompson and Rodney Hilton and basically invented Social History through its study of what became known as 'History from Below'.
Thompson's 'The Making of the English Working Class' is the most famous publication of the group, but 'World turned Upside Down' is, in the humble opinion of this author, the best.
It expands on Hill's thesis about the two revolutions that took place in England at the time of the Civil War. Focussing on the second, democratic, revolution, that ultimately failed; Hill examines some of the main players.
Groups such as The Levellers, The Diggers and The Ranters are examined as are the early Quakers, in a way that is sad, compelling and eminently readable. At the same time important questions are asked about the so-called 'traditional' view of history.....
Buy this book, read it and inject the arguments into your brain
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Admirable introduction to a time of political and social ferment
For my money, the best guide there is to the radical ideas of the English Civil war period. Hill gives an admirable introduction to the intertwined religious and social currents... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Jeremy Bevan
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very readable
I found this rather "intellectual" and hard going. Uninterestingly written. I gave up about third of the way through.
Published 1 month ago by Mr S P Crouch
5.0 out of 5 stars The age of radicalism.
Christopher Hill is an outstanding scholar who understands and loves his subject. He documents the age of radicalism and the prophets of radical thought from the 17 century.
Published 8 months ago by Sylvester Hutton
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating History
: This is a classic text of left-wing history - throwing light on a fascinating aspect of seventeenth century English history and giving a sympathetic picture of the turmoil of... Read more
Published 14 months ago by H. M. Hughes Mrs Helen Hughes
2.0 out of 5 stars Rather misleading portrayal of the period
In the same way that many teenage readers of fiction adore the novels of D.H.Lawrence, so do many young history students become great fans of Christopher Hill. Read more
Published on 19 Mar 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Marxist Historiography?
Mr Hill is widely known as *the* historian of the English Civil War. This book, long considered the cornerstone of Civil War historiography, is full of new and bold ideas that Mr... Read more
Published on 20 April 2000
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