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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, History, 1993

Grand in scope, rigorous in its arguments, and elegantly synthesizing 30 years of scholarship, Gordon S. Wood's Pulitzer Prize–winning book analyzes the social, political, and economic consequences of 1776. In The Radicalism of the American Revolution, Wood depicts not just a break with England, but the rejection of an entire way of life: of a society with feudal dependencies, a politics of patronage, and a world view in which people were divided between the nobility and "the Herd." He shows how the theories of the country's founders became realities that sometimes baffled and disappointed them. Above all, Bancroft Prize–winning historian Wood rescues the revolution from abstraction, allowing readers to see it with a true sense of its drama---and not a little awe.

©1993 Gordon S. Wood (P)2011 Tantor

Critic Reviews

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

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A unique and relevant look at the founding

It is easy to see how this book is relevant to understanding America today - society, politics and government.

Wood doesn't quite say it this way, but his basic argument is this: the founding generation were trying to create a new society, but they failed to create the one they envisioned. Instead, the society they created turned out better - from the perspective of modern Americans - because it is more democratic than they imagined any place ever could be.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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The matter of class

What did you love best about The Radicalism of the American Revolution?

This account of the revolution is fascinating for its focus on issues of class which were, on the one hand, much less distinct than those of England, and yet more distinct than we would recognize. It is a useful perspective for me as a history teacher.

What about Paul Boehmer’s performance did you like?

I prefer readers who don't call attention to themselves in the reading. This fits the bill

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 01-04-14

Changed the Way I Think

In December 2013, researchers from Emory University published "Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain." The paper, published in "Brain Connectivity" starts with "Most people can identify books that have made great impressions on them and, subjectively, changed the way they think." The authors, Gregory S. Bern et. al., using functional MRIs, determined that reading a novel literally changes neural connectivity, at least for a short period of time. I believe the same changes take place while reading/listening to a non-fiction work.

If I had been in that study while I listened to Gordon S. Woods' 1993 Pulitzer-prize winning non-fiction book "The Radicalism of the American Revolution," I would have shown those changes, too. This book literally made me think differently, certainly about the American Revolution, but also about common democracy, the birth of nations, macroeconomics and the use of currency . . . & etc. The changes may be long term for me: because of the complexity of what Woods described and his interpretation of what it meant, I was only able to listen for an hour or so at a time, before I set the listen aside to think about what I heard. It took me several months to finish the book.

I had never considered the full impact of the American Revolution, beyond the overarching change from a hereditary and despotic monarchy to a democracy. Social systems, such as care for the infirm, elderly and indigent, which had been provided as a matter of noblesse oblige by titled members of society, had to be reimagined and reinvented. Land ownership had been established and controlled in the British Isles by the 1086 AD Domesday Book, under the direction of William the Conqueror. In the States, that ancient accounting meant nothing. Wealth in America was acquired by hard work and tenacity, and it was no longer an embarrassment to work for a living, rather than inherit a tidy sum and live a life of leisure buoyed by careful investment and management of tenant farmers. Success no longer depended on who you were born to, and neither did the ability to obtain an education. Corporations, who have a major influence on our daily lives now, came into existence with the basic criteria that they be registered in a State and pay taxes.

Wood notes that in the 18th and 19th centuries, the social, governmental and economic revolution in America belonged to White, Protestant Men, but that laid the foundation for the democratic advancement of blacks and other ethnic groups, women, non-Protestants, and so on. The book doesn't mention equal rights for gays, but it was written 20 years ago, and those rights are a logical extension. Woods also pointed out that the founding fathers - especially Thomas Jefferson and John Adams - did not anticipate this radical cultural shift, and were entirely dismayed.

I didn't think "The Radicalism of the American Revolution" was particularly well written, especially in comparison to Doris Kearns Goodwin's books (most recently, "The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism" (2013).) Woods could have used a good edit - he tended to wander off topic, and organization isn't his strongest skill. At times, his arguments were hectoring. These 'faults' actually meant that I thought more critically about the book and its ideas than I would have with an easier listen, which reinforced what I learned.

Definitely worth the listen, but it's not for beginners: you'll need a basic understanding of the timeline and leaders from the 1700's and early 1800's to know who Woods is referring to.

[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]

29 of 36 people found this review helpful

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Great book!

I was stunned to learn how similar our political and economic issues were, compared to those of the founding fathers. This is a must read for those interested in political science, public administration, or early American history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting book, boring audio!

So weird, this reader is actually pretty good in the fiction he reads. Perhaps his boredom with history accounts for how bad the reading is. Blech.

9 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Douglas
  • Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 04-08-17

Very Interesting Book Despite Lack of Action

The most important thing for listeners to know is that this book is not a history of the American Revolution. As far as I can recall, not a single battle of the War for Independence is even mentioned in this book. The subject of this book is the society, culture, and thinking of the American people before, during, and after the Revolutionary War.

This is a theory book; there is very little action. However, the book is still fairly entertaining, as the author (Gordon Wood) makes ample use of anecdotes and journal entries. In addition, there are a number of very interesting statistics given, particularly in the second half of the book, which may surprise listeners. The book offers up a very enlightening view of the ways in which the structure and nature of American society changed drastically over the years, transforming from a culture not wholly unlike that of England, to a totally original and unique society. Wood at the very least is able to cast doubt on many of the common beliefs we have about early American life, the reasons for the Revolution, and the founding fathers.

Listeners may get off to a slow start with this book. The opening chapters are a bit wordy and repetitive. Eventually, I suspect listeners who were bored initially will get used to the style and begin to settle in to this work.

The narrator's slow, emphasis heavy style certainly doesn't help to get things rolling early on. However, that precise, deliberate style--which can make a somewhat dry book very difficult to get through--can actually be a positive boon if the listener is willing to speed up the rate of speech. Many listeners may want to "speed listen" due to the subject (fairly dry) and writing style (wordy and repetitive) of the audiobook, and in this case Paul Boehmer's style is actually perfect for that, as his words will remain clear even when sped up.

The book can at times get rather complex, so listeners may not want to listen at too fast of a rate, but certainly most will be able to comprehend and enjoy the book at an increased speed. I should warn the listener, however, that because the book has very little in the way of action, and due to Wood's repetition-heavy style, "tune outs" are inevitable. I would think this would be the case for all but the most hyper focused listeners. This can be exasperated when speed listening. So the listener just needs to be willing to accept that there may be times when they have to hit the "minus 30 seconds" button and go back a bit to re-listen to the section they "glazed over" in a listening sense.

In book 2 (chapter 6), the narrator undergoes a rather disparate voice change. It would appear that production entailed doing the introduction and book 1 in one sitting, and then taking a lengthy break before starting book 2. Boehmer's noticeably refreshed voice is distracting at first but eventually the listener's ear will get accustomed to it.

The early chapters concerning social rank are quite interesting, but the intricacies are complex and gray at times, to the point that things seem contradictory. Don't despair; this is totally natural, as American society is all of those things: complex, gray, and most certainly contradictory.

I would recommend to any listener that gets bored with this book to keep going. The second half of the book is much more interesting. The most interesting portion of this book, in my opinion, is the part that deals with the aftermath of the Revolution. In particular, the views of the founding fathers in their old age are fascinating.

Though the book isn't always a "page turner," it is non-the-less entertaining and interesting. I would think that just about every listener will gain some new knowledge. It is certainly worth it to push through any periods of boredom.

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  • George
  • Harlingen Tx., TX, United States
  • 07-27-12

Work of a true scholar.

Would you listen to The Radicalism of the American Revolution again? Why?

Yes There was so much information, it needs to be read again for total understanding.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Radicalism of the American Revolution?

How the people of the revolutionary era thought.

What does Paul Boehmer bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Not much the performance was very dry.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?


2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Hal VT
  • Bennington, VT USA
  • 04-13-13

Regurgitating Gordon Wood

If you could sum up The Radicalism of the American Revolution in three words, what would they be?

Seminal social history

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I think my head would explode. Look, this is the kind of thing that qualifies as Very Legitimate History, and if you want a fairly deep understanding of what made the American Revolution revolutionary in the social sense, it's a great listen. It's probably not what the casual watcher of the History Channel wants to chew on, unless he's in training to go to a Harvard bar and have an argument with a math genius from Southie.

3 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Sakunthala Panditharatne
  • 06-01-17

Fascinating cultural study

Would you listen to The Radicalism of the American Revolution again? Why?

Probably would not listen again, it was quite heavy and chock full of facts (which is also a strength)

Who was your favorite character and why?

Not sure this question applies, it's a non-fiction book - but I'm going to say Alexander Hamilton

Which character – as performed by Paul Boehmer – was your favourite?

see above

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

The redcoats were ... Actually Very Bad

Any additional comments?

This is a really amazing, in-depth book that will help you understand both Britain and America better.