NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "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.
But with that caveat in mind, this is nonetheless and excellen introduction to the social, intellectual, and political origins and consequences of the American Revolution. In concise and highly readable prose, Gordon Wood deftly synthesizes the main points of several decades of historical scholarship that have shown that the intellectual influences on the American colonists were much broader than John Locke, and that their struggle needs to be understood in the context of a long tradition of distrust of the British crown and court by country gentry in both Britain and the colonies, and that the Revolution and American constitution need to be understood in terms of the Republican ideology they espoused rather than the Lockean liberalism more characteristic of American politics since the late-nineteenth century. In the final three chapters, Wood does a masterful job of distilling the essence of his two groundbreaking but difficult tomes -- The Creation of the American Republic (1969) and The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1991) -- showing how dramatically the Revolution re-shaped the eighteenth century social and political world in ways that the founders did not anticipate and could not control.
That said, the book succeeds pretty well in what it sets out to do, which is, mainly, to outline the outcome and aftermath of the Revolution. It was interesting and easy to read, even for someone like myself who doesn't particularly care for non-fiction or Colonial history. I'll just have to look elsewhere for an overview that's at least slightly more in-depth (not to mention focused on the Revolution itself).
Plus the bibliography is probably the most badass bibliography I have ever read, essentially a roadmap to what you should read if you're interested in any specific facet of the subject.
A good, quick survey.