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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Faces of Revolution: Personalities & Themes in the Struggle for American Independence » User review

History shapes individuals; individuals shape history

  • Oct 11, 2001
'All history is biography,' the saying goes, and while that may or may not be true in the absolute, it's certainly true that the best way to understand how 'movements' and 'forces' affect history is by studying the lives of the individuals who shape, and are shaped by, them.

Bernard Bailyn is one of our leading historians (maybe THE leading historian) on the American Revolution. His classic 'Ideological Origins of the American Revolution' casts a huge shadow, not least over this small but valuable collection of 'personalities and themes in the struggle for American independence.'

Here, Bailyn gives us in-depth portraits of patriots John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, as well as a fascinating portrayal of the loyalist Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson, one of the leading Americans of his time but almost forgotten today. And he introduces us to Harbottle Dorr, a Boston shopkeeper whose writings give us a priceless look at how the Revolution affected middle-class Americans. Then, in a special chapter on religion and the Revolution, Bailyn writes about three preachers and their experience of, and influence on, the themes and issues of American independence.

The last two chapters, 'The Central Themes of the American Revolution,' and 'The Ideological Fulfillment of the American Revolution: A Commentary on the Constitution,' are alone worth the price of this volume.

History has no stage on which to play out its drama save in the lives of individuals (unless you're talking about geology or astrophysics, I guess, but why ruin a good epigram?). A student of the Revolution, or of intellectual history, would benefit much from this fine, though lesser-known, work of an excellent historian.

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Andrew S. Rogers ()
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About this book


The American Revolution was far from inevitable, argues Bailyn, Harvard professor and Pulitizer Prize-winning historian ( Voyagers to the West ), who contends that ideological passion and human will tipped the scales in favor of revolt. Hastening the rupture were John Adams's conviction that British policies were evil and bankrupt Quaker corset-maker Tom Paine's aggressive attack on those who feared severing ties with Mother England. In the book's eight masterful biographical sketches, we also meet Thomas Jefferson, shedding his "deep conventionality" for pragmatic political decision-making, and Boston shopkeeper Harbottle Dorr, compiler of a massive, annotated dossier of newspapers and pamphlets. Four thematic essays highlight the antifederalist challenge to the Constitution and the reactionary muddle in Britain whose "every major institution was inadequate to its task." History Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 0679736239
ISBN-13: 978-0679736233
Author: Bernard Bailyn
Publisher: Vintage

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