Monday, March 10, 2008

The Most Influential Books

Here is another topic that is sure to cause debate. Of all the books written on the American Revolution, what are the Top 5 most influential? I'm not asking you to give me your personal list of favorites here. Instead, I am asking you which books have had the greatest impact on the historiography of the American Revolution. For this question, you'll need to do a little research back into some of the older books that shaped our understanding of the Revolution. By the way, do not pick primary sources for this question. Focus on what has been written by historians over the years. I also think that this question will allow us to see how our perspective of the American Revolution has changed over time.

Though there are literally hundreds of books that have shaped the historiography of the American Revolution, I feel that these five are the most influential:

#5: An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States by Charles Beard. Written in 1913, Beard's work completely changed the way Americans understood the American Revolution. Written in what historians call the Progressive Era, Beard's book directly challenged the traditional view of the Founders as being men of valor. Instead, Beard suggested that the founding of the United States war primarily motivated by the economic interests of the rich. Though I do not agree with Beard's thesis, I also recognize the fact that this book became a major player in shaping the historiography of the American Revolution for over 50 years time.

#4 The Unknown American Revolution by Gary Nash.
Published in 2005, this relatively new book focuses on the impact of the American Revolution on the common citizenry. Instead of giving a detailed history of the battles, conventions, ect., Nash focuses on how the American Revolution was revolutionary for black slaves, women, indentured servants, immigrants, yeoman farmers, and others. The book is important to the historiography of the American Revolution because it provides a new angle from which to analyze the revolution's impact.

#3 The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff
Written and published in 1982 by Oxford University Press, this book has earned the distinction as being the source for a general synopsis of the wars, debates, rebellions, etc., that made up the American Revolution. The book was also considered cutting-edge because it gave the British perspective to the war as well, without criticizing the British for being tyrannical monsters (which most books prior to this one had done).

#2 The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 by Charles Sellers
Though the book focuses on the era immediately following the American Revolution, I include it here because it has truly revolutionized the way we understand the impact of the American Revolution on society. The Market Revolution provides a detailed view of how the market economy was introduced into the American economic landscape, dissolving the traditional system of communal subsistence. Sellers proves that without the American Revolution, these changes would have never occurred.

#1 The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon Wood
There is no doubt in my mind that Wood's work is the most important book to date in shaping the historiography of the American Revolution. In this book, Wood gives a detailed analysis of how the social structures of the colonies were completely changed due to the American Revolution, and how society's understanding of government, culture, religion, etc., were forever altered. This book is a must-read for anyone that is a fan of the American Revolution.


Brian Tubbs said...

Off the top of my head, I'd have to say that one of the most important and influential books on the American Revolution has been the diary of Joseph Plumb Martin -- titled I believe as A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier.

Lindsey Shuman said...


I agree that Martin's book is very influential, but remember, no primary sources so it can't be included here.

Here are my picks:

5.) "Capitalism and a New Social Order" by Joyce Appleby

4.) "Founding Brothers" by Joseph Ellis

3.)"American Slavery, American Freedom" by Edmund Morgan

2.) 'Race and Revolution" by Gary Nash

1.) "Radicalism of the American Revolution" by Gordon Wood.

Steve Becknall said...

My turn.

I also have to agree with the general cansensus. "Radicalism of the American Revolution" is HANDS DOWN the best book on the topic. Don't even try to argue about this one people, you will just make yourselves look silly.

I also like Lindsey's choice of including "American Slavery, American Freedom."

christopher t. said...

I really do like this blog that you have all put together. It is so very diverse in perspective, opinion and topic. It is one of the first I check in the morning.

Though I am not as informed on the history of the American Revolution as you all are, I will nevertheless attempt to answer your question.

5-"The Glorious Cause" by Robert Middlekauff

4-"Founding Brothers" by Joseph Ellis

3-"Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill" by David Katchem

2-"infamous Scribblers" by Eric Burns

1-"American Creation" by Joseph Ellis

I realize that this is more a list of the best book's I've read on the topic, and hardly a list of the best books EVER WRITTEN on the Revolution.

Sounds like Radicalism of the Revolution is the unanimous favorite. I plan on purchasing it the next time I'm at the bookstore.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

its really happy for read this books ,, thanks ,,

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