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The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  789 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
Within the English revolution of the mid-17th 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 ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published December 12th 1991 by Penguin (first published 1972)
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Paul Bryant
Mar 30, 2009 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Nearly 400 years ago, from the midst of the English Revolution, I hear the same anger at the despoilation and hooliganism of their rich ravening rulers as I do today, in the incoherent but passionate Occupy movements, and, if I'm honest, in the outraged and outrageous screechings of the tea party - on all sides there is the sense of trying, pitifully, to raise up a single skinny fist and shake it and howl

This is not the way things were supposed to be!

So here are the words of an Englishman who th
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Jim
Sep 30, 2015 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, religion
This book opened my eyes, not only insofar as its strict subject matter, but also in its applicability to our own times. Christopher Hill was without a doubt one of the most knowledgeable commenters on the seventeenth century in England, especially of that period between 1640 and 1660 which he refers to as the English Revolution.

I recommend The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution to anyone who is interested not only in English history, but our own. I find in Hil
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Natalie
Sep 05, 2011 Natalie rated it it was ok
Blaaaaah.

Where to start? How about with the aspect of the book that irritated me the most?

No women! How could you write a book about the English revolution and have no women? This was 100% a man's history. Yes, yes, I'm an angry feminist, but I couldn't believe, page after page, that a full 50% of the population was completely left out of Hill's analysis.

The only time women's issues were specifically addressed was in the chapter about changing sexual mores, and then the discussion was so terr
...more
Charlie
Jun 03, 2013 Charlie rated it it was amazing
Christopher Hill has written a stunning intellectual history of radical thinkers during the unruly decades of the English Civil Wars (roughly 1640-1660). Censorship of printed material was strict for most of British history until the 19th century, but from 1641-1660, censorship was lifted. When the restraining dam burst, a flood of eccentric, radical, blasphemous, and sometimes brilliant literature washed over Britain. Christopher Hill has mastered this literature and brought it into some order ...more
Matthew Retoske
Jul 14, 2007 Matthew Retoske rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: disobedient revolutionary activist types
Kind of surprised by the number of low ratings. This is a terrific introduction to Hill, readable as a novel, and pretty much a landmark book Marxist and 17th Century studies. It's an accessible introduction to Hill's writings on the period which have been so influential in reconsidering an intriguing period of not just English but human history. By giving serious consideration to groups casually dismissed as madmen and criminals (when they were mentioned at all), and tracking their influence an ...more
Nick Jones
May 17, 2012 Nick Jones rated it it was amazing
Of course, the British Marxist historians are old hat. 35 years ago they would have been argued against, but now they can be treated with condescension, ignored, while the stars of modern history extol the virtues of Empire. But for many of the younger historians the greatest crime of the Marxists is that they didn’t tell stories: they deal with the dried up world of ideas. This is perhaps Christopher Hill’s most respected work and is unashamedly a history of ideas: as its sub-title tells us, ra ...more
Ryan
Jul 02, 2008 Ryan rated it really liked it
Shelves: reality
Very enlightening read on a moment of the Enlightenment that doesn't always get the attention it deserves -- radical movements during the English revolution. It's not the best introduction to the period (unless you don't mind wiki-ing every other name) but it's vital material for anyone interested in social movements. And who isn't these days?

The basic idea is, amidst the more well-known events of the period: the Parliamentarians vs. the Royalist supporters of King Charles I, the latter's execut
...more
Carl Williams
Aug 03, 2011 Carl Williams rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
As a Friend myself and a bit of a history geek, I’ve read plenty about early Quakerism but mostly by other Quakers. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book to read about the birth of Quakerism by a non-Friend for sometime. Quakers were a part of a wide and varied radical landscape in Britain, and were influenced by many of these groups.

Not a history of the English Civil War, but a study of the radical groups that, finding themselves suddenly free of censorship and the iron authority of th
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sean
Apr 02, 2010 sean rated it it was amazing
Shelves: restoration
Best history book I've read in a while. I love the fact that the radical protestants were so radical that, in fact, many of them were more or less not even theists but actually atheists. Best discovery of this book: Gerrard Winstanley, who is my new favorite writer from this period.

My only complaint; Hill seemed a little too sympathetic to the more wild-eyed sects. I bought it when he said that some of the crazier things attributed to them by their enemies were just propaganda against them, bec
...more
Jan-Maat
Survey of the radicals and radical movements that emerged during the English Civil War and during the Republic. These range from the religious such as the Quakers and the Ranters to the political such as the Levellers and the Diggers with asides to Milton and Bunyan.

A good introduction to 17th century radicalism.

I think as with The making of the English Working Class this is a book about historians wanting to find their own heritage in the past and find native intellectual roots for themselves.
...more
Lorri Lynn


An astonishing account of the underlying catalysts that contributed to England's greatest religious, political and social upheaval. While so much is written about the Tudors, life during that period pales in the face of what James I did (or didn't) do after Elizabeth I's demise. The explores not only the events leading up to the 'republicanism' of England, but also the religious and social impacts, and the permanent and shocking change to life before the revolution.
Richard
Jul 10, 2012 Richard rated it liked it
Lots of great quotations & a thorough overview of the radical perspective during the English Civil War. However, I found the book difficult to read as it referrred to so many individuals and quoted their exact words which were not always easy to understand. Made reference to certain groupings & ideologies without fully explaining them which left me in the dark.

I'd say a good book to dip into but I wouldn't recommend reading it from cover to cover.
Ani
Sep 30, 2014 Ani rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Absolutely fascinating, couldn't put it down! Very readable and accessible, with enough in the footnotes to have further reading I can follow up with. A really good introduction.
Claire
Sep 07, 2011 Claire rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
Impressive, but from the reader's perspective it's like being thrown into the middle of a story. Back matter -- say, a timeline and a glossary offering brief descriptions of the major personalities and sects discussed -- would have been appreciated.
AC
Oct 21, 2010 AC rated it it was amazing
Shelves: early-modern
Fascinating and classic study.
Carl
Jul 06, 2017 Carl rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Early chapters are hard reading & I'm not certain exactly why except to guess that the author wanted to tell the story in the words of the participants & contemporarily clear prose was not in good supply for that period of the history. Still this is an excellent eye-view witness account of mid 17th century England, including Charles I vs Parliament, the New Model Army, Oliver Cromwell, & the religious radicalism of the Levellers, Diggers, Ranters, Quakers, & other groups & th ...more
Simon Harrison
May 14, 2017 Simon Harrison rated it it was amazing
None of us remember life before everything became reduced to commercial value but here's Christopher Hill attempt to capture the arguments of the Civil War and how the radical battle was lost.
The penultimate chapter, Life Against Death, is one of the best things I've ever read, and the appendices on Milton and Bunyan are joyous.
Kevin Tole
Nov 09, 2013 Kevin Tole rated it it was amazing
Up there with some of the best history books I have ever read.
I have a clearer understanding of the differences between Levellers, True Levellers, Ranters, Seekers, Quakers and other divisions and sects that arose through and after the English Civil War. This WAS the English Revolution long before the idea of Revolution, if we take the model as the French Revolution, was even thought of.

The English Civil War deeply affected the whole country and beyond - its effects being felt in Scotland, Irela
...more
Sally O'wheel
Mar 15, 2017 Sally O'wheel rated it it was amazing
Fantastic! So interesting. I love the Diggers.
Toby
Feb 21, 2017 Toby rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
A true history of great ideas is not "great men" doing "great deeds." This work demonstrates that.
Ryan Sanders
Aug 29, 2015 Ryan Sanders rated it it was amazing
All too often when we read historical works on wars or revolts we hear the phrase, "The fires of revolution", yet, of this conflagration we only bear witness to the roaring inferno that engulfs the region of our study. Seldom do we get to hear the oft forgotten tales of the embers that sparked the blaze. Christopher Hill aims to change that with this masterful work written over forty years ago now, which is just as relevant then as it is at present. He takes the reader on a guided tour, the like ...more
Donald
Aug 19, 2014 Donald rated it really liked it
An excellent history of radical religious groups on the margins of the English civil war. Hill discovers religious movements in England pregnant with the ideas and themes that would eventually give birth to secular radical ideologies like materialism, secularism, and communism. He also is far more empathetic and understanding to people in a world in which men like Isaac Newton could reasonably believe in both the methods of science and magic. My only problem with this book is that it assumes the ...more
Michael
Feb 10, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it

Author Christopher Hill was one of the foremost scholars on English history. The World Turned Upside down discusses all of the various ideas for a new government that came about after King Charles I (the first) was executed. For a short span of time there was near complete lack of censorship. People could say what they thought. Many ideas as to what sort of government England would take on were argued and discussed. New parliaments were put into place. This book concentrates a lot of Marxist ide
...more
Tiarnan O
One of the seminal works of the 'British Marxist Historians'. Does what it says on the tin: a history of radical religious thought and debates during the English Revolutionary (1640-60) period. Exemplary intellectual history/sociology of ideas, linking religious and ideological change to the tumult of the Civil War and ongoing deepening of capitalist social relations in 17th century England. Hill surveys the various Protestant sects, their social make-up and beliefs, parallel political movements ...more
Mr.
Oct 07, 2008 Mr. rated it really liked it
Marxist historian Christopher Hill gives us a lucid and thoroughly researched account of the English civil war and the radical revolutionary movements that followed in the mid-seventeenth century. Born during this period of history was the Protestant ethic, the value of individualism in man's relation to God and society. We also witness many political movements calling for egalitarianism (prefiguring Marx and socialist theory) and several variants of libertarian socialism (albeit with Christiani ...more
Andrew
May 19, 2012 Andrew rated it really liked it
I started reading this on January 26, 2013 and finished on January 25, 2014. Cool, right?

Realized, a few paragraphs in, that I didn't have adequate background knowledge of the Lollards, Diggers, Ranters, Quakers, Muggletonians(?), antinomians, Fifth Monarchists, Familists, or the New Model Army. Or even the Puritans, surprisingly.

It's still just really cool to read - this is a historian's historian, the type of book where you think "has this guy read EVERYTHING? How did he even know to look ther
...more
ػᶈᶏϾӗ
Sep 19, 2012 ػᶈᶏϾӗ rated it really liked it
occasionally a bit of a dry read, if you're not into history. it's thematically organized, not completely chronological. and to the average reader it's probably really repetitive. I was very interested in the subject matter and I still found it repetitive.

that said, the quality of the scholarship is solid. and it's important research, stuff that's often left out of world history courses. hell, I'd hardly heard of any of these sects, or really much of the English revolution, and I studied the tim
...more
Fraser Sherman
May 28, 2016 Fraser Sherman rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Hill's book looks at how the era of the English Civil War was marked by radical groups and movements including Levellers, Ranters, Quakers and others who challenged not only the monarchy but the existence of an established clergy, the rights of landowners and the accumulation of wealth by the upper classes. Other radicals rejected the existence of an afterlife or a divine Jesus, or claimed that with God's grace in them, it was impossible for them to be tained by sins. It shows how many of the id ...more
Smoothw
An excellent analysis of radical thought during the English Revolution, perhaps not for people previously unfamiliar with the history, but i was still able to muddle through and get something out of it. I actually found it kind of inspiring that dreams of radical equality and freedom existed even before the so called enlightenment of the next century, and the author from his Marxist background obviously has great affection for some of them. Personally I enjoyed hearing about the ranters, hanging ...more
Terry Clague
May 08, 2009 Terry Clague rated it liked it
"Each generation rescues a new area from what its predecessors arrogantly and snobbishly dismissed as 'the lunatic fringe'."

"The radicals assumed that acting was more important than speaking. Talking and writing books, Winstanley insisted, is 'all nothing and must die; for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing.' It is a thought worth pondering by those who read books about the seventeenth-century radicals, no less than by those who write them. Were you doers or t
...more
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John Edward Christopher Hill was the pre-eminent historian of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English history, and one of the most distinguished historians of recent times. Fellow historian E.P. Thompson once referred to him as the dean and paragon of English historians.

He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford. During World War II, he served in the Russian department of the British Foreign Of
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“The radicals assumed that acting was more important than speaking. Talking and writing books, Winstanley insisted, is 'all nothing and must die; for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing.' It is a thought worth pondering by those who read books about the seventeenth-century radicals, no less than by those who write them. Were you doers or talkers only? Bunyan asked his generation. What canst thou say?” 7 likes
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