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The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  1,061 ratings  ·  111 reviews
It is an era that redefined history. As the 1790s began, a fragile America teetered on the brink of oblivion, Russia towered as a vast imperial power, and France plunged into revolution. But in contrast to the way conventional histories tell it, none of these remarkable events occurred in isolation. Now, for the first time, in The Great Upheaval, acclaimed historian Jay Wi ...more
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published September 11th 2007 by Harper (first published September 1st 2007)
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Community Reviews

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Mike
Four Stars. Open your eyes to a vibrant, violent turning point in world history. In America, a fierce revolution has been won against the greatest superpower of the 18th Century. Former enemies reconcile and set out to build the greatest nation in history. In France a weak, indecisive king is soon overcome by a revolution that initially dreams of repeating the American Revolution but turns into a horror story. In Russia, a minor princess from an obscure German family morphs into an iron-fisted T ...more
Ari
I had high hopes for this book. Jay Winik is a good stylist, with a knack for focusing on underappreciated nuances in the historical record. This book, unfortunately, was a bit of a disappointment. The premise is a good one: to look holistically at US and European history in the period from 1788 to 1800. Unfortunately, the Russian, French, and American strands still seem quite separate in this narrative. It reads more like three parallel stories than like a unified narrative. There's a great dea ...more
Monica
Simply outstanding account of the three nations involved in the revolutions begun by the American Revolution. All worked in context with each other, not in isolation, and all the nations knew what was happening elsewhere. Puts the American and French revolutions, especially, into context, and throws new light on both. The Russian situation under Catherine the Great, where an attempted revolution failed and the revolution in Poland was crushed, provides a stark contrast. The harrowing portrait he ...more
David
If his book April 1865 was a must-read for every high school junior in the nation, then this effort by Mr. Winik should be a must-read for every high school senior.

John Adams scared that the mob would drag him and Washington to the chopping block a la The Terror in the French Revolution? Wow!

Catherine the Great wasn't Russian, I knew. That her name wasn't Catherine, I didn't know.

The book is fair to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It was fair to Potemkin. It was fair to Robespierre (mercilessly
...more
Joe
This had what I enjoy the most in historical works...context. With "The Great Upheaval: American and the Birth of the Modern World" Jay Winik sets out to tell three stories simultaneously: American, French, and Russian history between 1788-1800. He mostly succeeds and frequently goes above and beyond this story by giving a great deal of history prior to 1788 as well.

I already knew the American story fairly well. It was how that story interacted with the French and Russian story that I found fasc
...more
Tracie
This book was fascinating! After reading Les Miserables I was so disappointed that I did not know more about French history, especially the time period of the French Revolution and then into Napoleon. I knew the French Revolution was bad... who doesn't? But I did not realize how bad. The author at one point compared what went on in parts of France with the Nazis, the gulags in the Soviet Union, and Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime. There were points when what I was reading made me so sick that I ju ...more
Bryan
The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik is written to be a history of nations during the 1788-1800 time period. For me it became a macro analysis of the birth of the United States. This history includes the philosophers and philosophies that influenced the Revolution. One of the intriguing parts of The Great Upheaval is the history behind the countries that did not on the surface play a large role in the Revolutionary War but made decisions that without would have changed the outcome that we know. Most ...more
John Kaufmann
History at its best! An incredible read. The book is ostensibly about the pivotal decade of the 1790s. The author compares and contrasts America during it's fragile and formative years immediately after independence; France during the French Revolution and leading into the Napoleonic years; and Russia struggling to emerge as an imperial power during the reign of Catherine the Great. Fundamentally, it is about how and why America emerged as a democracy while France devolved into chaos and Russia ...more
Todd Stockslager
Technology (as we should know by now) is morally neutral, and can be used for good or evil. Take for example, a word processing document template, which can be used to create multiple documents that follow the same outline and format. Winik certainly saved his template of historical narrative from his earlier classic "April 1865", but this time the finished document, attempting more, achieves less.

In the earlier book, Winik artfully used the confines of a very narrow time and place to expand on
...more
Ron Tenney
Jay Winik’s “The Great Upheaval – America and the Birth of the Modern World – 1788-1800” is a story of the underappreciated interactions of America, France and Russia during this era of massive change. The story is as complicated as the title of the book. Winik’s book deserves credit for documenting the lives of literally scores of characters that were both familiar and unfamiliar to me.

The premise of this book is that there was far more connectedness in the events as far away as Crimea to Ameri
...more
Joe
Mar 05, 2014 Joe rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
The Great Upheaval is nothing if not ambitious. In this author's very successful previous book, April 1865, the topic was extremely focused both in timeline and subject matter. Not so in The Great Upheaval. Technically it covers the years 1788-1800 and a majority of the civilized world at that time, attempting to link events globally by what occurred locally. I didn't realize this was a point of contention among historians, i.e. The American and French Revolution. So in breadth, scope and length ...more
Lauren Albert
Winik does an amazing job, better than any other author I've read, showing what it felt like to be in the middle of the upheavals of the late 18th century. He conveys the uncertainty, the indecision, the fear, that many felt while facing the French Revolution, war and change in general. He alternates between the US, Russia and France and shows how differently leaders in each reacted.
Manu Dell'aquila
I found this book fascinating, historically interesting, and beautifully written.
I would not go as far as saying that I could not put it down as it took me a while to read through it, but that had more to do with time available for reading.
It made me interested in history again.
And I have to thank the author more than the history itself.
Dale
Disappointing. (A Review of the Audiobook)

Published by HarperAudio in 2007
Read by Sam Tsoutsouvas
Duration: 12 hours, 56 minutes


Jay Winik's April 1865 is one of my favorite Civil War histories - it holds a very safe place on a shelf that has to be purged on a regular basis to make room for new books because it is a brilliant history.

Before I go on with this review I must note that I listened to the abridged audiobook version of this book (so far as I can determine, there is no unabridged versi
...more
Charlotte
I've seen this audiobook on the shelves several times and was intrigued, but the 26 disc set box looked rather overwhelming. However in early February, I tackled it. My dad died in the process of listening to it, and for a time, I just couldn't focus on listening to it. However I have found it extremely interesting. The author moves between the three countries of the new United States, France, and Russia during the 12 year period. While I was aware that France played a part in our revolution, I ...more
Garrett Burnett
Winik examines the effects of events in America, Russia, and France in the 1780s and 90s. The main characters are Washington, Adams, Franklin, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Robespierre, and Catherine the Great. He tells the tale of America's constitution, Whiskey Rebellion, and Quasi-war with France; the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars; and Russia's various uprisings, Crimean conquests, and battle for Constantinople.

Winik tries to tie all of these events and people together.
...more
Katherine
May 11, 2008 Katherine rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Katherine by: Karl
It's amazing the United Nations formed at all. In the words of one of the founding fathers, "let's not bank on another miracle."

The world was much more connected in the late 1700s than we would expect. The leaders were all watching each other. The French, the Russian, the British and American leaders were all watching each other, talking to each other, and learning what to do and not to do at a very intense time in history. It was also a time of Enlightenment, when leaders were putting political
...more
Bap
Jay Winik, my cousin's neighbor weaves a history of America, France, and Russia as they grapple with a new age in very different but interconnected ways. His thesis is that even in an age when news travelled slowly, it travelled nonetheless and each of these states had a profound affect on one another. france too up the cudgel of freedom and revolution at a time when ministers of the US were in residence such as Franklin, Adams and Jefferson. France collapsed into to totalitarian terror, a precu ...more
Linda Nichols
Wow! What to say about this book? It's sweeping, covering pretty much the entire northern hemisphere: The new United States of America, France, and Russia are the main locales, with the locations of battles fought by Russia (led by Catherine the Great) and France (led by Napoleon). It's pretty bloody, with graphic descriptions of murders and battles, and full of intrigue. I have different opinions now of our founding fathers and learned about events I did not know before. The time frame is the c ...more
Judy
This is one of those books that I've looked at frequently in the library, but just kept moving to the bottom of my list. I was wrong about that. This is a fascinating book and Jay Winik is now one of my favorite historical writers. His thesis is that the years 1788-1800 were some of the most important in shaping our modern world. To explore this approach, he focuses on the political environment that existed primarily in the United States, France, and Russia. It's easy to find his political heroe ...more
rmn
If you have a billion hours and are interested in learning about some detailed history they don't teach you in school, mainly the period between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 (and world history), then this book is worth a read.

The parts in the middle of the book about the French Revolution are very good and interesting and the parts about Catherine the Great are informative as well, but the beginning is a bit dry and the parts about American History can be slow (probably because you
...more
Tim
A fascinating account of the simultaneous movements of democracy in America, France, and Russia. One succeeded, one went awry, and one was suppressed, but the world was never the same again.

I found the most poignant part of the book was the account of Louis' indecision, which cost him his life. There were so many times when decisive action would have changed the course of the revolution, but he wouldn't take it, wouldn't become ruthless. The contrast with the actions of Catherine the Great in Ru
...more
Douglas
pretty readable period history, although it has some strange aspects. First of all, 1788-1800 is a damn strange time span. Although Napoleon is ascendant in France, he has not made himself Emperor yet, the traditional point at which people consider the French revolutionary period to be over with.

Further, the bit about Russia v. the Ottoman Empire is just kind of tacked on there. I suspect that it was to distinguish this book from the ubiquitous treatments of the rise of the American and French
...more
Marian Allen
Although the book claims to begin in 1788, it very properly fills in enough background to anchor the events dealt with in more detail. Winiks sets himself the impossible task of carving out a chunk of history and showing the relationships, interply, rivalries, similiarities, and differences of three revolutions that happened during those few years: the successful one in the American colonies (and the subsequent rebellions that were suppressed), the messy one in France, and the one that failed in ...more
C.S.
It is no stretch to say that the period of the 1790s and the few years before and after were one of the most pivotal times in human history. The events of that time-- the titular "Great Upheaval"-- had repercussions that are still being felt today. This much is readily apparent and widely known (though like most things, not widely understood). One would think, then, that a meticulously-detailed recounting of those events and the genuinely fascinating individuals that drove them would be gripping ...more
Elizabeth
This is about early years of the American republic, but it is a good look at the French revolution, Napolean, and Russia under Catherine. There was revolution in the air, and Jay Winik describes it in way that makes it clear why the American revolution succeeded and others did not. In detailing the politics of the first years of America, he shows how tenuous the relationship of the states was and again I am struck by the miracle that it worked.
Knowing nothing about Catherine the Great, it was i
...more
Seena
Although this book is lengthy, I learned a lot by reading it. Mr. Winik explains the relationship of our Revolution to Russia and France and the desire of their peoples to rid themselves of the monarchs. It separates the history of the countries and gives an excellent summary of each. It is a lesson that all should learn that people will not be oppressed indefninitely and that kings and monarchs operate to serve themselves at the expense of the masses. Much of the revolt of the people is gruesom ...more
Leigh
Did you think that the unrest in the Ukraine began with Stalin? Think again! Did you think that the French Revolution merely deposed the monarchy and begin to build a new government in France based upon popular sovereignty like in the United States of America? Think again! I picked this book up from a remainder shelf several years ago. I wish that I had begun reading it sooner. It provided an overview of events in America, France and Russia during the final decade of the Eighteenth Century that ...more
Lynda
Excellent "big picture" history of what political thought and upheaval was taking place during the formative years of the United States. A great companion book to John Adams by David McCullough (although Winik's opinion of Adams is somewhat withering ...)
Pjones36msn.com
This a great compare and contrast of the American, French and feared Russian revolution. You walk away in awe of the civility of the Americans, horrified by the French and intrigued by Catherine the Great. Must read if you are a western civ person.
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The Great Upheaval 2 18 Dec 19, 2012 10:07PM  
  • The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States
  • Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America
  • The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution
  • A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign
  • Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence
  • John Marshall: Definer of a Nation
  • The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown
  • Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon and the Men Behind the Louisiana Purchase
  • The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800
  • American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900
  • Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations
  • Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past
  • Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution
  • American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic
  • Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency
  • What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
  • This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War
  • Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution
April 1865: The Month That Saved America On the Brink: The Dramatic Behind the Scenes Saga of the Reagan Era and the Men and Women Who Won the Cold War A House Reunited: How America Survived the Civil War 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History The Rhythm Section

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