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

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  1,321 Ratings  ·  130 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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Jul 10, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
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
Dec 27, 2008 Ari rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 24, 2009 Monica rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 23, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 09, 2015 Joe rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened-to
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
Mar 05, 2016 Ben rated it it was amazing
Winik provides a sweeping, comprehensive account of late 18th century world history---particularly focused on Russia, France and the United States--- that is, at the same time, a highly cohesive narrative with an overarching thesis. Specifically, Winik shows that this was the era in which the question on the minds of rulers, nobles, bourgeoisie and peasants was the same: what is the best form of government?

America had cast off the British monarchy and attempted to enact the seemingly impossible
Apr 06, 2016 Joe rated it it was ok
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
Mar 23, 2008 Douglas rated it liked it
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
Jun 01, 2012 Tracie rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 19, 2009 Bryan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Sloane Shearman
May 25, 2016 Sloane Shearman rated it it was amazing
By far the most compelling work of nonfiction I've ever encountered. The author has a way of depicting complex geopolitical events in harrowing, vivid detail. More than once I forgot myself, having immersed myself so entirely in his narration. I listened to this on audiobook, and highly recommend it in that format.
John Kaufmann
Dec 09, 2013 John Kaufmann rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
Ron Tenney
Apr 02, 2014 Ron Tenney rated it really liked it
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
Samuel Lubell
Jan 05, 2016 Samuel Lubell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
I listened to an unabridged audiobook version. This was a very interesting account. The way history is taught in this country, American history is separate from European and World history. The author makes a compelling case that for the rulers and intellectuals in the mid to late 18th century, the world was much more interconnected than we realize and the American revolution was influenced by European history and thought and in turn those were influenced by what went on in America. One problem w ...more
Lauren Albert
Oct 16, 2014 Lauren Albert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-american
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.
Douglas Graney
Nov 21, 2015 Douglas Graney rated it liked it
The first one-third of the book was riveting. I've had little interest in European history unless it relates to American history. This book connects early America vis-a-vis Europe. The early chapters on France and Russia are good especially the description of Catherine the Great's journey to the Crimea. However as you get further into the muck and mire of Europe it lost my interest. However all the chapters on the U.S. are very good, especially Winik's descriptions of the various founders, espec ...more
Manu Dell'aquila
Mar 07, 2015 Manu Dell'aquila rated it it was amazing
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.
Terry Tucker
Jan 02, 2016 Terry Tucker rated it it was amazing
This book is Excellent! Besides Ron Chernow and David McCullough, this is an excellent look at the Transnational nature of history, conflict and ideas. This book connects - in an easy and readable manner - the connections between the major players and actors of the period. If you are a Pol Sci or history major then you will be able to easily connect the dots in the background history the author provides. If not, no worries, you will still be able to follow along. The beauty of this book is it wi ...more
Aug 21, 2015 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Makes history personal and human. Great review for a high school world history class! For the first time, I could see the French Revolution as more than an ever changing list of names, declarations, and changing leaders. Seen from the eyes of the king, the revolution in France became more than just class injustice but also about about personalities, human weakness, and tragic misunderstandings.

Also shows how much American history owes to the impact of other countries ( and vice versa). The Amer
DeAnna Knippling
Aug 12, 2016 DeAnna Knippling rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm more used to reading history on a micro level--focused in on a topic--or on a vertical aspect--one aspect over time. This opened my eyes to a more broad, horizontal approach. I think comparing the three nations was an excellent perspective, like watching chess being played.

I also appreciated the focus on personalities, conflicts, mistakes, missed opportunities, good intentions gone wrong...

However, the French revolution felt one-sided. With such insight into everyone else's motivations, wh
May 24, 2014 Dale rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 13, 2013 Charlotte rated it really liked it
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
Oct 21, 2009 Garrett Burnett rated it liked it
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.
May 11, 2008 Katherine rated it liked it
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
Apr 30, 2009 Bap rated it really liked it
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
Jan 02, 2013 Linda Nichols rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 19, 2010 Judy rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2008 rmn rated it liked it
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
Dec 01, 2008 Tim rated it really liked it
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
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The Great Upheaval 2 18 Dec 19, 2012 10:07PM  
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  • The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism
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