Jerome's Reviews > The Many-headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic

The Many-headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh
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Dec 16, 08

bookshelves: library
Recommended for: Marxists, socialists, anarchists, radical historians
Read in December, 2008, read count: 1

This is an excellent history of the rise of "global capitalism" and its opposition during the 17th and 18th Centuries, from a marxist historical perspective. Linebaugh and Rediker attempt to reconstruct a history "from below" by extracting from the history written by the winners (in this case, the Empire, the Trading Companies, and the bourgeoise). By expounding upon two reoccurring themes found throughout the dominant history -- Hercules' slaying of the hydra and Joshua's enslaving of the Gibeonites -- the authors develop a history of resistance which includes the enclosure of the Commons, the English Civil Wars, the mass expulsion of English, Irish and Africans into slavery in the Americas, and the expansion of European maritime trade. Each of these events generates a movement of resistance, and the authors plot points of connection between the Ranters & Levellers, the maroon uprisings, Pirate "hydrachy", and American colonists who chose to "go native."

While the authors stress the multicultural component of the resistance movements, one shortcoming I found with the book is that the focus was almost exclusively in relation to the English. I would have like to see how these movements manifested themselves in relation to the French and Spanish attempts at Empire building the New World.

To the reviewer who complained about the premise of this book because life before the 17th Century was allegedly just as terrible (as though that is sufficient to discount the fact that there was a real movement of resistance to the destruction of social life that these hewers of wood and drawers of water actually experienced, and directly connected to the trade practices of the middle-class), I would recommend E.P. Thompson's Customs In Common for an account of how the working-class experienced a loss of social life and culture.
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