Tim's Reviews > The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800

The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik
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's review
Dec 01, 08

really liked it
Read in June, 2008

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 Russia, once, like Louis, sympathetic to reform, but unlike Louis, with a great instinct for self-preservation, is notable.

What I liked best about this book is the way that it helped me realize how events like the American and French Revolution happen in relative slow motion. We tend to see them foreshortened in retrospect, as if everything happened at once. I'm seeing the same thing in reading Amity Shlaes history of the great depression, The Forgotten Man. We tend to imagine everything coming crashing down at once, but it was a slow-motion train wreck, much like the one we ourselves are experiencing now.

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