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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,004 ratings  ·  76 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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A question on the r/askhistorians subreddit the other day expressed confusion over Milton's Paradise Lost: how was it that such an established canonical writer was able to compose such a subversive work, which expresses so much sympathy with the Devil? How was this allowed in the seventeenth century – didn't he get in trouble?

Underlying the query is the assumption that in the Old Days, the tenets of religion were monolithic and universally accepted. In fact, as this book shows, the disrup
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of this book, the long and the short of it, is that just like the TV advert says: it does exactly what it says on the tin. To wit: The world turned upside down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. So it is not a history of the English revolution (view spoiler)
Paul Bryant
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british-history
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 thought the sam
Lyn Elliott
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: england, history, religion
Hill, a Marxist historian, begins The World turned Upside Down with this observation:

‘Popular revolt was for many centuries an essential feature of the English tradition, and the middle decades of the seventeenth century saw the greatest upheaval that has yet occurred in Britain’
This book, he goes on, deals with the ideas developed by various groups of the common people who wanted to change the existing order, often to the acute discomfort of the middle classes, let alone the aristo
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
I view that book as being an introduction to some of the Dissenting groups that were in existence during the British Civil War.

I would have liked more information on some of the groups, such as The Ranters. Luckily there was a reference to another book about that sect in the footnotes.
Sep 05, 2011 rated it it was ok

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
Sep 30, 2015 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 Hill'
Nick Jones
May 17, 2012 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
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much of “The World Turned Upside Down” is not for the general reader. It is aimed at professional historians of 17th century England and advanced students so it is full of references to historians active 45 to 50 years ago when Hill was writing his book, because he disagreed with both the top down view of history then prevalent and schools of thought that dismissed the ideas of religious radicals during the period as unhinged harangues of dissidents to the established church. That said there is ...more
Jun 03, 2013 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 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
Darn Arckerman
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Read parts of it in college for a paper on Caryl Churchill's Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, but this was my first time completely through.

This time around I got the pleasure of having several people ask me if it had anything to do with Hamilton. Hill already gets cribbed from without citation often enough (This Michael Harrington speech is a great example: that I responded at first with my nose up about how singular and groundbreaking Hill's work was. It turns out, as Hill's own
Piers Haslam
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An invigorating book, if slightly messy overall. Hill has such an extreme amount of personal love for many of the radicals he studies, and I appreciate his honesty in lauding the creative prose of Abiezer Coppe and in recommending readers, very genuinely and wholeheartedly, to read Gerrard Winstanley themselves if they really wish to understand his ideas. This is the vigour. The mess comes down to a bit of a gulf between Hill and me. His way of putting an academic book together and making argume ...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
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british-history
Given some of the crazy stuff that went on during the English Revolution and the Interregnum, you can understand why so many were content with the Restoration of 1660.
Jul 02, 2008 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 lat
Carl Williams
Aug 03, 2011 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 aut
Bruce Grossman
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Continuing to explore "Early Modern England". A good time period for learning more about the idea and origins of America.

Really didn't like this book at all. The ideas were just presented as ideas. No indication of their respective popularity or relative importance. Very redundant. But it was published in 1972-- hence a fashionable reaction to an interest of similar radical ideas floating about in the "revolutionary 1960's", and hardly anything more. Not recommended.
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.
Jul 10, 2012 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.
Sep 07, 2011 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.
Sep 30, 2014 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.
Oct 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: early-modern
Fascinating and classic study.
Jul 06, 2017 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
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uni-books
I read this in preparation for a university module using this book as its premise.
If (like me) your knowledge of Seventeenth Century England is a little sparse, I'd recommend doing some general contextual reading first - Peter Ackroyd's "Civil War" is a good source for this as Hill assumes a fair amount of knowledge on the civil war in particular from his audience.
That said, this is a thorough and clear analysis of the subject matter. I had no idea of the extent of radical beliefs at
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I had to read this for my Tudor history class, and at first I was admittedly a little bored. I don't really enjoy reading just to write an essay. Surprisingly, I started to enjoy the book and the content. I didn't know that the English had such radical ideas about politics and religion in the 1600s. Enjoyable book I recommend to someone who likes history.
Simon Harrison
May 14, 2017 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.
Herrholz Paul
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, uk-history
This is one of those books that left a deep impression. It was quite challenging reading and the author writes as if for a scholarly audience. But I felt drawn to the narrative and feel a strong sense of enrichment and learning. I have gone straight for another of Hill`s books so as to continue studying with this fine communicator. ...more
Aug 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
The premise is good, but not executed well. It assumes a great amount of knowledge of the English civil war on the part of the reader. I was hoping this book might expand my knowledge of that topic, but alas, I will have to look elsewhere.
Joel Zartman
Hill is informative and entertaining. One of these days he'll no longer be on the reading lists, but in places where reading lists tend to last for over 15 years, that day has not come.
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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 Britis
“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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