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

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,783 ratings  ·  161 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, acclaimed historian Jay Winik masterfully illumina

...more
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published September 11th 2007 by Harper (first published September 1st 2007)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  1,783 ratings  ·  161 reviews


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Mike
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Joe
Mar 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
The Great Upheaval is nothing if not ambitious. In this author's 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 it dwarfs its p ...more
Ari
Dec 27, 2008 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
Kim
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's a general misconception even among Americans that we kicked the British out of our country and then things were generally calm until the Civil War. The end of the war was just the start of an ongoing internal conflict that wasn't free of bloodshed and reflected the kind of angry partisanship which, today, we push into social media.

Jay Winik focuses on three major areas of the world to illustrate the political and ideological impulses that were changing the world. He begins with the post rev
...more
Bryan "They call me the Doge"
This book wasn't bad, and there were definitely things here that I didn't know, but I really ended up annoyed with the author's style. Without quoting a lot of passages, it's hard to convey exactly how irritating this was, because it was a cumulative thing rather than anything technically wrong with his writing. I listened to the audio version, and that might have had a lot to do with it, but there was a lot of padding, a lot of 'Captain Obvious' stuff, and a lot of writing that ended sounding s ...more
Monica
Apr 23, 2009 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
Tracie
May 02, 2012 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
David
Mar 11, 2009 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
...more
Erin
Apr 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
The Great Upheaval gets two stars because it's well researched. I love this era in history and was looking forward to learning more about American history in the context of other contemporary world events. However, I could not endure the author's tone or syntax. Winik's descriptions are verbose and end up feeling pedantic. He had my attention but abused it. I was not able to finish this book, but perhaps in the distant future my love of history will win out and I'll finish it.
Yolanda Parsons
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you enjoy history, this is a fabulous read.
Pinko Palest
Apr 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
a quite conservative take on a very fiery and revolutionary period. Makes for some rather depressing reading
Ben
Dec 23, 2015 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
...more
Pete Welter
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like many of my favorite histories, this one filled in some gaps for me about the time after the American Revolutionary War and before the age of Napoleon. The book is told from three main perspectives, American, French and Russian, and the major focus of the book is to illustrate how much interplay there was between each of these. We (or at least I) sometimes think of the pre-telegraph days, when news traveled across oceans by ship or across land by horse, as eras when communication so slow as ...more
Joe
Jun 21, 2015 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
...more
Bryan
Jan 01, 2009 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
John Kaufmann
Nov 21, 2013 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
Lauren Albert
Oct 12, 2014 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.
Manu Dell'aquila
Mar 07, 2015 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.
Sloane Shearman
May 25, 2016 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.
Avis Black
Jun 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
A cursory overview of information you should already know if you've had a halfway decent education. For example, if you've never heard of the Salem Witch Trials, then this is the book for you.
Reginald Ankrom
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you are like me and one who is fascinated by the players and history of the American Revolution, you have given little thought to what was happening with the great nations in the rest of the world. This is the book to change that. Jay Winik's excellent book "April 1865" was the reason I picked up a copy of his "The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800." It was not an easy decision. Upheaval is 659 pages long. And I have never ventured far from America's shores ...more
Joe
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an extremely ambitious history that focuses on the last decade of the 18th century and follows the seismic events that took place across three continents and cultures. From the creation of the U.S. Constitution to the Terror of Revolutionary France to Catherine the Great's conquests of the Crimea and Poland, it is a sweeping history which poses as its central premise the "interwoven tapestry" of these seemingly geographically and nationally separate events. As we expect from Winik, this ...more
Robert Melnyk
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very long (almost 600 pages) and detailed, but fascinating book by Jay Winik. When I saw this book, I thought it was going to be a history of the early years of the United States of America. But it is actually a world history book, describing what was going on in the world during the infancy of a new nation. It focuses on America, France, and Russia but also touches on other counties during that period of time, such as Spain, Italy, Prussia, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire. Winik describes in det ...more
Alex Scroxton
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this a fascinating, well-written account of a period of history of which generations of British schoolchildren remain profoundly ignorant, thanks to an educational system that continues to peddle the myth of Empire and British exceptionalism.

This book also has a lot to say about American exceptionalism, and in this it is very much a book of its time, written in 2007 at the close of a period of unprecedented American hegemony.

The subsequent debasement of America's democracy, her abrogatio
...more
Brett Van Gaasbeek
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best history books I have read in a long time. Winik is exceptional in his delivery of three separate histories of the fledgling United States, the Revolutionary France, and the expanding Tsarist Russia during the last decade of the 1700s. While separate in story and tone, these three nations are intertwined both then and now with the same questions of their nation's destiny and the treatment of their people. It was fascinating to think that the contemporaries Washington, Loui ...more
David Sheets
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.

Jay Winik describes in considerable detail how the American Revolution rippled across Europe and Asia with devastating effect. In France, the Bourbon dynasty and French society collapse under the weight of revolutionary zeal. In Russia,
...more
Steve
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Winik's prose is breathless melodrama, with each section of a few paragraphs or a few pages ending with a kind of soap opera scenes from the next episode (example at random: "But that doesn't mean the haunting contradictions and moral sentiments weren't there. New paragraph. They had long been there."). And he loves to add unnecessary words or phrases to an absurd degree along the lines of "If she was hard to please, and she was." But I can't argue with the research, with the well-shaped tale of ...more
Larry
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
About 2/3 through. A most enjoyable read. I started reading a few other books about the French Revolution, as I had no personal knowledge of that history until a year or so ago; I worry about the parallels with what is going on in the country today. My sister recommended this, and it has been highly entertaining and informative. As little as I knew about the French Revolution, my knowledge of Russia in that timeframe was even less. I find myself adding many new titles to my reading list based on ...more
Alex Treece
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Note: I listened to this on audiobook.

The book was fantastic and the audio performance from Jonathan Davis was classic.

If you love history, you will love this book. It seems like some others criticized the tying together (or lack thereof) of narratives between America, France and Russia. I don’t have this criticism and walk away feeling the interconnected-ness of all the players in the global drama that unfolded.

I thought Winik did an incredible job telling the personal stories of the characters
...more
Shaheer
Jun 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is a frustratingly bad book. Not only does Winik fail to tie his 3 sections together and convincingly argue his thesis, but he also editorializes at every step, goes on endless tangents, and can't stay away from purple prose.
Regardless, I would have likely given this 3 stars if his sections on the Ottomans weren't so awful; Winik can't seem to go a sentence without criticizing the Ottomans and Islam in ways he never does for the the Americans, French, or Russians. Despite covering (and excu
...more
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A New York Times best-selling author and American historian. He had a brief career in the U.S. government's foreign policy, involving civil wars around the globe, from the former Yugoslavia to El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Cambodia, including helping to create the United Nations plan to end Cambodia's civil war. In 1991, he took up writing history full-time.

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