In This Review

The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
By Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker
Beacon Press, 2000, 352 pp
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Long aware of the interrelationship between the democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century, many historians place the American and French Revolutions in a comparative Atlantic context. Linebaugh and Rediker have applied this broad geographical approach in their richly documented and illustrated book. But these authors highlight the perspective of working people, recounting the stories of sailors, slaves, pirates, and indentured servants during the unprecedented expansion of trade and colonization in the eighteenth century. This bottom-up history shows how common folk crossed national, ethnic, and racial boundaries as they traversed the Atlantic on trade ships and slave ships. The authors also look at dozens of small rebellions on both sides of the North Atlantic, seen by rulers as a dangerous hydra that needed to be brutally suppressed. Out of this hidden history of contestation and repression came ideas that fueled the age of revolution. Both Adam Smith and Karl Marx, the authors point out, understood the importance of the maritime origins of this early globalization. This riveting work shows the social consequences of that great era of transatlantic interaction and integration.