In This Review

The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800
The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800
By Jay Winik
Harper Collins, 2007, 688 pp.

Winik's last book, April 1865, was a well-crafted and perceptive account of the end of the American Civil War. In The Great Upheaval, he paints on a larger canvas, seeking to place the emergence of an independent United States in the context of the times. This is important work. Too often, writers on U.S. history neglect the global context in which that history unfolded. The years that Americans know as the Federalist era, under the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, saw the French Revolution, the decisive triumph of Russia over the Ottoman Empire, and the consolidation of tsarist autocracy in Russia -- partly in response to the revolutions in America and France. Winik deserves praise for his efforts to integrate U.S. history into the broader story, but The Great Upheaval does not always succeed. Winik's style can be breathless and overwrought, and his global history adheres a little too uncritically to the blandest and most conventional versions of events. But Winik has a real gift for narrative history, and his commitment to making serious history available to a wide audience sets an example one hopes others will follow.