The Great Upheaval

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See the Cast of Characters

Jay Winik’s immensely popular and internationally acclaimed April 1865 was a New York Times bestseller for six weeks and a number one national bestseller in 2001. The New York Times Book Review hailed the book as “dramatic…brilliant…epic;” the Wall Street Journal called it “magnificent;” and Publishers Weekly declared the book “a triumph.” Now Winik, who has been read at the highest levels of government and counts as his fans the last three presidents, returns with one of the most eagerly anticipated books of history in years.  Six years in the making, illustrated with a 16-page photo insert and maps, THE GREAT UPHEAVAL: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800 (HarperCollins; September 11, 2007; $29.95) by Jay Winik is a landmark historical work that overturns the conventional scholarship and offers critical lessons for today. In his much-beloved narrative style, Winik presents a fresh and compelling portrait of democracy’s founders; masterfully rebuts the myth that early America was “splendidly isolated” from the rest of the globe; reveals the modern world’s first bloody Holy War; and gives center stage to a powerful and fascinating female leader: Catherine the Great.

Just as April 1865 showed that how wars end is as important as how they begin, THE GREAT UPHEAVAL imparts its own cautionary tale of expansionist and democratic overreach. “We can’t figure out where we’re going if we don’t fully understand where we came from,” Winik stresses. “Leaders and nations ignore this at their peril.”

As the 1790s began, a fragile America teetered on the brink of oblivion, Russia towered as a vast imperial power, and France plunged into monumental revolution. But contrary to what has been written in the past, none of these remarkable events occurred in isolation.  Winik masterfully illuminates how their fates combined in one extraordinary moment to change the course of civilization. Exquisitely written, THE GREAT UPHEAVAL is the first history to bring alive the world as great leaders like Washington, Jefferson, Louis XVI, Adams, Napoleon, and Catherine the Great actually experienced it.  Their world has been lost to history until now, as Jay Winik brilliantly restores it with the all intimacy and immediacy of a novel.

Readers of THE GREAT UPHEAVAL travel with these legendary characters across an arc of revolutionary fervor gripping vibrant French salons, a young Philadelphia, a luxurious St. Petersburg, as well as the mysteries of the Islamic sultanate in Constantinople. The vivid details of their lives are engrossing: a despondent George Washington fearing immediate war with France and hearing of toasts to his own “speedy death;” Catherine the Great awash with grief following the beheading of Marie Antoinette, dressed in mourning black for six weeks; Thomas Paine shivering with jail fever while anticipating execution by Robespierre in France.

In this stunning work of history, we see a violent world war and the deadly clashes of ideology that defined this revolutionary age.  We see how in the name of security against France, President Adams’s America, fighting to survive at home and abroad, repressed civil liberties. And we see how a once enlightened Catherine the Great, watching events unfold in America and France, plotted to destroy the democratic menace sweeping the globe. Through the story of Russia’s and Napoleon’s bitter struggles with the Muslim world, THE GREAT UPHEAVAL helps the reader understand how the savage battle between Christianity and Islam was launched. Here Winik provides a fascinating window into both the history of the Ottoman Empire, and the mournful seeds of the conflict in contemporary Iraq.

Reconstructing this period required Herculean research spanning several academic fields, languages, and countries. But what emerges from this ambitious task is clear: one of the finest works of history ever written and a breathtaking portrait of the most significant age in all of human history, in which the great nations of the day and their leaders all watched each other and reacted to each other. And their momentous decisions are still determining world events today. 

In fact, the parallels between this period of history and current events are uncanny: this acclaimed historian who offered important perspective following 9/11, whose insights were ardently studied by the chairs of the bipartisan Iraq WMD Commission, and who presciently stressed crucial historical lessons about guerrilla warfare now presents an epic story that warns against the perils of zealously spreading democracy abroad as well as mishandling Islam.

Read by Presidents Clinton and Bush, candidate John Edwards, George Lucas, Quincy Jones, Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, baseball star Mike Piazza, Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, and the late Peter Jennings, among others, April 1865 was a rare book of history that forever changed our understanding of the Civil War. An even more magisterial work, THE GREAT UPHEAVAL achieves the same result for this amazing era when democracy first took root. After six years of anticipation, Winik’s fans have reason to celebrate, and readers and students of history everywhere, a book to devour. 

Jay Winik is one of the nation's leading historians and the author of the New York Times bestsellers April 1865 and The Great Upheaval. read more »

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The Era that Redefined History
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