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The brilliance of a master historian shines through this personal account of a lifetime’s work.
Over a remarkable career Bernard Bailyn has reshaped our understanding of the early American past. Inscribing his superb scholarship with passion and imagination honed by a commitment to rigour, Bailyn captures the particularity of the past and its broad significance in precise, elegant prose. His transformative work has ranged from a new reckoning with the ideology that powered the opposition to British authority in the American Revolution to a sweeping account of the peopling of America and the critical nurturing of a new field, the history of the Atlantic world.
Illuminating History is the most personal of Bailyn’s works. It is in part an intellectual memoir of the significant turns in an immensely productive and influential scholarly career. It is also alive with people whose actions touched the long arc of history. Among the dramatic human stories that command our attention: a struggling Boston merchant tormented by the tensions between capitalist avarice and a constrictive Puritan piety; an ordinary shopkeeper who in a unique way feverishly condemned British authority as corrupt and unworthy of public confidence; a charismatic German Pietist who founded a cloister in the Pennsylvania wilderness famous for its strange theosophy, its spartan lifestyle, and its rich musical and artistic achievement. And the good townspeople of Petersham, whose response in 1780 to a draft Massachusetts constitution speaks directly to us through a moving insistence on individual freedoms in the face of an imposing central authority. Here is vivid history and an illuminating self-portrait from one of the most eminent historians of our time.