Anthony Pagden

A Light unto the World?

The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World, 1775–1848

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Jonathan Israel’s latest book claims to be ‘an overview of the revolutionary process in the Western and colonial worlds down to the 1850s viewed from the particular perspective of the American revolutionary example, experience and ideas’. And so, in part, it is. It covers the stories of the North American, French and Haitian revolutions, the wars of independence in Spanish America, the ‘nationalist’ – although Israel forcefully rejects the use of this term – uprisings in Europe in the 1830s and the democratic republican revolutions of 1848 in exhaustive detail and with all Israel’s wide-ranging, resolutely unprovincial erudition, though everything of substance he has to say about the French Revolution is drawn from his Revolutionary Ideas of 2014. It is a subject that, as Israel rightly says, has been ‘rarely examined and discussed in broad context’.

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