Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades

October 31, 2020
Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades

The brilliance of a master historian shines through thispersonal account of a lifetime's work.Over a remarkable career Bernard Bailyn has reshaped ourunderstanding of the early American past. Inscribing his superbscholarship with passion and imagination honed by a commitment torigor, Bailyn captures the particularity of the past and its broadsignificance in precise, elegant prose. His transformative work hasranged from a new reckoning with the ideology that powered theopposition to British authority in the American Revolution, to asweeping account of the peopling of America, and the criticalnurturing of a new field, the history of the Atlantic world.Illuminating History is the most personal of Bailyn's works. Itis in part an intellectual memoir of the significant turns in animmensely productive and influential scholarly career. It is alsoalive with people whose actions touched the long arc of history.Among the dramatic human stories that command our attention: astruggling Boston merchant tormented by the tensions betweencapitalist avarice and a constrictive Puritan piety; an ordinaryshopkeeper who in a unique way feverishly condemned Britishauthority as corrupt and unworthy of public confidence; acharismatic German Pietist who founded a cloister in thePennsylvania wilderness famous for its strange theosophy, itsspartan lifestyle, and its rich musical and artistic achievement.And the good townspeople of Petersham, whose response in 1780 to adraft Massachusetts constitution speaks directly to us through amoving insistence on individual freedoms in the face of an imposingcentral authority. Here is vivid history and an illuminatingself-portrait from one of the most eminent historians of ourtime.