Crane Brinton

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Clarence Crane Brinton (Winsted, Connecticut, 1898 - Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 7, 1968) was an American historian of France, as well as an historian of ideas. His most famous work, The Anatomy of Revolution, compared the dynamics of revolutionary movements to the progress of fever.[1]

Born in Winland, Connecticut, his family soon moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he grew up. Brinton attended the public schools there before entering Harvard University in 1915. His excellent academic performance enabled him to win a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University. Receiving a Doctor of Philosophy (D.Phil.) degree there in 1923, Brinton began teaching at Harvard University that same year, becoming full professor in 1942 and remaining at Harvard until his death.[2] He served as president of the American Historical Association, the professional association of historians, as well as the Society for French Historical Studies. In the early 1960s he was the dissertation supervisor at Harvard of the young historian Will Johnston.[3]

For many years he taught a popular course at Harvard known informally to his students as "Breakfast with Brinton."

Brinton was known for his witty, convivial, and urbane writing and commentary,[4] and was fluent in French. During WWII he was for a time Chief of Research and Analysis in London in the Office of Strategic Services.[5] He was also Fire Marshal for St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which withstood the Blitz with minor damages. After the war, he was commended by the United States Army for "Conspicuous Contribution to the Liberation of France" and was Chairman of the Society of Fellows at Harvard in the late 1940s.[6] Among other figures, Fellows during that period included McGeorge Bundy and Ray Cline, who were quite influential in national security and intelligence.

In 1968, Crane Brinton testified at the Fulbright Senate hearings on the Vietnam war as to the nature of the Vietnamese opposition. He died in September 1968.

Brinton wrote a review of Carroll Quigley's book Tragedy and Hope. Among those his scholarship inspired were Samuel P. Huntington, who cited Brinton many times in his book Political Order in Changing Societies,[citation needed] and Robert Struble, Jr., in his Treatise on Twelve Lights.[7]


  • The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists (1926, 1966)
  • The Jacobins: An Essay in the New History (1930), a detailed account of the political radicals of the French Revolution
  • A Decade of Revolution (1934), a study of the French Revolution
  • "The History of Paper Money to the War," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 6, No. 3, September 1934
  • The Lives of Talleyrand (1936), a biography of Talleyrand with a uniquely favorable perspective
  • The Anatomy of Revolution (1938, revised 1965)
  • Ideas and Men: the Story of Western Thought (1950, 1963), an account of Western thought from ancient Greece to the present
  • A History of Western Morals (1959), an account of ethical questions
  • The Shaping of the Modern Mind (1963), an abridged version of his Ideas and Men
  • "Ideas in History," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 37, No. 4, December 1965
  • The Americans and the French (1968), an attempt to explain the often difficult relations between two long-time allies


  1. ^ "Over the Hill? The Anatomy of Revolution at Fifty", Torbjørn L. Knutsen and Jennifer L. Bailey, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Nov., 1989), pp. 421-431
  2. ^ Columbia Encyclopedia entry on Brinton
  3. ^ Roderick Stackelberg, Memory and History: Recollections of a Historian of Nazism (2011), p. 88
  4. ^ Reviews of Brinton's History of Western Morals
  5. ^ Reference to Brinton's work for OSS
  6. ^ Time 3 May 1948 article quoting Brinton as Society president
  7. ^ For example, in his fifth chapter, "Recourse to the Sword", of the online book Treatise on Twelve Lights

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