Gordon S. Wood

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Gordon S. Wood
Wood in 2008
Gordon Stewart Wood[1]

(1933-11-27) November 27, 1933 (age 90)
Alma materTufts University (BA)
Harvard University (MA, PhD)
Children3, including Christopher
AwardsPulitzer Prize (1993)
Bancroft Prize (1970)
National Humanities Medal (2010)
Scientific career
InstitutionsCollege of William and Mary
Harvard University
University of Michigan
Brown University
Cambridge University
Northwestern University
Doctoral advisorBernard Bailyn

Gordon Stewart Wood (born November 27, 1933) is an American historian and professor at Brown University. He is a recipient of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992). His book The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (1969) won the 1970 Bancroft Prize. In 2010, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.

Early life and education[edit]

Wood was born in Concord, Massachusetts, and grew up in Worcester and Waltham. He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Tufts University in 1955 and has served as a trustee there. After serving in the United States Air Force in Japan, during which time he earned an MA at Harvard University, he entered the PhD program in history at Harvard, where he studied under Bernard Bailyn, receiving his PhD in 1964.


Wood has taught at Harvard University, the College of William and Mary, the University of Michigan, Brown University, and in 1982–83 was Pitt Professor at Cambridge University.

In addition to his books (listed below), Wood has written numerous influential articles, notably "Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution" (1966), "Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style: Causality and Deceit in the Eighteenth Century" (1982), and "Interests and Disinterestedness in the Making of the Constitution" (1987). He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New Republic.

A recent project was the third volume of the Oxford History of the United StatesEmpire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009) – a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Contributing to the anthology Our American Story (2019), Wood addressed the possibility of a shared American narrative. He focused on the idea of equality as "the most radical and most powerful ideological force" that the American Revolution unleashed. "This powerful sense of equality is still alive and well in America, and despite all of its disturbing and unsettling consequences, it is what makes us one people."[2] Wood was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1988[3] and the American Philosophical Society in 1994.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich publicly and effusively praised Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992). Wood, who met Gingrich once in 1994, surmised that Gingrich may have approved because the book "had a kind of Toquevillian touch to it, I guess, maybe suggesting American exceptionalism, that he liked". He jokingly described Gingrich's praise in an interview on C-SPAN in 2002 as "the kiss of death for me among a lot of academics, who are not right-wing Republicans."[5]

Wood was mentioned in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting. In one scene, Matt Damon's character mentions Gordon Wood while standing up to a Harvard student who is ridiculing Ben Affleck's character at a bar. He accuses the Harvard student of shallowly reiterating ideas he has encountered in his coursework, telling him that soon he would be "regurgitating Gordon Wood, talking about [...] the pre-Revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization."[6] Wood said of the scene, "That’s my two seconds of fame! More kids know about that than any of the books I have written."[7] This scene was later parodied by the television show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in which the character Charlie Kelly attempts to "pull a Good Will Hunting" and asks "does no one know who Gordon Wood is?"

Personal life[edit]

Wood married the former Louise Goss on April 30, 1956. They have three children: Christopher, Elizabeth and Amy.[1] Their son, Christopher Wood, is a professor of German at New York University and their daughter, Amy, is a professor of history at Illinois State University, and Elizabeth is an administrator at Milton Academy.



External videos
video icon Booknotes interview with Wood on The American Revolution: A History, April 21, 2002, C-SPAN
video icon Interview with Wood on The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, June 4, 2004, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Wood on Revolutionary Characters, May 30, 2006, C-SPAN
video icon After Words interview with Wood on Revolutionary Characters, July 1, 2006, C-SPAN
video icon Q&A interview with Wood on The Purpose of the Past, April 13, 2008, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Wood on The Purposes of the Past, September 27, 2008, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Wood on Empire of Liberty, October 7, 2009, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Wood on Empire of Liberty, September 25, 2010, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Wood on The Idea of America, May 18, 2011, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Wood on The Idea of America, November 29, 2011, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Wood on Friends Divided, November 1, 2017, C-SPAN
video icon Q&A interview with Wood on Friends Divided, December 17, 2017, C-SPAN
  • The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1969.
  • The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. (ISBN 978-0679736882)
  • The American Revolution: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2001. (ISBN 978-0812970418)
  • The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Penguin Press, 2004. (ISBN 978-0143035282)
  • Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. (ISBN 978-0143112082)
  • The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History. New York: Penguin Press, 2008. (ISBN 978-0143115045)
  • Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. (ISBN 978-0199832460)
  • The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States. New York: Penguin, 2011. (ISBN 978-0143121244)
  • Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. New York: Penguin, 2017. (ISBN 978-0735224735)
  • Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. (ISBN 978-0197546918)

Pamphlets and lectures[edit]


  • (With J.R. Pole) Social Radicalism and the Idea of Equality in the American Revolution. Houston, Texas: University of St. Thomas, 1976.
  • (With others) The Great Republic. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977; 4th ed.: Lexington, Massachusetts: Heath, 1992.

Book chapters[edit]

As editor[edit]


  1. ^ a b Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2010. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC. Document Number: H1000107915. Retrieved 2010-06-22
  2. ^ Claybourn, Joshua, ed. (2019). Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books. pp. 55–65. ISBN 978-1640121706.
  3. ^ "Gordon Stewart Wood". 6 December 2023.
  4. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  5. ^ "The American Revolution". Booknotes. April 21, 2002. Retrieved November 14, 2021.
  6. ^ Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. "American Rhetoric: Movie Speech - "Good Will Hunting"". Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  7. ^ Porch, Scott (September 24, 2015). "Gordon Wood says his 15 minutes of fame came with "Good Will Hunting" (Interview)". History News Network.

External links[edit]