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  • Cited by 5
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2020
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Book description

The Age of Sail has long fascinated readers, writers, and the general public. Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Jack London et al. treated ships at sea as microcosms; Petri dishes in which larger themes of authority, conflict and order emerge. In this fascinating book, Pfaff and Hechter explore mutiny as a manifestation of collective action and contentious politics. The authors use narrative evidence and statistical analysis to trace the processes by which governance failed, social order decayed, and seamen mobilized. Their findings highlight the complexities of governance, showing that it was not mere deprivation, but how seamen interpreted that deprivation, which stoked the grievances that motivated rebellion. Using the Age of Sail as a lens to examine topics still relevant today - what motivates people to rebel against deprivation and poor governance - The Genesis of Rebellion: Governance, Grievance, and Mutiny in the Age of Sail helps us understand the emergence of populism and rejection of the establishment.


Co-winner, 2021 Allan Sharlin Award, Social Science History Association


‘This brilliant book captures all the high drama of the Age of Sail, while providing invaluable lessons on the maintenance and failure of social order. Pfaff and Hechter's powerful analysis of how mutinies arose in the tight societies aboard British navy ships is a great read, and essential for everyone aiming to understand the nature of legitimacy, good governance, and rebellions against unjust authority.'

Jack A Goldstone - George Mason University, Virginia

‘Pfaff and Hechter offer us a good read, a great puzzle, and a compelling analysis. Their book unfolds its treasures with every page. It provides entertaining - and sometimes horrifying - tales of mutiny and rebellion in the British Age of Sail … The authors combine a wealth of material with theory and insight to make real advances in understanding the conditions that produce large-scale collective actions.'

Margaret Levi - Stanford University, California

‘This book is the best and most systematic treatment of Royal Navy mutiny in the Age of Sail, and is brimming with insights about rebellion on a broader scale … a landmark in the study of mutiny.'

Peter T. Leeson - George Mason University, Virginia

‘The subject of mutiny in the eighteenth-century British Navy has long fascinated historians of different traditions, and has provoked some lively controversy between them. What it has not provoked - until now - is the massive research effort necessary to open naval archives to serious statistical analysis. As a result it has been difficult to evaluate different claims and approaches. At long last Steven Pfaff and Michael Hechter have surmounted the challenge, and in this book they present evidence of the utmost value for historians, not only of navies but of law and order in society at large. Though it deals with the eighteenth-century, it has implications for the modern world as well.'

Nicholas Rodger - All Souls College, Oxford

‘It's hard to know where to begin in praise of The Genesis of Rebellion. For starters, this book represents comparative historical sociology at its very best. But the great value of this project lies in Pfaff and Hechter's deep command of the literatures on the study of rebellion, the convincing and original account of mutiny they adduce from their data, and their methodological commitment to studying not just ships that experienced mutinies, but those that did not. Pfaff and Hechter have given us one of very best comparative studies of rebellion conducted to date.'

Doug McAdam - Stanford University, California

‘Using mutinies as both an empirical case and a metaphor for rebellion, The Genesis of Rebellion is a theoretically crisp and empirically insightful account that links subjectively felt and collectively shared grievances with failures of governance to explain rebellious collective action. A fascinating read and an important contribution.'

Stathis N. Kalyvas - All Souls College, Oxford

‘Engagingly written, methodologically innovative, and based on previously unstudied data, The Genesis of Rebellion is a major contribution to the study of collective action. Pfaff and Hechter show that quality of governance is central to the patterns of naval mutinies, whereas private incentives and material grievances are secondary, which sheds important light on rebellions in general.'

Craig Calhoun - Arizona State University

‘The book is a masterful analysis of mutiny in the British Royal Navy, relying on decades of ships' logs and navy records to identify two factors - grievances and governance - that explain why some ships experienced mutiny and others did not. Pfaff and Hechter provide theoretical insights with contemporary relevance for understanding rebellion and other collective threats to social order.'

Christine Horne - Washington State University

‘This wonderfully written and expertly researched book … is an example of historical sociology at its very best. … Overall, the achievements of the book - an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of rebellion in a specific social and historical setting - are remarkable and put the book at the very top of my list of recommended readings for students of rebellion, protest, or insurrection.’

Andreas Wimmer Source: Perspectives on Politics

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