Award-winning historian Linda Colley shows the dawn of the modern world - through the advance of written constitutions.

Starting not with the United States, but with the Corsican constitution of 1755, The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen moves through every continent, disrupting accepted narratives. Both monarchs and radicals play a role, from Catherine the Great of Russia, with her remarkable Nakaz, to Sierra Leone's James Africanus Horton, to Tunisia's Khayr-al-Din, a creator of the first modern Islamic constitution. Throughout, Colley demonstrates how constitutions evolved in tandem with warfare, and how they have functioned to advance empire as well as promote nations, and worked to exclude as well as liberate.

Whether reinterpreting Japan's momentous 1889 constitution, or exploring the significance of the first constitution to enfranchise all adult women on Pitcairn Island in the Pacific in 1838, this is one of the most original global histories in decades.


ISBN13: 9781846684975
Format: Hardback
Number of Pages: 512
Edition: Main
Publication Date: 11 Mar 2021
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publication City, Country: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Dimensions (cm): 23.6(H) x 16(W) x 5(S)760
Weight (gm): 760

Author Biography

Linda Colley is Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University and a Fellow of the British Academy. Among her seven books, are the award-winning Britons: Forging the Nation, the highly-acclaimed The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History, and Acts of Union and Disunion for Profile, which was based on a 15-part BBC Radio series.


A virtuoso global study of how nations were formed and constitutions written upends the familiar narrative at every turn ... As with all great history books, the big picture is here, but so is the telling detail, the astute comparison, the arresting and memorable turn of phrase, the suggestive moral for our own times. ... A superb retelling of the past, The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen will surely make us rethink our present and future -- Miles Taylor * Guardian *
Dazzling ... [The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen] abounds with subtle arguments grounded in expertly marshaled sources, generously acknowledged. But perhaps the book's most impressive aspect is its mobility ... The geographic sweep and legal complexities are daunting, but Colley makes them accessible by employing a human scale. [A] bold, packed account [and] a daring revisionist move. -- Jenny Uglow * New York Review of Books *
Incandescent, paradigm-shifting ... Colley has upended much of what historians believe about the origins of written constitutions ... If there were a Nobel Prize in History, Colley would be my nominee -- Jill Lepore * New Yorker *
A global history of remarkable depth, imagination and insight -- Tony Barber * FT Summer Books *
A wide-ranging, beautifully written global history ... Colley's narrative is rich, and she emphasizes the colorful characters who have contributed to constitution-making projects around the world ... Fascinating -- Tom Ginsburg * Washington Post *
Fascinating ... Most historians emphasise literacy and liberty, seeing constitutions as the product of high-minded, slightly bloodless political salons. Colley's approach is more imaginative [with] plenty of memorably colourful details ... A different, surprising twist on international history -- Dominic Sandbrook * Sunday Times *
Rarely is a history so satisfyingly broad in outlook while avoiding abstraction and generalisation. It is rich, enjoyable, enlightening and imaginative. Colley takes you on intellectual journeys you wouldn't think to take on your own, and when you arrive you wonder that you never did it before -- David Aaronovitch * Times *
Wildly ambitious, prodigiously researched ... The narrative ranges widely and fascinatingly across continents and prominent historical figures ... A sweeping, unique, truly world-spanning political and military history * Kirkus Reviews *
A book of stupendous range and originality, The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen delivers an ambitious new account of the making of the modern world. Linda Colley has an unparalleled ability to bring together the histories of ideas, politics, and people, and to distill prodigious learning into a narrative that is at once incisively argued and an immense pleasure to read. Rippling with fresh interpretations, startling connections, and remarkable stories, this is a masterpiece of global history by one of the greatest historians working today -- Maya Jasanoff, Harvard University
The purest crystallization of modern politics is the written constitution. Despite its lofty ideals, the document's many guises across the world repeatedly failed to meet their stated aspirations. Remarkable therefore are our centuries of persistent belief in constitutions. With her characteristic skill, erudition, and creativity, Linda Colley, one of our greatest historians, explains this seeming conundrum through a history of the durability of human hope, war, and political imagination. This is a monumentally important book -- Alan Mikhail, author of * God's Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World *
A remarkable feat of scholarship on an international scale ... Impressive -- Jonathan Sumption * Spectator *
Linda Colley is a historian of her time; but she is also a completely original intelligence -- R. F. Foster
In this ambitious work, Linda Colley seeks to rethink the "long" nineteenth century through the prism of the many constitutions it produced. Written with characteristic vigor and clarity, her book shows the continued validity of "big picture" history in asking searching questions and providing unexpected answers -- Sanjay Subrahmanyam, author of * Europe's India, Words, People, Empires, 1500-1800 *
In this bold, lucid, and wide-ranging book, Linda Colley reveals the international dialogue that created our age of constitutions. She insightfully embeds the emergence of new modes of governance in the global interplay of mass literacy with mass warfare. Colley helps us understand the true origins and growing importance of constitutional government. -- Alan Taylor, author of * Thomas Jefferson's Education *
A marvelous tour with a brilliant guide through world history in search of the early adopters of written constitutions --a thoroughly enjoyable read! -- Mary Bilder, author of * Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention *
From the Mediterranean to Japan, a dazzling, beautifully-written and surprising tale to discover the deep connections between the transformations of modern warfare and the rise of constitutions across the globe. A must read. -- M'hamed Oualdi, Sciences Po, Paris
One of the most exciting historians of her generation, but also one of the most interesting writers of non-fiction around -- William Dalrymple * Guardian *
Linda Colley, in her surprising and insightful new book, asks us to view the development of constitutionalism across the globe as part of an interlinked set of historical processes ... Examples scarcely give a full flavour of Colley's richly integrated history -- Colin Kidd * New Statesman *
Reassesses the enduring connection between might and right in the creation of nations, citizens and constitutions -- Clare Mulley * Spectator Books of the Year *
Written with Colley's usual erudition, insight and style ... transforms what sounds like the dry matter of paper documents into an enthralling account of how warfare, national identity and colonial exploitation follow each other in the emergence of constitutions across the world. A work of thrilling scholarship -- Joan Bakewell * New Statesman Books of the Year *
The Gun, the Ship and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions and the Making of the Modern World

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