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American history
political science

The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents

Alex Butterworth.
Publisher Pantheon  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.55 inches
ISBN 9780375425110
Pages/Publication Date 482/2010
Daedalus Item Code 30069
This item is not available.
By the late 19th century, nations around the world were mired in economic stagnation and social unrest, giving rise to acts of terrorism and assassination from anarchists and extremists who held their leaders responsible. In his riveting history of that period, Alex Butterworth follows these revolutionaries from the failed Paris Commune of 1871 to the abortive 1905 Russian Revolution and beyond. Through interwoven stories of several key anarchists and the secret police who tracked and manipulated them, Butterworth considers how these extremists often held utopian dreams, but were led to increasingly desperate acts of terrorism and murder.

"In its thorough, compelling examination of anarchism, The World That Never Was is not a chronicle of isolated violent acts committed by deranged individuals. Rather, it convincingly portrays anarchism as the product of an inexorable human impulse. And it leads one to ask if anarchism might again (or, perhaps, still) be lurking at the fringes of society."Washington Post

"Butterworth shows how political violence committed by disorganized cells of anarchists, socialists, and nihilists fuelled fears of an international conspiracy and justified reactionary crackdowns.... [He] brings these figures to life without romanticizing their followers, who claimed the lives of a Russian tsar, an American president, and, most consequential, Archduke Franz Ferdinand."The New Yorker

"Reports that al-Qaeda operatives were studying Bakunin have encouraged journalists to explain 21st-century Jihadists by quoting 19th-century anarchists. Butterworth fears that ignorance of anarchist principles often makes these explanations misleading. And it is genuine understanding of this forgotten tradition that he here offers. Readers learn of the piquant personalities of prominent anarchists (including the volatile Bakunin, the passionate Kropotkin, and the peripatetic Rochefort) and of the diverse settings (from the steppes of Russia to the stockyards of Chicago) in which they pursued their political dreams. But it is finally ideas that trump character and geography. Very far from the religious principles of Jihadists, these ideas promise a secular world of free individuals finding social justice without institutional coercion. Though Butterworth represents these hopes sympathetically, we witness their dark transformation, as frustrated idealists turn to violence and terrorism. We also detect an even more troubling metamorphosis in the government agents charged with ferreting out these subversives. Okhrana officers serving the czar set the tone, but soon police commissioned by Western democracies follow suit, trampling on the rights of ordinary citizens in the name of the law. Butterworth urges his readers to recognize the alarming contemporary parallels. A narrative taut with intrigue and freighted with contemporary significance."Booklist (starred review)

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