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A thrilling history of the rise of anarchism, told through the stories of a number of prominent revolutionaries and the agents of the secret police who pursued them.
 
In the late nineteenth century, nations the world over were mired in economic recession and beset by social unrest, their leaders increasingly threatened by acts of terrorism and assassination from anarchist extremists. In this riveting history of that tumultuous period, Alex Butterworth follows the rise of these revolutionaries from the failed Paris Commune of 1871 to the 1905 Russian Revolution and beyond. Through the interwoven stories of several key anarchists and the secret police who tracked and manipulated them, Butterworth explores how the anarchists were led to increasingly desperate acts of terrorism and murder.
 
Rich in anecdote and with a fascinating array of supporting characters, The World That Never Was is a masterly exploration of the strange twists and turns of history, taking readers on a journey that spans five continents, from the capitals of Europe to a South Pacific penal colony to the heartland of America. It tells the story of a generation that saw its utopian dreams crumble into dangerous desperation and offers a revelatory portrait of an era with uncanny echoes of our own.


From the Hardcover edition.
Published: Pantheon Books an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on Jun 15, 2010
ISBN: 9780307379030
List price: $11.99
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Haven't you started to hate how often authors of history connect 9/11 and its aftermath to their own subject, no matter what that subject matter is? Well, here's an instance in which the comparison may actually be merited. The book tells two parallel stories through a half-dozen or so interweaving threads: the aspirations of anarchist revolutionaries and the machinations of the secret police. There certainly were violent anarchists. That's plainly evident. In Buttewrworth's book, however, it is revealed how the agents of the secret police throughout Europe actually sought to incite that violence, how they actually came to depend upon it as their raison d'etre. Seeking expanded powers to pursue the terrorists it was necessary to make them worse, hence the implementation of agent provocateurs. An actual threat was utilized as a tool to consolidate power through fear. It is undoubtedly a fascinating story. As to how successful was Butterworth in telling it, that is harder to say. I think he perhaps took on too much. He tried to encapsulate too large a span of time and told through the experiences of too many protagonists. The comment of another reviewer ("I kept getting my Russians confused") encapsulates the problem quite well. He tried to tell the story in an almost novelistic form, and it doesn't quite work. The personalities of the main players aren't well-enough fleshed-out to make them relatable or even memorable. Pared down to a more intimate scale, focusing on a smaller number of people and over a shorter length of time, it might have been much more readable. As a novel, with surprisingly little artistic license, it could have been a truly great historical-fiction political-thriller.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It took me forever to read this and I kept getting my Russians confused, but it was interesting to track how revolutionaries turned into anarchists, whose goal I just couldn't grasp.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.

Reviews

Haven't you started to hate how often authors of history connect 9/11 and its aftermath to their own subject, no matter what that subject matter is? Well, here's an instance in which the comparison may actually be merited. The book tells two parallel stories through a half-dozen or so interweaving threads: the aspirations of anarchist revolutionaries and the machinations of the secret police. There certainly were violent anarchists. That's plainly evident. In Buttewrworth's book, however, it is revealed how the agents of the secret police throughout Europe actually sought to incite that violence, how they actually came to depend upon it as their raison d'etre. Seeking expanded powers to pursue the terrorists it was necessary to make them worse, hence the implementation of agent provocateurs. An actual threat was utilized as a tool to consolidate power through fear. It is undoubtedly a fascinating story. As to how successful was Butterworth in telling it, that is harder to say. I think he perhaps took on too much. He tried to encapsulate too large a span of time and told through the experiences of too many protagonists. The comment of another reviewer ("I kept getting my Russians confused") encapsulates the problem quite well. He tried to tell the story in an almost novelistic form, and it doesn't quite work. The personalities of the main players aren't well-enough fleshed-out to make them relatable or even memorable. Pared down to a more intimate scale, focusing on a smaller number of people and over a shorter length of time, it might have been much more readable. As a novel, with surprisingly little artistic license, it could have been a truly great historical-fiction political-thriller.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It took me forever to read this and I kept getting my Russians confused, but it was interesting to track how revolutionaries turned into anarchists, whose goal I just couldn't grasp.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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