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Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism Hardcover – March 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Burleigh (Earthly Powers), one of the leading English-language scholars of the role of ideas in the modern world, makes another major contribution in this pull-no-punches cultural study of terrorism as it has been lived and practiced for a century and a half. Burleigh sees modern terrorism's roots in the mid–19th century, with the emergence of the Irish Fenians, the Russian nihilists, the Western anarchists who used fear induced by violence to compensate for their lack of political power. Their tactics were adopted in the mid–20th century by movements seeking decolonization, like the Palestinian Black September, Italy's Red Brigades and Germany's Red Army Faction. By century's end, terrorism further mutated into a tool for marginalized local nations like the Basques. Most recently, terrorism has become identified with what Burleigh calls the world rage of Islamism. Burleigh's case studies demonstrate mercilessly that terrorism is a career, a culture, and a way of life attractive for its own sake as well as its ostensible objectives. The terrorist milieu, the author demonstrates convincingly, is morally squalid, intellectually bankrupt and politically barren. Burleigh considers the lessons history has to teach us, though he eschews policy recommendations. (Mar.)
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'Takes everybody from Fenians and anarchists to the Red Brigades and al-Qaeda, and is written with characteristically biting flair.' Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph (Books of the Year) 'Typically excellent...There are few better writers at work today.' Sunday Times (Books of the Year) 'Burleigh's evident ability to assimilate and communicate incisively...a highly intelligent and comprehensive survey of recent terrorism.' Observer 'Burleigh has entered the fray with a more magisterial tome, broad in scope, powerful in argument and brimming with healthy rage. Uncompromising...a riveting book.' Scotsman --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061173851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061173851
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Burleigh is the author of Blood and Rage, Earthly Powers, Sacred Causes, and The Third Reich, for which he was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Fernando Villegas on November 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael Burleigh seems incapable of writing a mediocre book, much less a bad one. With this his examination of modern terrorism since middle XIX century is a wisely mixed exercise of enormous scholarly research and -not always an scholarly feature-deep penetrating intelligence. The reader gets a clear picture of this kind of disease as something coming, at last, from distorted social and cultural conditions in the middle of an atmosphere of suffocating lack of institutional alternatives, so there is no way to give an adequate expression to complains and the paths of sane development for new generations are kept closed. From this insane pot a first intent for violence as an illusory remedy of all that comes, next the fast development of sheer terrorism as almost a way of living with his unpleasant gallery of characters, blood lust, rage and brutality.
A great book.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Les Fearns on June 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It is soon clear that there is nothing new in our current preoccupation with bombings, even suicide bombings, and acts of political or religious terror. Burleigh starts with the Irish Fenians of the 19th century (bomb factories, innocent deaths, deaths of bombers, pre-emptive arrests and "hard" questioning by the authorities - it was all there in the past too ) then progresses (regresses?) through Russian bombers, anarchists onto the 20th century terrorist groups: Israeli, Palestinian, Irish, Basque, the European Red Brigades. The final (largest) section encompasses contemporary Islamist terror groups.

Some is done well. Burleigh is best on the more focused sections where he can follow a linear history: Fenians, Basques & Israeli terrorism as well as the final section on contemporary Islamist terror movements. Elsewhere (anarchism especially) exposition is at times over complex and confusing. I felt even a timeline would cope better with the huge amount of chronology and undeveloped personalities and events offered. Perhaps its scope is over ambitious. It may have been better to break it down into a couple of volumes (and so also include the latin American movements of the 1970's: tightly linked in many ways to the Red Brigades/RAF but a curious and large omission, even if admitted to by the author in the introduction).

At its best this a very good survey despite being openly opinionated, (increasingly so as chapters near the present). It could also do without the authors own explicit "solutions" at the end - many of these are certainly valid but are largely implicitly clear to the perceptive reader and do not require reinforcement. Perhaps more for research and dipping into rather than reading from cover to cover, this remains a valid and accessible addition to the topic.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Peter Davies on October 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book. It was all the better for not making theories, or grand strategies, bit for its straightforward description of people and events. It shows that the people involved in terrorism are dangerous, usually on a basis of criminality or inadequacy. Giving a criminal a "noble cause" or a "lifelong fight" gives him or her a plausible (but utterly false) reason for acts that are utterly despicable on the basis that they can do no good, make no relationships, and can only cause harm, destruction and alienation.

Historical or current grudges are a fertile soil for terrorism, but not a justification for it- because the means invalidates any end it might claim to want to achieve. That terrorism can only cause harm is one of the main messages of this book. Terrorists need to personify their enemies as different, undesirable and other from them. The truth is we are all human, and we all bleed like each other. Burleigh's point that all terrorist victims are people merely wanting to go about their daily business and relate well to other people is well made.

The ability of states to contort their best values (freedom of speech, liberty of assembly, tolerance for others of different backgrounds or opinions) to accommodate terrorists is well described. The role of some lawyers in achieving this is well described. Law, and the uses to which it is used, and to which it is not enforced tell us a lot about the values in our societies. In the UK our libel laws, "Londonistan", and our reluctance to deport certain people are our contributions to enabling terrorism.

This book is powerful, and useful reading. We are all potentially terrorist targets, as we are all "decadent" in some way or other. This book should encourage us that terrorism is a problem that is ultimately sortable, and exposes well the emptiness of purported justifications of it.

I can recommend it to others.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Markowitz on January 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
On September 11, 2001, with the destruction of the Twin Towers, a paradigm shift occurred that would move "terrorism" from an item of peripheral interest to being the central concern of our times. Terrorism is defined as the tactic used by non-governmental entities that create a climate of fear in lieu of legitimate political power.

Michael Burleigh's Blood and Rage is a cultural history of modern terrorism starting in the mid-nineteenth century with the Irish Fenians and concluding with present day Islamic terrorism. Although he makes no attempt to catalog all terrorist movements, he does account for many major strains including the Russian nihilists and revolutionaries, European anarchists, Jewish and Arab radicals in pre-Israel Palestine, the Red Brigade, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Irish Republican Army, Al Qaeda, and more.

Because it is primarily a cultural history, he focuses on the life histories and actions of the key players rather than the theories behind their actions. In the process we begin to get a better understanding of the personalities and behaviors of some of the critical participants in these movements. Among the individuals that are chronicled are Abu Nidal, Carlos the Jackal, Yasser Arafat, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, Moshe Dayan, and Osama bin Laden.

This is a fascinating study of a critically important subject that lends credence to, at least at times, such seemingly incongruous statements as "yesterday's terrorist is tomorrow's statesman" and that "terrorists are morally insane without being clinically psychotic."

Burleigh concludes his study with a thoughtful discussion of practical steps that governments can perform to counter the conditions that allow terrorism to grow and spread.
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