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Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871 Paperback – October 1, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Holy Madness, Adam Zamoyski has written a history of revolutions, and of the romantic and sometimes ridiculous revolutionaries who inspired them. But because revolution was so ubiquitous an activity in the 19th century, what he has actually produced is a comprehensive account of Western civilization from 1776 to 1871. Inspired by the American Revolution (1776) and the French Revolution (1789), the whole of Europe, and large portions of the rest of the world, was regularly convulsed by the urge to fashion Utopia on Earth. Zamoyski manages to flesh out these events with well-chosen detail and a fine sense of the touching comic-heroics they often entailed, as well as the bloodletting and the horror. As a historian of Poland, Zamoyski untangles the many uprisings in Eastern Europe with particular aplomb, but his account of France is also adept, with a vivid portrayal of the idealism of the Paris Commune, overthrown in 1871.

Holy Madness advances a particular argument: that the century of revolutionary upheaval was the direct result of the waning of religion as a universal human-value system. Post-Enlightenment men and women turned to the ecstasies of patriotism and revolution to fill the void left by belief in God, hoping to construct a paradise on Earth rather than wait for one in heaven. According to this thesis, revolution was a new theology: "The theology may have been shaky, but the new religion did have a god. That god was the sovereign nation, whose service was the highest calling, as countless revolutionary catechisms pointed out." It's an ingenious line, worked through thoroughly, although it doesn't explain everything--for instance, why Britain was almost entirely free of revolutionary upset during the same period. But this is thought-provoking and well-made historical writing. --Adam Roberts, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Zamoyski (The Polish Way; Paderewski. o.p.) has written extensively on the history and people of his native Poland, and it is the liberating odyssey of his homeland that explains his empathy for the protagonists of this rambling narrative. Holy Madness covers a century of revolutionary fervor that started with the American Revolution and ended with the demise of the Paris Commune in 1871. The Marquis de Lafayette, Francisco de Miranda, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Giuseppe Garibaldi are just a few of the paladins of liberty who roam the pages of this saga. Their common bond was a liberal ideology that rested on a belief in the innate goodness of human beings. Inevitably, the revolutionary fires they started consumed many of the souls that were seized by this holy madness. Yet today, from Russia to Mexico, their dream of creating governments responsive to personal liberties is closer to reality than ever before in the history of the West. Holy Madness is a good choice for any public or academic library that seeks to strengthen its Western civilization collections.AJim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (November 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141002239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141002231
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,686,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Zamoyski's ambitious book is a triumph. His sweep encompasses virtually all of Europe and North and South America from the 1770s to the 1870s. His theme is the way in which radicals, nationalists and revolutionaries appropriated religious fervour, rituals and iconography for their own protean causes. We meet an amazing assortment of cranks, would-be messiahs, unfocused idealists, adventurers and imposters. Though the events it describes are sometimes quite tragic, enlivened by Zamoyski's unfailing light touch it is one of the funniest history books I have ever read.
I'm sure in a book of this scope specialist historians will find minor errors of fact; but general readers should not be deterred. Sometimes the need to simplify matters leads to some questionable interpretations. For example, I thought Zamoyski understated the extent to which the French were duped by Bismark into starting the Franco-Prussian War. I also felt he was running out a steam towards the end, so that his treatment of the Paris Commune was not as rich as one might have hoped.
As someone who has long been baffled by the need for many European and American countries constantly to rehash their foundational myths, I found Zamoyski's good humoured debunking of them hugely enjoyable.
Anyone interested in modern history should read this splendid book as a matter of urgency.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
That is Zamoyski's premise: as the Enlightenment loosened the Church's hold on the minds of the intellectual classes in Europe it was replaced for some by a mystic, fanatical love of "country." The entire concept of belonging to a country, of having loyalty to a country, of dying for a country was something of a novelty in 18th century Europe. While people may have been willing to fight an enemy to defend their personal home they idea of having a bond with countrymen - people you have never and would never see - was almost unthinkable in, say, the 14th century. The word "madness" in the title is deliberate. Zamoyski shows that this love of country all to often went over the edge of fanaticism and incorporated many of the worst excesses of religion that the Enlightenment disavowed. In some respects Zamoyski is offering a countering theory to Schama's Citizens in which faith in Science and Progress unleashed the excesses of revolution.

This was the second book I read by Zamoyski (The Last King of Poland was the first) and like the first book this is not a quick read. It requires attention. Zamoyski's chapters in this book often start out slow making the book grind to a near halt on occasion. If you enjoy European History and a distinctive POV stick with it, this book is worth your time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What is at the heart of all revolutions? Zamoyski answers the question. Brilliantly.
Strongly recommend. Amusing and chilling at the same time.
Starting in 1776 with the American offering of revolution, Zamoyski proceeds to describe those produced by
France, etc etc. For those who are fascinated by Polish history, this book has much to offer. For everyone else
this book is A MUST.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
These people are usually portrayed as visionaries. The author makes the case that most were delusional. They ignored the real world to champion their theories.
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What a masterpiece. A magnificent writer who stands far above most other historical writers.
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