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The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents Paperback – August 9, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (August 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307386759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307386755
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,672,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Historian Butterworth (Pompeii: The Living City) makes a first-rate addition to the growing list of books dealing with terrorism's origins and history. His focus is the alienated young men and women who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, turned to anarchist and nihilist terrorism. This gripping and unsettling account depicts the movement's rise from the failed Paris Commune of 1871 through the abortive 1905 Russian revolution and its decline into the 1930s. Alternating among Russia, Europe, and America, the author produces a narrative packed with colorful figures, plots, assassinations, and bombings, betrayals, persecution, heroism, and martyrdom. Despite inflicting great damage (including assassinating a czar, an American president, and many European leaders), it failed. Successful attacks produced only more oppression. However, the first war on terror also failed. Police wreaked havoc among plotters (and many innocents), but the terror declined only after WWI, when rising communism and fascism attracted a new generation of disaffected idealists. Delivering a virtuoso performance, Butterworth adds the hope that history will not repeat itself and that a successful new bloody ideology will not create the next scourge. 8 pages of b&w illus. (Apr. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Reports that al-Qaeda operatives were studying Bakunin have encouraged journalists to explain twenty-first-cenutry Jihadists by quoting nineteenth-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. --Bryce Christensen --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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He talks about them a little, not much.
W. Speers
I not only enjoyed reading this book but it has led me to again read the works of Joseph Conrad in light of the historical era they were written in.
Nasty Nauseous Nick
In the end, the establishment has infiltrated in every which way imaginable.
R. A. Barricklow

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By W. Speers on November 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Paris Commune is a fascinating topic, and Butterworth gives it several chapters. Then he goes through the next fifty years, ending with 1932, when Hitler and Roosevelt came into power, almost glossing over the period in the nearly 400 pages left. Cons: he introduces a new person about every three paragraphs, then spends little time filling out the details on most of them; anarchists (and those who were called anarchists) during this period committed many notable crimes that are mileposts of recent history, but does Butterworth spend any time building anticipation for and understanding of the significance of the these acts? No. Where is the discussion of the ideals and philosophy of anarchism and socialism? Where are the Internationals? He talks about them a little, not much. Where's the elder Ulyanov brother and the attempts on the life of Alexander III? He and they are mentioned in passing. There's almost no discussion of the idealism of anarchism, namely, the assumption that people are Rousseauvian, capable of attaining socio/political paradise, and not much discussion of the reaction to anarchistic plots to blow people up. There are occasional morsels of moral philosophy as the foundation for anarchism and anarchistic violence, but very little, just enough to whet your appetite then leave you unrewarded. Butterworth talks about explosives as the anarchists became acquainted with them, but he doesn't say much about them, although he starts to as he discusses more and more explosive substances, so he neither avoids that subject nor deals with it in any detail, so there's not much to the nuts and bolts of the bomb-throwing aspect of anarchism. Some important moments in anarchism are neglected: Haymarket is quickly glossed over; where's the Siege of Sidney Street? Where are the great strikes?Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Nasty Nauseous Nick on August 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I not only enjoyed reading this book but it has led me to again read the works of Joseph Conrad in light of the historical era they were written in.
Secondly I was also enlightened of the role in which police agencies steered the nihilistic/anarchist movements into crafted roles of violence and public's forming a false concept of these movements through state sponsored propaganda and the infiltration of the movement's newspapers.
It was of interest that the views of Marx and Engels were in conflict with the majority of anarchists, that there was a struggle for dominance within the movement and were in fact supported by those same police agencies in order to keep the movement divided and manipulated. Thus the birth of the Communist Party that shaped world politics and policies in the twentieth century was actually and secretly supported police organizations within Tsarist Russia.
Lastly that the police agencies involved with protecting the various governments were artificially creating a need/demand for their services. Job security.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By T. Nicholas on September 7, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Giving up on this one after slogging through a little over half of it. Might come back to it at some point but it's been frustrating me for so long now that I feel I have to move onto something else or I'll go mad.

It's a shame, really, since I feel like it fills a niche in the literature on anarchist history that confoundingly has never quite been filled. This is the only book I know of to focus specifically on 19th century anarchist terrorism. On top of that, it manages to tell the story of the terrorists themselves alongside the story of their pursuers in the various national intelligence agencies and secret police forces. This interweaving two-part structure is especially valuable for this topic, as it gives clear insight into how the movement was manipulated by the governments it opposed, undercover agents pushing the movement further and further toward violence which could then be used to justify even more violent repression.

Also interesting is the fact that Butterworth is an outsider to the ideology he's discussing (another rarity in anarchist lit being intelligent and evenhanded appraisals of the movement by non-anarchists). Because of that, he's able to cut straight through the thick cloud of sanctity and fawning reverence with which too many anarchist texts shroud their pantheon of saints and martyrs. Some of the portraits he paints are refreshingly critical. Malatesta, for instance, is depicted as somewhat of a bumbling revolutionary wannabe with a comically unshakable optimism and an "unblemished record of failed insurrections." Likewise, Bakunin at the tail end of his life is described as a "corrupt husk," burning through a young acolyte's inheritance in order to refurbish his estate.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. A. Barricklow VINE VOICE on July 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The author's pen cuts precisely and deftly as a fine blade across the page, focused with purpose, as if Sabatini's Revolutinary Scaramouche himself wanted assurance to effect revenge on those who have wrongly savaged innocence without remorse.
Emile Henry wrote just before the Cafe Terminus bombing/Are those children who die slowly of anemia in the slums, for want of bread in their home, not victims too; those women ground down by exhaustion in your workshops for 40 centines a day, whose happiness is that they have not been driven into prostitution; those old men turned into machines so you could work them their whole lives and cast them out in the street as empty husks? Emile's final speech was/You hanged us in chicago, beheaded us in Germany, garotted us in Jezez, shot us in Barcelona, guillontined us in Montbrison and Paris, but anarchy itself you cannot destroy. It's roots are deep: it grows from the heart of a corrupt society that is falling apart, it is a violent reaction to the established order, it represents the aspirations to freedom & equality that struggles against all current authority. It is everywhere, which means it cannot be beaten, and ultimately it will defeat you and destroy you.
The author writes about the obsceene discrepancies of wealth between the rich & poor, the industrial exploitation of labor and the greed of the few generateing social injustice and economic instabilty. He writes of the unwillingness of the politicians to confront those guilty corporations and financial powers that exacerbated the very condtions that were purposely destroying democracies.
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The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents
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