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

3.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


'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: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,330,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Really insightful summary of the history of modern terrorism. Some is a bit hard to read since the subject is so grim, and so frankly presented. Hopeful in the end since it shows how terrorism has been defeated before and underlying problems have been solved.
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Format: Paperback
Michael Burleigh examines the culture of terrorism, from its 19th century roots in Ireland to the present day. This book will remind readers of Caleb Carr’s excellent THE LESSONS OF TERROR although Burleigh’s writing is far more emotional. (He heaps particular scorn on militant Islamists and dismisses them and their cause as morally and intellectually lazy and flat out calls their leaders insane. The book covers a lot of ground, beginning with the Fenians and moving through the 20th century and 21st century descendants. (He excludes South American terrorism and several others for reasons that seem specious.) He makes a persuasive case that for many, terrorism is basically a job and a cultural choice as much as it is an act of passionate belief. And he has absolutely no patience for the slogan, “today’s terrorist is tomorrow’s statesman,” pointing out that Osama bin Laden is unlikely to morph into Nelson Mandela. He defines terrorism as “a tactic primarily used by non-state actors to create a psychological climate of fear in order to compensate for the legitimate political power they do not possess.”

Burleigh is an opinionated man and there is nothing subtle about his opinions. He’ll mention a utopian novel written y a Russian nihilist and describe it as “execrable.” He won’t flinch from describing people as insane. (Political correctness is not one of his vices.) Burleigh is disgusted by the way terrorist mythology is created and sustained. Terrorists, he believes, are morally insane, even if they are not clinically crazy.

He has taken the tactic of explicating these various movements by shining a light on the major players. Of necessity, however, he has to short-hand everything.
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