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)
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*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