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The World That Never Was: A True Story of…

The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists,…

by Alex Butterworth

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173768,650 (3.03)4
  1. 00
    The proud tower: a portrait of the world before the war, 1890-1914 by Barbara W. Tuchman (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Addressing roughly the same time period, both books shed light on the 19th and early 20th Century Anarchist and Socialist movements.
  2. 00
    1848: Year of Revolution by Mike Rapport (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: The one almost serves as the sequel to the other. Panoramic picture of a tumultuous time and the people who fought for and against it.
  3. 00
    The Master of Petersburg by J. M. Coetzee (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Fictional encounter between Dostoevsky and Russian anarchist

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A rambling incoherent mess. ( )
  VGAHarris | Jan 19, 2015 |
Butterworth chose a great time for this work (roughly, Kropotkin's active years), and there's a fabulous story to be told about it, but this book isn't quite it. On the upside, his research is mind-boggling, and my life is substantially richer now that I know about the fabulous Gabriel Jogan-Pages, aka Leo Taxil, who, e.g., managed to convince the military governor of Marseilles to hunt down an imaginary school of killer sharks, and convinced much of the world that the Freemasons worshiped devils and sacrificed human beings. The general thrust of the book is to show how many wonderful characters emerged from the 1871 Commune, or from interactions with communards on the one hand, and, on the other, how anti-terrorist bodies fairly quickly turned into terrorist bodies all in the interests of catching terrorists. That's all reasonable.

Unfortunately, there are far too many kettles on the stove-top; Butterworth, like many non-professional historians, is more concerned with cramming more stuff in than selecting the most relevant bits and pieces, and, still worse, his prose style is very, very, very poorly suited to a story involving dozens of people flung across the globe. It's entirely up to the reader to work out which events were the important ones, which sounds wonderful, but is actually like trying to choose a good meal from a menu on which there's only names and no description of the food. It's just impossible.

Five stars for the choice of topic and the asides and digressions; two stars for the execution. Well worth reading, though you might need to skim sections. Or even whole chapters.*

*: please, please, please, historians, give your chapters real names so your reader knows what the topic is before they get half way through. No more clever quotes as chapter titles, I beg you. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Lots of great information, context, and stories here. I wasn't reading for academic reasons though, so I had to develop a way to skim past some of the overwhelming detail. I never gave up though and I learned a lot for it. Would recommend if you're really interested in the subject. ( )
  pdesjardins | Sep 5, 2013 |
Oh my wishlist just keeps getting longer and longer. ;0
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Haven't you started to hate how often authors of history connect 9/11 and its aftermath to their own subject, no matter what that subject matter is? Well, here's an instance in which the comparison may actually be merited. The book tells two parallel stories through a half-dozen or so interweaving threads: the aspirations of anarchist revolutionaries and the machinations of the secret police. There certainly were violent anarchists. That's plainly evident. In Buttewrworth's book, however, it is revealed how the agents of the secret police throughout Europe actually sought to incite that violence, how they actually came to depend upon it as their raison d'etre. Seeking expanded powers to pursue the terrorists it was necessary to make them worse, hence the implementation of agent provocateurs. An actual threat was utilized as a tool to consolidate power through fear.

It is undoubtedly a fascinating story. As to how successful was Butterworth in telling it, that is harder to say. I think he perhaps took on too much. He tried to encapsulate too large a span of time and told through the experiences of too many protagonists. The comment of another reviewer ("I kept getting my Russians confused") encapsulates the problem quite well. He tried to tell the story in an almost novelistic form, and it doesn't quite work. The personalities of the main players aren't well-enough fleshed-out to make them relatable or even memorable. Pared down to a more intimate scale, focusing on a smaller number of people and over a shorter length of time, it might have been much more readable. As a novel, with surprisingly little artistic license, it could have been a truly great historical-fiction political-thriller.
  CGlanovsky | Nov 10, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 037542511X, Hardcover)

A thrilling history of the rise of anarchism, told through the stories of a number of prominent revolutionaries and the agents of the secret police who pursued them.
In the late nineteenth century, nations the world over were mired in economic recession and beset by social unrest, their leaders increasingly threatened by acts of terrorism and assassination from anarchist extremists. In this riveting history of that tumultuous period, Alex Butterworth follows the rise of these revolutionaries from the failed Paris Commune of 1871 to the 1905 Russian Revolution and beyond. Through the interwoven stories of several key anarchists and the secret police who tracked and manipulated them, Butterworth explores how the anarchists were led to increasingly desperate acts of terrorism and murder.
Rich in anecdote and with a fascinating array of supporting characters, The World That Never Was is a masterly exploration of the strange twists and turns of history, taking readers on a journey that spans five continents, from the capitals of Europe to a South Pacific penal colony to the heartland of America. It tells the story of a generation that saw its utopian dreams crumble into dangerous desperation and offers a revelatory portrait of an era with uncanny echoes of our own.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:04 -0400)

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"The World That Never Was" is a thrilling history of the rise of anarchism, told through the stories of several violent revolutionaries and the secret police who pursued them.

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