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Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism [Paperback]

Peter Marshall
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
RRP: 14.99
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Book Description

19 Nov 2007

A fascinating and comprehensive history, 'Demanding the Impossible' is a challenging and thought-provoking exploration of anarchist ideas and actions from ancient times to the present day.

Navigating the broad 'river of anarchy', from Taoism to Situationism, from Ranters to Punk rockers, from individualists to communists, from anarcho-syndicalists to anarcha-feminists, 'Demanding the Impossible' is an authoritative and lively study of a widely misunderstood subject. It explores the key anarchist concepts of society and the state, freedom and equality, authority and power and investigates the successes and failure of the anarchist movements throughout the world. While remaining sympathetic to anarchism, it presents a balanced and critical account. It covers not only the classic anarchist thinkers, such as Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus and Emma Goldman, but also other libertarian figures, such as Nietzsche, Camus, Gandhi, Foucault and Chomsky. No other book on anarchism covers so much so incisively.

In this updated edition, a new epilogue examines the most recent developments, including 'post-anarchism' and 'anarcho-primitivism' as well as the anarchist contribution to the peace, green and 'Global Justice' movements.

Demanding the Impossible is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand what anarchists stand for and what they have achieved. It will also appeal to those who want to discover how anarchism offers an inspiring and original body of ideas and practices which is more relevant than ever in the twenty-first century.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; New edition edition (19 Nov 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780006862451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006862451
  • ASIN: 0006862454
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 122,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Massive, scholarly, genuinely internationalist and highly enjoyable.’ David Widgery, Observer

'An exhaustive and authoritative study which is bound to become the standard account.’ John Gray, The Times

'Indispensable.' Richard Boston, Guardian

'This is the most comprehensive account of anarchist thought ever written. Marshall's knowledge is formidable and his enthusiasm engaging.' J.P. Pick, Scotsman

'Large, labyrinthine, tentative: for me these are all adjectives of praise when applied to works of history, and Demanding the Impossible meets all of them.’ George Woodcock, Independent

About the Author

Peter Marshall is a historian, philosopher, biographer and travel writer. He has written fifteen books, has taught at several British universities and occasionally works in broadcasting. He lives in Devon.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By dee
Format:Paperback
This book covers a variety of thought, ranging from Taoism and the Stoics through to the anti-globalisation 'movement'.
For what it does, it is very good. But what it does is provide a broad-ranging survey of everybody who has a vaguely anti-authoritarian impulse. And so it includes people who upheld class society, who support the state and capitalism, whose politics are really just moralistic and focussed on living 'better' lives rather than changing society, etc.

If you are looking for a history of anarchism, rather than a mismatch of things vaguely enthused with a libertarian spirit (which is that Demanding the Impossible offers), then I highly recommend Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. This book (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Flame-Revolutionary-Syndicalism-Counter-Power/dp/190485916X) charts anarchism as a coherent political and economic movement originating from within the First International, as well as challenging the view that it was only in Spain that anarchism flourished.

However, this book is good and I found it very interesting, but really its definition of anarchism is one that renders the word practically meaningless - much to the frustration of anarchists like myself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only the Brave 2 Jun 2010
By Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
The definitive guide to a river of thought running as an alternative to the vast swathe of pressure placed on the individual to adhere to mass belief. Peter Marshall distils the thoughts of various Asian, European thinkers and doers including De Sade, Nietzsche, Stirner, Bakunin, Proudhon, Godwin, Kropotkin. All the heavyweights thematised into a collection sidestepping Wiki. He also gazes into Taoism and Christianity providing alternative readings.

Anarchist thought penetrates far deeper than mere political economy. It provides a different viewpoint on near enough every aspect of being human. The book ranges from the libertarian left to the capitalist right in scope, the whole panoply. It provides a hugely entertaining and insightful overview of each carefully combed strand of thought. It never veers into "academese", the lurching obtuse, opaque, syntax, (beloved of Althusser, Deleuze, Guattari, Lyotard) so anyone can enter the porthole. The thoughts may be abstract and require reflection, but the language is clear, concise and simple.

The usual riposte of "anarchism" will never work as a mass movement is parried here. The individual against the world synopsis details the ultimate requirement for a society of young gods/godesses, the unfolding of genius, rather than the coercion of the huddled masses into utopia, like it or not.

Thought provoking, extremely well researched, covering the whole spectrum, the beginning point for social, political, psychological and most importantly, self knowledge to be based upon.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I always lend people my favourite books and this is one of them. I love this book. Not only is it brilliant on anarchism, but it's an excellent, passionately argued history book too. I think it should be on the reading list of every politics and philosophy student in the country. Of course, anarchists are self-defining but most of all we've got a better sense of humour than our socialist friends (although most of time we morph into them on inappropriate ocassions).

If I had to criticise, and this is a criticism of every anarchist book I've ever read, it's a bit low on economic theory. The philosophy could also be explored further - eg secular idealism as a form of anarchist thought. Love, for example.

I love it.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It is demanding. And it is impossible. 7 Feb 2005
Format:Paperback
This vast compendium dumps the novice directly into the flow of anarchist theory. And what a refreshing thing it is too! Here we have Chinese monks, Russian princes, Irish playwrights, English poets, French revolutionaries, American gun-nuts, Spanish militias and German students. The author has cast his net wide and drawn together a wide group of individuals whose only common ground is their willingness to be in control of their own lives. It creates the idea that anarchism is an ancient philospohy, protean and mercurial and as a result you are left wondering just what you have read. Because there is no consolidated philosophy here - which makes sense as to lay down rules would be against the principles of Anarchy. Bored with conventional wisdom? Try this.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, Vast, Inspiring 23 July 2009
Format:Paperback
Peter Marshall covers the history and pre-history of anarchism from the ideology and spiritual teachings of the Taoist masters and the Stoics and Cynics of ancient Greece right up until modern day thinkers like Noam Chomsky and Murray Bookchin, encompassing everything inbetween from William Godwin to Peter Kropotkin, from the Diggers of the English Revolution to Emma Goldman in the first part of the last century.

Marshall shows how anarchism has been with us since the dawn of civilisation and even before, as the State is a relatively modern invention. He demonstrates how many of the revolutions in the past few hundred years, from the Mexican to the Spanish, from the Cuban to the Russian, have had anarchist undertones and aspirations. He covers libertarian thinkers like Rosseau, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley and Edmund Burke, and many more.

Not only this, but Marshall explores the anarchist roots of the counter-culture movement of the sixties and seventies, the French Situationists, the Provos and Kabouters of Holland and the Sarvodaya movement in India, and covers the modern anarchist movements and thinkers in China, Japan and Korea. This book is truly comprehensive, written for the most part in an impartial, unbiased tone utilising many quotations from the writers and activists themselves.

This is a compendium of anarchism throughout the ages, and will leave the reader with much material to research. Excellent for those with more than a casual interest in anarchism and still highly useful for those long-acquainted, this book has something for everyone. For a short introduction to anarchism however, I would still recommend Malatesta's pamphlet, 'Anarchy.'
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and informative
It's a really good book but the print is way too small. This is why it's better to check out stuff in bookshop first
Published 1 month ago by katharine barrucand
5.0 out of 5 stars The anarchists bible
As far as I am concerned – and I know I’m not the only one – this book is the bible of anarchism, a mind-boggling achievement that can’t help but leave the reader with an awesome... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Holtman
1.0 out of 5 stars A reactionary analysis of Anarchism
Peter Marshall offers a reactionary analysis of anarchism.

Just to give you an example at page 299 it examines Bakunin's statement of "everyone shall work, and everyone... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Marco
4.0 out of 5 stars All you ever wanted to know about Anarchism
This is a history of anarchism (albeit sometimes defining anarchism in a fairly broad way) and anarchist thought from the origins of Taoism to the present day, but concentrating on... Read more
Published on 17 Mar 2012 by Woolgatherer
4.0 out of 5 stars Great reference book
Hard going at times with sometimes overly long pieces on various anarchist thinkers. That said if you can't read it in one go, and I could not, I found it great for dipping into... Read more
Published on 4 Aug 2010 by matt
3.0 out of 5 stars Broad and overlong in places.
A good read for anyone interested in radical history, however... did we really need such long chapters on Murray Bookchin, Leo Tolstoy et al? Read more
Published on 28 July 2010 by G. J. Marsh
1.0 out of 5 stars Unscholarly tome on a futile politics
On p. 442, Marshall writes, "Georges Sorel, inspired by by Proudhon and the syndicalists, maintained in his Reflections on Violence (1908) that class war invigorates society. Read more
Published on 6 May 2010 by William Podmore
3.0 out of 5 stars comprehensive, a little dry...
All, or most, of the information is here, but I found this book less exciting than I expected, given the subject. Read more
Published on 4 May 2010 by wordparty
4.0 out of 5 stars Encyclopedia Anarchica
There are many books on the subject of anarchist theory and history, this is easily the most comprehensive and extensive. Read more
Published on 5 Aug 2008 by Mr. Julian W. Gibson
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