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on 26 February 2011
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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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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on 23 July 2009
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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on 31 August 2006
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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on 1 August 2013
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 sense of just how deep and broad the history of anarchist thought is.

An ‘easy’ read – in that it is so well structured and brilliantly written – but covering some ‘difficult’ subjects, it is well worth taking your time over this book, but I do have one warning to any potential reader: try to guard against being overwhelmed! Practically every page – and there are nearly 800 of them – contains pertinent references to other authors, articles, pamphlets, books, and events, and if you tried to track them all, let alone follow them, you’ll be lucky to remain sane. Instead, what this book can really do for the interested reader is to guide them to specific areas that they may want to develop in more detail in the future, and hopefully then provide a wider framework within which to gain insight into how these areas fit together under the banner of modern anarchism.
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on 17 March 2012
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 anarchism's heyday in the late 19th century.

Given its scope, it's not surprising that this is a long book. Nonetheless, Peter Marshall succinctly summarises the theories of the great anarchist thinkers, and puts them in the context of the times in which they were formulated. In perhaps typical anarchistic fashion, Marshall's own views are never far from the surface as he points out what he sees as the flaws within different strands of anarchist thought. For example, he says of Kropotkin, "He was right to see anarchy is natural order and that harmony is a law of nature, but he erred by talking of nature as if it were a kind of providence." Marshall may be right and Kropotkin wrong, or vice versa (or both of them may be wrong!), but the point is that the book is as much an invitation to debate as it as a dry historical account of anarchistic theory. The result is a lively text that maintains interest throughout.

The book looks at theory, the contribution of individuals and anarchism in different countries in turn, so there is some inevitable overlap and repetition. Bakunin, for example, turns up in the section on theory, as a major figure and, given his peripatetic career as a revolutionary, also appears in the accounts of anarchism in several countries. The good thing about this approach is that this is a book that can be dipped into as well as read through. All in all, this was a good introduction to anarchism and the fierce debates that it always seems to engender.
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on 7 February 2005
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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on 4 August 2010
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 time and again. Great in depth coverage of the subject and a good pointer for further reading
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on 5 August 2008
There are many books on the subject of anarchist theory and history, this is easily the most comprehensive and extensive. From Taoist monks through the French revolution, to the new left of the 60's and punks of the 70's.

Every era of history and every prominent figure of anarchism is here (even if they didn't describe themselves as anarchist). The subject is so broad ranging, that this book stands as a great history book, as well as a philosophical work. Keeping alive an idea that has never been allowed, but will never go away.

An excellent book for anybody interested in politics; history; philosophy; psychology and human beings in general.
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on 24 October 2001
I was new to the philosophy of anarchism when I bought this book...but not any more. This book contains a vast ocean of knowledge (with over 700 pages!) on the subjects of individualism and anarchism from the philosophers of the ancient world which have had great influence on the development of anarchism to classic anarchist thinkers and to the relevance of anarchism today. Demanding the Impossible is a fantastic book written by Peter Marshall with as much zeal as I had in reading every page.
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