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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meticulously researched account of a tragedy whose impact is still being felt today in the development of european worldviews, 21 Feb. 2010
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Other reviewers have it right - this is a brilliantly researched and well-written account of a world-changing tragedy. That it was a terrible moment (earthquake followed by rampant fires followed by tsunami) is not in doubt and simply as a human story, it is entirely deserving of study. But its wider importance cannot be underestimated either, because of the philosophical and moral repercussions it had on European thought. As Paice describes Voltaire's brilliant deconstruction of prevailing ideas:
"In Voltaire's deft hands the Lisbon earthquake became the vehicle for an assault on optimism and the orthodox view of divine Providence which would change the way people thought for ever; and it in turn it arguably became the last disaster in which God held centre stage" (p195)

The reasons are many - but if a city could ever have claimed to have been 'Christian' Lisbon was one that would have tried (although many Protestants at the time including the likes of Wesley and Whitefield would have disputed it). It's Catholicism was very strong - perhaps 1/6th of the population were so called 'religioso' - but its forms were (even by many european Catholics' admissions) rampantly corrupt and hypocritical. Worse, though, was that the first big quake struck at 10am on Saturday 1st November 1755 - which was at precisely the moment that many of Lisbon's citizens would have been in church. For 1st November is also All Saints' Day, and this was a huge feast day in the life of the city. Was this God's jdugment on their sham piety? Or some grim divine error? Or did it in fact have anything to do with God at all?

Paice has gathered an impressive range of sources, mainly from visiting English traders or resident English merchants, or from aristocrats passing through on their European Grand Tours. These bring the event home, steering us clear the history of hollow statistics. He manages regularly to find the 'mot juste' from one source or another, during the course of what is a very readable account. This is no small feat in itself.

Another, very positive feature is the introductory section (pp1-64 - entitled A Gilt-Edged Empire). This is excellent in setting up the drama of the tragedy - it puts into perspective so much of why people could reach such harsh and grim conclusions about Lisbon's suffering, as well as why it took so long to recover.

My only criticisms are slight (and they are slight, because i was thoroughly gripped by the book):
- the impact on European philosophy and thinking is not greatly developed (although the short chapters that engage with Voltaire and his Poeme & Candide are clear and helpful). The philosophical aftershocks of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake are still felt today, long after the physical event has disappeared from memory. It was fascinating (in a chilling kind of way) to hear echoes in the book of some remarks made about the 2010 Haiti earthquake - their seeds had sown in the response to Lisbon. Of course, this book was written in 2008, but the modern resonances in the aftermath to the Indian Ocean tsunami, for example, could have been drawn in more. The book's title is certainly accurate because earthquakes were clearly seen as caused directly by God's judgment. But it would be interesting to see further how this interpretation has been relentlessly and deliberately challenged since, not least by Voltaire's heirs.
- maps! There is a simple map at the start of the book - but because this book is so focused on a whole city and its environs (one I've never visited), it would have been greatly improved by better maps so that the relentless accounts of the disasters spreading through the town could be more easily followed. As someone who does not speak Portuguese and who does not know the city, I was confused on several occasions (but my hunch is that better maps would have helped). To my mind, history books can never have enough maps!

However, despite these minor gripes, this is an excellent book. Fascinating, informative and provocative. As it was one of those events that made us what we are in contemporary, secularised Europe, this is a book that deserves a wide readership. How we handle these challenges, which were so well formulated by the likes of Voltaire, continues to this day for those wanting to uphold an orthodox understanding of divine providence. But it has arguably got harder - for not only have natural disasters ratcheted up in their horror, so too has the depth and extent of man's inhumanity to man (e.g. the Holocaust).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unstoppable reading, 7 Jan. 2009
Wrath of God is a superbly written account of the truly catastrophic earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon and while that might sound too depressing or irrelevant to today's world it is simply impossible to put down. The narrative, descriptions and impeccably researched details make it at least 5 stars. I would recommend this to everyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Earth Moved, 28 Mar. 2013
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Wrath of God: The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (Paperback)
While many people are familiar with the destruction of Pompeii in AD 79, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, though substantially more destructive, has not made the same impact to the extent that the author wonders if Voltaire had not written 'his celebrated Poeme sur le desastre de Lisbonne.... whether the even might have disappeared from human memory'. Rigorous censorship by state and church may have caused the absence of contemporary Portuguese secular writings but many foreigners 'mostly English merchants resident in Lisbon' provided graphic eye-witness accounts of the earthquake and the telesunami which followed. The aftershocks were felt as far North as Finland 2,200 miles from the epicentre which was over 100 miles to sea along the Azores -Gibraltar Transform Fault which is where the African and European plates meet. There had been ten or more earthquakes in the previous five hundred years most of which were blamed on 'heretics' which was easy to do in a country in which one in six adult Portuguese men was a religioso with the Jesuits, Augustinians, Dominicans and Jeronimites prominent.

Portuguese people were devoutly religious, stopping to pray at dusk when the bells rang. The Inquisition was active and the Jesuits were opposed to any ideas which questioned the Aristotelian system. Many nuns were known for their secular sexual outlook and were accused of being 'cloistered prostitutes'. King John V was known as 'O Freiratico' - the lover of nuns - and had no qualms about taking mistresses and fathering illegitimate children whose existence he readily acknowledged. Lisbon was 'home' to destitute children and beggars whose existence testified to the city's poverty. Violence was endemic, murders common and feuds widespread. The King was away from economic deprivation thanks to the discovery of gold in Brazil. By 1750 up to 2 million in gold was being shipped into Portugal on which the King levied a tax of twenty per cent and which he spent quickly on sumptuous buildings. John was a despot who relied on the Church for support which was encapsulated in the phrase 'com Eleri e com a Inquisicao - chitao' ('about King and Inquisition - mouth shut).

Economically Portugal was weak. It had no manufacturing industry and when it signed the Methuen Treaties providing England access for its textiles in exchange for Portugal supplying wines it resulted in a massive trade deficit. This resulted in a wave of emigration as people went to seek their fortunes in Brazil leaving Portugal still in the grip of John V and the Church. This co-existence with widespread social practices at odds with Christian teaching created a cultural dichotomy, some believing the explicit hypocrisy was spiritually unhealthy. They regarded the earthquake which struck on 1 November (All Saints Day) as a divine judgement, although while churches were destroyed the red light district was largely unaffected. The native population blamed the disaster on heretics, especially Jews masquerading under the guise of 'New Christians'. The earthquake's impact questioned whether the earth was supervised by a benevolent deity and gave impetus to more naturalistic explanations of physical phenomena. The Enlightenment principles of optimism and unchecked progress were halted in their tracks.

At the time of the earthquake King Joseph 1 and the royal family were away from Lisbon and stayed away while the city burned. People attempting to flee the city were turned back and forced into emergency service. Sixty of the city's seventy-two convents collapsed, as did thirty-three palaces and all the hospitals. Many were lost by the tidal waves that followed the initial earthquake. The King's priceless library and historical records were lost largely by the fire which burned for a week after the initial earthquake. Merchants were considered to have lost 12 million pounds. Bodies were hastily buried without ceremony on land and water to prevent the spread of plague and, as soon as practicable, a drainage system was established. The re-establishment of order was underpinned by the executions of thieves and looters some of whom were had escaped when the prison collapsed. Assistance in the form of materials and men arrived from Britain, Spain, the German States and France together with food.

Philosophising about the earthquake was common. A former Portuguese diplomat blamed the events on Portugal's idiosyncratic brand of Catholicism and the Inquisition with its 'absurd devotions, terrible sacrifices and vain prayers' which had produced 'the most shameful superstition and...gross idolatry' and had 'mutilated, mangled and disfigured the Law of God'. Protestant observers reached a similar conclusion although the Canon of Lichfield and other leading churchman declared the earthquake was 'no proof of God's particular wrath against the Portuguese' and called for a Christian understanding of their calamities. The king's leading adviser, Carvalho, looked for a natural explanation in part to avoid unproductive national self-recrimination. He backed this up by excluding the self-recriminating Jesuits from court, seizing their property at home and in the empire and expelling the order from all Portuguese territory. When Clement X111 complained the Papal Nuncio in Lisbon was expelled. Leibniz's and Pope's optimistic philosophy collapsed before the fatalism encapsulated by the problem of evil in the context of a benevolent deity.

Others looked for a scientific explanation of what had occurred and within two years papers were being written on naturalistic explanations of what had happened in 1755. A significant change took place in Portuguese politics when an alleged assassination attempt on the king resulted in the arrest of members of the aristocracy six of whom were executed by beheading, strangulation and burning alive. Following the king's death his daughter, Maria l, who was declared insane a decade later, released her father's enemies from prison and removed Carvalho from office. She moved with the royal family to Brazil when the Spanish invaded in 1807 and died there in 1816. The world into which she had been born changed after 1755 as Portugal responded to the consequences of the Lisbon earthquake. Four stars for an interesting and well researched book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wrath of God, 9 Nov. 2008
By 
Mr. Oliver Nicholson (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Edward Paice has produced a remarkable book about an extraordinary event. He has woven a multitude of first-hand accounts together to create a fascinating history that reads as excitingly as a novel (alternatively, it is a bit like watching real time CNN coverage but with a more erudite commentary). It is rare to find a history that is not compromised by its fast paced 'readability' and a thrilling read that is not slowed by its wealth of detail. However, Wrath of God is exactly that: gripping and learned at the same time. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to everyone.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wrath of God - I could not put it down, 8 Oct. 2008
At last a book that unveils the story of the Lisbon Earthquake. The author, having shown his mastery of Africa, has moved seamlessly to Europe. I could not put it down and would recommend it to anyone.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History as it should be written, 9 Dec. 2008
"Wrath of God" brings history to life in a way which is, sadly, all too rare, as Edward Paice weaves events and characters together in the manner of a good novel to produce a real page-turner which it is hard to put down. Familiarity with modern Lisbon does help one to follow the action, however, and those who don't know this fascinating city might find a modern map useful as the undated maps on the endpapers are really more decorative than useful. Highly recommended, particularly to anyone with an interest in modern Portugal.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wrath Of God - a triumph, 26 Nov. 2008
This wonderful book brings to life an event which caused the deaths of so many. Through evidently painstaking examination of contemporary sources, Edward Paice has illuminated the effect of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake on the history, philosophy, politics and economics of Europe, while at the same time delivering an enthralling account of a real catastrophe. Hugely readable, and marvellously informative.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris G, 5 Jan. 2009
By 
C. J. Guyver "Chris G" (London) - See all my reviews
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What a superb book this is. Paice's forte for unearthing recondite historical topics for the full scholarly treatment, is becoming legendary among his growing army of fans. Lucid, engagingly written and showing a true mastery of his subject, this book will become a minor classic of its genre.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Popular history, 6 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Wrath of God: The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (Paperback)
I bought this book on a whim, and am glad I did. It is very good popular history. You can tell it is underpinned by serious research, but it is easy to read for the non-specialist (and until I read it, I knew nothing about eighteenth century Portugal). Only one very minor quibble. The archaeolgy at the start paints a portrait of a complete breakdown in society. The literary sources used later do not seem quite as awful. I wondered why. Were the contemporary writers (the majority English) to some degree sheltered from the atrocities in the aftermath of the earthquake? Or did the attitudes of the time mean there were some things so ghastly that they should not be recorded (a sort of cultural self-censorship)?
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy read, 15 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Wrath of God: The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (Paperback)
I read this book as part of some research I am doing and found it provided me with all the information I needed in a very readable form. It clearly explains the political and economic background of Lisbon at that period, with particular reference to the English community. I was personally less interested in the extensive after effects of the earthquake but found all information was very clearly put. The map of Lisbon at the beginning was extremely useful but some names were missing which might have been useful. Much of the information is in the form of eye witness accounts which made it very vivid and authentic. A detailed and graphic account in a very readable form.
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Wrath of God: The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755
Wrath of God: The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 by Edward Paice (Paperback - 6 Aug. 2009)
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