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The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents Hardcover – 4 Mar 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head; First Edition 2nd Impression edition (4 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224078070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224078078
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.3 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 713,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"This is an amazing book full of incredible people all of whom turn out to be real and unbelievable stories, all of which turn out be true. Against a backdrop of late nineteenth century Europe and America in which staggering industrial progress went hand-in-hand with mass poverty and class struggle, Butterworth brilliantly teases out the paths and plots of the dedicated revolutionaries, deadly dilettantes, spies, informants, agents provocateurs, false counts and femmes fatales who made up the international anarchist movement, and its enemies. A genuine tour de force" (David Aaronovitch)

"A narrative taut with intrigue and freighted with contemporarysignificance" (Bryce Christensen Booklist)

"Intriguing, provocative and written with a novelist's eye for detail, this book is an engrossing journey into a murky, subterranean world." (Mike Rapport BBC History Magazine)

"One of the most absorbing depictions of the dark underside of radical politics in many years. ... Butterworth has opted to present the anarchists in a mode that emphasises narrative over analysis. The result is a riveting account, teeming with intrigue and adventure and packed with the most astonishing characters. One cannot help wishing there were more extended analysis, however, for when Butterworth does offer broader observations, they are exceptionally astute." (John Gray New Statesman)

"This is a thrilling and important book" (James McConnachie Sunday Times)

Book Description

A masterly exploration of the strange twists and turns of history, The World That Never Was is a true story of dreamers, schemers, anarchists and secret agents of the late nineteenth century.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This really is a ridiculously enjoyable and interesting book, somehow keeping the narrative going across innumerable conspiratorial cells from St Petersburg to London, the whole thing a mass of infernal devices, inflammatory public meetings, agents provocateurs, garottes and black propaganda. Butterworth does an excellent job of balancing events and ideology and his own struggle between fascination and disgust with his subject makes the whole book far far more than a mere recitation of outrages of yesteryear. The book is almost better on the police than on the anarchists, with great material on the disastrous role of police double agents of the kind dramatized in Under Western Eyes. The Russian Revolution has retrospectively swept away pre-1914 anarchism and made it appear a futile dead-end, with Marx's descendants rather than Kropotkin's inheriting history - but most of the heavy-lifting from 1870 onwards was done by the anarchists, who spent decades spectacularly taking out a lot random members of the ruling class, albeit on the whole to little substantive effect. The author must have worked his way heroically through a lot of borderline repetitive anarchist pamphlets and minutes to meetings and it is a tribute to his labours that he successfully shields the reader from much of the day-to-day tedium of anarchist life. It is tempting in a review like this to talk about some of the many fun details he throws in (there really are some extraordinary cast members) but it would be a disservice to the reader, who should be allowed the full sense of surprise lurking in each chapter of this terrific book.
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Format: Hardcover
A gripping tale told well which never patronises nor proselytizes. It makes no overt attempt to but does provoke thought about contemporary freedoms and the place of lawlessness in any overbearing social order.

The subject was alien territory for me so the introduction and prologue seemed heavy going as the author compacted plenty of thought and fact into powerful sentences. Thereafter the sentence structure opened and it was a pleasurable downhill romp until in the final chapter one hits the Bolsheviks and one knows that the end of the story is idealism hijacked.

Butterworth engages one with the interlocking historical characters wrestling with the moral and practical challenges of effecting change. Their conflicting passions, vanities and altruism are depicted en passant as pawn takes pawn.

There are some interesting illustrations which leave one searching for more.
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Format: Hardcover
This book, which must be the definitive account of the nineteenth century anarchist movement, provides meticulous detail of the events and intrigues of the movement in Europe and North America. The depth of detail and the clarity of analysis make this work a triumph of research and synthesis. Amateur enthusiasts of politics, journalists and all history students will find this a monumental store of insights and disambiguation.

Personally, as general reader I was propelled along through almost dizzying circus of event and characters as a sequence of deceptions, misconceptions and provocations follow one another as agents and their controllers manipulate and incite the hot-headed idealists. But I needed to keep on reading to find out more about just why and how society's utopian initiatives get scuppered from within and without...

At the core of the story are the chiefs of the secret police services such as the Russian Colonel Steiber whose fathomless intrigues spanning decades will never be fully unravelled but there is no doubt that many terrorist outrages and key conspirators were directly connected to him.

Perhaps you will find the overall effect upsetting or depressing as time and time again brave idealists get misled or lose their way or are simply crushed. Is this book a counsel of despair for radicals? Maybe future radicals just need to become way more savvy as to the extent of provocation and duplicity practised by the incumbent powers if things are ever to be changed? Or maybe human nature really is too selfish and base for anti-authoritarian revolution?
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Format: Paperback
First of all I'd like to say that all my expectations of this book have come true. It depicts a view of the 1800s and early 1900s that has been overlooked in popular culture for a long time. No wild west cowboys and victorian 'Sherlock Holmes', goverment 'sponsored' wars and political preaching, but a society that wanted and needed change and people who would do anything to achieve it. Surprinsingly, the way this book is written allows the reader to follow many characters across their adventures and misfortunes across the globe while keeping a eye on related events that occur at the same time in locations far away from each other. It's not an academic account full of names and dates but a thoroughly researched story that shows the facts and exposes questions when those facts cannot be confirmed, leaving the reader with plenty of room to form an opinion. Very enjoyable and interesting. It will change the view of many readers on authority-driven goverments and institutions and revolutionary ideas that fit with actual global situations as they did over a hundred years ago. It reads like a spy story with the chilling aftertaste of the true horrors that men are capable of. Higly recomended.
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