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The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents, Alex Butterworth

The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents, Alex Butterworth

2011

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The last third of the nineteenth century saw the world in flux. Science vied with religion to represent the soul of man, and technological advances opened the possibility of new ways of living. Yet as the world sank into a long depression, untrammelled capitalism continued to stretch the gulf between rich and poor. From Russia to America, across Western Europe and beyond, governments already unsettled by major shifts in geopolitical power were threatened by growing social unrest and the rise of socialism. And looming over them was the spectre of the Anarchist and the shadow of international terrorism.

A Tsar and an Empress, Presidents and plutocrats were all vulnerable to the assassin's bombs and bullets, but so too was bourgeois society in its cafes and opera houses. It was a new kind of Terror that could strike anywhere and that permeated deep into the imagination of the times. Its true weapon, though, was not dynamite but fear itself: a fact quickly grasped by those whose job it was to protect the powerful. Yet in a credulous age, when hoaxers and forgers thrived, the fictions spun by police chiefs and their agent provocateurs were often no less beguiling. And out of the short-term actions of these forgotten individuals grew the noxious delusions of worldwide conspiracy that would poison the century to come.

A masterly exploration of the strange twists and turns of history, The World That Never Was follows the interweaving lives of several key anarchists, and of the secret police who tracked them. Framed by the Paris Commune of 1871 and the 1905 revolution in St Petersburg, and spread across five continents, theirs is the story of a generation that saw the dream of Utopia crumble, to be replaced by a dangerous desperation. Here is a revelatory portrait of an era with uncanny echoes of our own.


From the Hardcover edition.

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