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9780141002231

Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871

Zamoyski, Adam

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9780141002231: Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871

"Entertaining and thought-provoking." (Times Literary Supplement)

"Zamoyski skillfully brings together all the strains of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century nationalism, from the American Revolution to the Paris Commune, showing how quasi-religious idealism prepared the way for both fascism and communism. . . . A stimulating and finely written book." (Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad)

From the first shots of the American Revolution in 1776 to the last agony of the Paris Commune in 1871, Adam Zamoyski recreates an era when determined men and women were willing to die for the cause of an idealized nation, and who transformed the society of Europe and its colonies. Moving fluidly through the history of the tumultuous years that embraced the American and French revolutions, the Irish Rebellion, the Polish uprisings, the liberation of South America, and the Italian Risorgimento, Holy Madness captures the passion of revolutionary figures who were caught up in the fervor of the nationalist crusade, while exposing the dangerous fallacies of their idealism.

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Review:

In Holy Madness, Adam Zamoyski has written a history of revolutions, and of the romantic and sometimes ridiculous revolutionaries who inspired them. But because revolution was so ubiquitous an activity in the 19th century, what he has actually produced is a comprehensive account of Western civilization from 1776 to 1871. Inspired by the American Revolution (1776) and the French Revolution (1789), the whole of Europe, and large portions of the rest of the world, was regularly convulsed by the urge to fashion Utopia on Earth. Zamoyski manages to flesh out these events with well-chosen detail and a fine sense of the touching comic-heroics they often entailed, as well as the bloodletting and the horror. As a historian of Poland, Zamoyski untangles the many uprisings in Eastern Europe with particular aplomb, but his account of France is also adept, with a vivid portrayal of the idealism of the Paris Commune, overthrown in 1871.

Holy Madness advances a particular argument: that the century of revolutionary upheaval was the direct result of the waning of religion as a universal human-value system. Post-Enlightenment men and women turned to the ecstasies of patriotism and revolution to fill the void left by belief in God, hoping to construct a paradise on Earth rather than wait for one in heaven. According to this thesis, revolution was a new theology: "The theology may have been shaky, but the new religion did have a god. That god was the sovereign nation, whose service was the highest calling, as countless revolutionary catechisms pointed out." It's an ingenious line, worked through thoroughly, although it doesn't explain everything--for instance, why Britain was almost entirely free of revolutionary upset during the same period. But this is thought-provoking and well-made historical writing. --Adam Roberts, Amazon.co.uk

About the Author:

Adam Zamoyski's other books include biographies of Chopin and Paderewski and a history of Poland.

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