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

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

The "Age of Revolutions", which began in France in 1789 and culminated in the universal explosion of 1848, transformed the nature of politics. The Romantic movement in literature, art and music transformed the West's outlook and system of values. The connection between the two is, the author argues, crucial to an understanding of the modern world, for, in his opinion, it reveals how those revolutions were made, and why most of them ended in failure. He also argues that the connection explains where most of the accepted pieties of modern social and political life come from, and that it has left us with all that is most terrifying in modern life, from genocide to political correctness. Concentrating not on dogma, but rather on the people who led the historical and cultural phenomena that were the "Age of Revolutions" and the Romantic movement, this book examines how the hearts and minds of key figures and of the masses alike were conditioned by cultural factors.

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Review:

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 civilisation 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 (his The Last King of Poland was particularly highly praised), Zamoyski untangles the many uprisings in Eastern Europe with particular aplomb, but his account of France is also adept, with a vivid account 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 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

Review:

'A benchmark that will revise our reading of this vivid period: that between the onset of the two Industrial Revolutions, between Blake and Balzac, which saw the birth and rise, not just of nationalism, but of internationalism.' -- Amanda Hopkinson in the Independent on Sunday

'Adam Zamoyski's brilliant book will certainly become a classic of its kind. He covers not just France, Italy and Germany, but the whole of Europe - Spain, Poland, Ireland, Hungary, Russia, the Balkans, not forgetting Greece and, most significantly, America.' -- The Catholic Times

'Adam Zamoyski has done History a splendid service. In this provocative book he reveals the vitality and importance of the religious impulse in explaining the revolutions, turmoil and nationalism of the years 1776-1871. [...] The scope of Holy Madness extends from America's fight for independence to the Paris Commune. And exotic collection of fanatics, adventurers, poets and thinkers are brought to life. Readers will be moved by Zamoyski's arrestingly written book to admiration for those often deluded Lafayettes and Garibaldis.' -- Robbie Millen, in the Spectator

'Adam Zamoyski's dashing account of the romantic movement, Holy Madness, is bold narrative history at its most imaginative.' -- Michael Ignatieff writing in the Observer

'Ambitious, stimulating and disturbing... the parade of heroism and folly he presents makes a riveting spectacle.' -- Rupert Christiansen in the Sunday Telegraph

'Splendidly descriptive, full of music and colour...both charming and learned.' -- John Lukacs, in The Times

'Zamoyski is a fluent and entertaining writer, and has been greatly praised for the style, sweep and authority of his previous books [...] an ambitious and in many ways brilliant book.' -- Hilary Mantel in the Daily Telegraph

'Zamoyski is marvellous the way he develops so many ideas, showing the way that the new patriotism replaces religion and develops its own iconography in overtly religious terms, and the way that this revolutionary patriotism becomes, later, the parent to both fascism and communism.' -- Antony Beevor reviewing his three favourite books of 1999 on BBC Radio 4

'Zamoyski's canvas is so huge that sometimes he only skims the surface... But there will be few who will not learn much from him, and the elegance of his style makes him a real pleasure to read.' -- John Jolliffe, in the Independent

'a page-turner.' -- Frank McLynn in the Glasgow Herald

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