1848: Year of Revolution

1848: Year of Revolution

by Mike Rapport

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In 1848, a violent storm of revolutions ripped through Europe. The torrent all but swept away the conservative order that had kept peace on the continent since Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815—but which in many countries had also suppressed dreams of national freedom. Political events so dramatic had not been seen in Europe since the French


In 1848, a violent storm of revolutions ripped through Europe. The torrent all but swept away the conservative order that had kept peace on the continent since Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815—but which in many countries had also suppressed dreams of national freedom. Political events so dramatic had not been seen in Europe since the French Revolution, and they would not be witnessed again until 1989, with the revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe.

In 1848, historian Mike Rapport examines the roots of the ferment and then, with breathtaking pace, chronicles the explosive spread of violence across Europe. A vivid narrative of a complex chain of interconnected revolutions, 1848 tells the exhilarating story of Europe’s violent “Spring of Nations” and traces its reverberations to the present day.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Wall Street Journal
“A fully nuanced portrait of a tumultuous year.”

New York Times
“A lively, panoramic new history ... a good yarn, with a keen eye for ground-level details.”

Seattle Times
“Absorbing ... anyone wishing a vivid account of a crucial period in European history can spend many hours engrossed in this book.”

Gary J. Bass
…a lively, panoramic new history…[Rapport] tells a good yarn, with a keen eye for ground-level details
—The New York Times
Independent Weekly
An ambitious and wide-ranging book . . . This is a year characterized by war, revolt, contention, by the rise and fall of nations and worsening social misery but Rapport presents the story in an entertaining style that makes this complicated and fascinating period comprehensible. At centre-stage is a list of legendary characters including Napoleon III, the red-shirted Garibaldi, the iron-willed Otto von Bismarck and the blind reactionary, ultra-conservative and remarkable diplomat Prince Klemens von Metternich. Those who want a readable, informed and vibrant account of a crucial time in European history should look no further than this admirable volume.
Literary Review
Based on unsentimental judgments and presented in colorful writing. Descriptions of the street fighting in Paris, Vienna and Berlin bring a whiff of cordite to the nostrils . . . .As a guide to who the revolutionaries were and what they wanted, Rapport is impeccable. The writing is to the point, detailed when detail is required, and punctuated by vivid set pieces . . . No one reading this book can be left in any doubt about the scale of the revolutionaries' failure or the reason for it.
Library Journal

Rapport (history, Univ. of Stirling; Shape of the World) skillfully unravels a complex series of cataclysmic events that swept over Europe in 1848, forever changing the lives of millions. Surging population growth, economic collapse, and oppressive regimes were just a few of the factors that led to the spontaneous ignition of revolutionary fires that January. Street barricades went up in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and other autocratic capitals of Europe. From Sicily to Slovakia, the disempowered demanded civil rights, enfranchisement, and constitutional governance. In many cases initial demands met with success, but by the end of the year the autocrats of Europe regained their footing and, after horrendous bloodshed, their dominance. By 1851 the hopes of a new order were shattered, but, as Rapport stresses, profound changes had been made. For example, in the eastern reaches of Europe, the medieval institution of serfdom was finally abolished. The author also maintains that the ideals of 1848-liberty, democracy, civil society, nationhood-were at last fulfilled in the 1989 uprisings against the Soviet hegemony. Rapport mixes his lucid narrative with astute analysis based on memoirs, eyewitness accounts, and secondary sources. While his work does not surpass Jonathan Sperber's excellent The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, Rapport's study is a worthy and affordable addition to any modern European history collection.
—Jim Doyle

Kirkus Reviews
Densely written account of a turning point in European history. Scottish academic Rapport (History/Univ. of Stirling; The Shape of the World: Britain, France, and the Struggle for Empire, 2006, etc.) argues that the import of this revolutionary year is misunderstood when compared with more famous flashpoints such as the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Although the serial revolutions of 1848 failed, "the brick-built authoritarian edifice that had imposed itself on Europeans for almost two generations folded under the weight of the insurrections," he writes. They rippled across the continent, starting fires in various cities within Germany, Italy, France and central Europe. Rapport captures their breadth in a narrative of equally staggering scope, tracking a score of factions and provocateurs across numerous countries and cascading periods of violence and fitful reconciliation. He shrewdly divides the text into digestible sections. "The Forest of Bayonets" shows old-line statesmen like Metternich, credited with holding together the Habsburg regime, failing to anticipate the resentment of diverse groups of peasants and artisans against calcified political systems. "The Springtime of Peoples" depicts fast-spreading popular liberalism being checked by the Prussian military. "The Red Summer" and "The Counter-Revolutionary Autumn," portray the peak of urban street violence and the rural populations' emergence in support of the established order, which effectively terminated the revolutionary arc. Yet Rapport argues that the effects of 1848 were long-lasting. Serfdom was abolished, and "no country was wholly unaffected by the upheavals, even if they did not directly experience an uprising." These"broad similarities in the revolutionary experience were all the more remarkable," he continues, given the various nations' ethnic rivalries and distinct differences in political orientation. His conclusion, which links the revolutions of 1848 with the seismic changes of 1989, suggests convincingly that the 19th-century upheavals fueled both a greater tolerance of European liberalism and the sense of grievance that would eventually produce two world wars. Authoritative, but detailed to the point of being somewhat unwieldy.

Product Details

Basic Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Mike Rapport is a Lecturer in History at the University of Stirling and the author of Nationality and Citizenship in Revolutionary France and Nineteenth-Century Europe. He lives in Stirling, Scotland.

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