Praise for The Dynamite Club
"In The Dynamite Club, John Merriman brings together his astonishing knowledge of nineteenth-century France, his unmatched skills as an archival ‘detective,’ his marvelously lucid writing style, and his uncanny talent for bringing historical figures to life. The result is a searing portrait of the tensions and violence that lurked behind the glittering façade of fin-de-siècle France and eerily foreshadowed the terrorist threat of the present day."David Bell, author of The Cult of the Nation in France and The First Total War
"Those who think of terrorism as an inexplicable evil produced by an alien culture will have their eyes opened by this fascinating study of nineteenth-century anarchist terrorists . . . [An] absorbing true crime story, with Dostoyevskian overtones, about high ideals that motivate desperate acts." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"John Merriman has told an absorbing story of the strange world of anarchism in late-nineteenth-century France. Replete with uncanny and uncomfortable similarities to the ‘war on terrorism’ today, The Dynamite Club portrays a society swept up in the fear of bombers who are certain that they are achieving immortality for a righteous cause. This saga of Émile Henry and his motley crew of fellow anarchists is hard to put down."David Kertzer, author of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara and Amalia’s Tale
"Reading a book on nineteenth-century anarchism by John Merriman is a bit like reading one on the semicolon by Strunk and White. Merriman’s A History of Modern Europe (1996) is perhaps the best survey of the era, but by narrowing his scope from five hundred years of Continental history to a few bomb-throwing anarchists in Belle Epoque France, he is able to pack in riveting detail. "
"Questioning why terrorists attack people like us may lead to answers that call for us to examine our own roles in creating and maintaining the social, economic or political conditions that give rise to terrorist acts. This examination is what makes The Dynamite Club so important. Merriman demythologizes Émile Henry and the loosely organized international group of anarchist thinkers who inspired and supported him. Merriman also comments, without being heavy-handed, on the conditions European anarchists were trying to change."
"Merriman paints a fascinating picture of the anarchist underworld, giving real-life background to a milieu made famous by novels such as Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent and G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday."
"Those who think of terrorism as an inexplicable evil produced by an alien culture will have their eyes opened by this fascinating study of 19th-century anarchist terrorists."
"Yale historian John Merriman does many things in "The Dynamite Club," his book about the bombing, and does them quite well...In describing the fate of a single terrorist, Merriman has skillfully illustrated how social alienation fueled the rise of extremist ideas and acts. The lethal impulses that motivated Henry aren't so different, the author concludes, from the impulses that lead to terrorism today. This accessible account is historically eye-opening and psychologically insightful."
"Written with elegant brevity, The Dynamite Club is a reminder of an era when violent anarchists acted out their hatred against a repressive civilization."
"Gripping as a narrative, necessary as a historical lesson, Merriman's "The Dynamite Club" reads like a great novelall in the service of bringing novel insight into the birth of modern terrorism."
"In The Dynamite Club, his enthralling and cinematic account of a Paris cafe bombing in 1894, Merriman achieves that rare thing: virtuosic storytelling that doubles as superb history."
“A notable scholar of French history, Merriman recounts an episode of terrorism in 1890s Paris that plumbs the motivations of one particular bomber. He was Émile Henry, who at age 20 rejected a potential career in the French army and embraced anarchism…Reconstructing Henry’s own attacks, Merriman allies a forensic eye with the texture of Paris de la belle Époque, ably renders Henry’s personality, and implicitly invites comparison of his with the mind-sets of contemporary terrorists.”
Those who think of terrorism as an inexplicable evil produced by an alien culture will have their eyes opened by this fascinating study of 19th-century anarchist terrorists. Yale historian Merriman (History of Modern Europe) tells the story of Émile Henry, a well-educated young man from a politically radical family who tossed a bomb into a crowded Paris cafe in 1894. In Merriman's portrait, Henry emerges as an understandable, if not sympathetic, figure-a sensitive dreamer whose outrage at the misery of the poor curdled into a fanatical hatred of bourgeois society. He found a home in Europe's percolating anarchist movement, whose adherents celebrated a cult of revolutionary violence and sang hymns to "Lady Dynamite"; their bombings and assassinations set off a wave of panic and police repression. Merriman's account frames an illuminating study of working-class radicalism in belle époque France and its bitter conflict with the establishment in an age when class warfare was no metaphor. It's also an absorbing true crime story, with Dostoyevskian overtones, about high ideals that motivate desperate acts. Photos. (Feb. 12)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In the 21st century, we are concerned with economic and social inequalities and rapid technological change-but so were those living in 1890s Europe. With tension building between "haves" and "have-nots," strong anarchist movements had gained momentum there, paving the way, says Merriman, for the tactics used in today's age of modern terror. Merriman (history, Yale Univ.; A History of Modern Europe) leads the reader through a succinct history of anarchism and the rise of dynamite during this period. He uses young anarchist Emile Henry to epitomize this troubled period. Henry was the first individual to use indiscriminate terrorist means (by throwing dynamite into a crowd) to promote a particular social agenda; previously, most acts of violence by anarchists and other groups were directed at the police, heads of state, or the upper classes. Merriman's account complements other sources on the history of terrorism (e.g., Walter Laqueur's History of Terrorism) by putting a human face on this and other anarchist acts. Well told and thoroughly researched at the National Archives of Britain and France, this work is recommended for academic collections or public libraries collecting comprehensively on this aspect of history.
Maria C. Bagshaw
Chronicle of the 1894 bombing of an upscale Parisian cafe, which set a deadly pattern for the subsequent quarter-century and beyond. Merriman (History/Yale Univ.; The Stones of Balazuc, 2002, etc.) begins with Emile Henry (1872-94) packing a metal lunchbox with dynamite. "This book is motivated by a very simple question," he writes. "Why did Emile Henry do what he did?" The answer involves enormous social and economic inequality that the author sees still flourishing today. Echoing John Edwards, Merriman describes "two cities . . . the ‘People's Paris' of the east and the increasingly chic neighborhoods of the west." Henry, a young intellectual whose straitened family circumstances prevented him from getting a higher education, was disenchanted with the corrupt bourgeois society he saw around him. He turned to anarchism, a philosophy that declared "whoever lays a hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant," and advocated violent resistance to the state. There had been anarchist bombings, including one of a police station by Henry, before he threw his handmade explosive into the Cafe Terminus on February 12, but their targets had been government officials or the wealthy; this was a random attack on ordinary people. Chased in the streets by a waiter and several passersby, Henry was collared by a doughty gendarme, pummeled and taken to the local police station. He spent his days in custody reading Zola, Dumas, Spencer and Dostoevsky. Even his most bitter opponents, notes Merriman, were impressed by his articulate and confident, even arrogant, speeches during his trial. Nonetheless, judgment was quick, followed by an appointment with the "national razor." Henry became a martyr to thosebelieving in "propaganda by the deed"; one month after his execution, a knife-wielding anarchist killed French president Sadi Carnot. Anarchist attacks on individuals and public places terrorized Europe and America in the years before, during and immediately after World War I. Brisk and well-written, continually directing our attention toward contemporary analogues.