The Life and Death of the Paris Commune of 1871

John Merriman

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One of the most dramatic chapters in the history of nineteenth-century Europe, the Commune of 1871 was an eclectic revolutionary government that held power in Paris across eight weeks between 18 March and 28 May. Its brief rule ended in ‘Bloody Week’ – the brutal massacre of as many as 15,000 Parisians, and perhaps even more, who perished at the hands of the provisional government’s forces. By then, the city’s boulevards had been torched and its monuments toppled. More than 40,000 Parisians were investigated, imprisoned or forced into exile – a purging of Parisian society by a conservative national government whose supporters were considerably more horrified by a pile of rubble than the many deaths of the resisters.
In this gripping narrative, John Merriman explores the radical and revolutionary roots of the Commune, painting vivid portraits of the Communards – the ordinary workers, famous artists and extraordinary fire-starting women – and their daily lives behind the barricades, and examining the ramifications of the Commune on the role of the state and sovereignty in France and modern Europe. Enthralling, evocative and deeply moving, this narrative account offers a full picture of a defining moment in the evolution of state terror and popular resistance.
John Merriman is Charles Seymour Professor of History at Yale University, where he teaches French and Modern European History. He received Yale’s Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize in 2000, and was awarded a Docteur Honoris Causa in France in 2002. His many books include Dynamite Club: How A Café Bombing Ignited the Age of Modern Terror (2009), Police Stories: Making the French State, 1815-1851 (2005), The Stones of Balazuc: A French Village in Time (2002), A History of Modern Europe since the Renaissance (1996), The Margins of City Life: Explorations on the French Urban Frontier (1991) and The Agony of the Republic: The Repression of the Left in Revolutionary France, 1848-1851 (Yale, 1978).

'Using an array of primary source documents, Merriman expertly tells the story of violent class warfare through the eyes of participants and observers of the struggle ... Although short-lived, the commune had significant implications, influencing politicians and theorists alike, Karl Marx included. It symbolized the last of the 19th-century revolutions that tore across Europe and foreshadowed the brutal, systematic repression of the 20th century.' - Library Journal

'An eloquent, frequently moving and disturbing account ... a fine recounting of an episode that hung over and haunted Europe for subsequent decades.' - Booklist

'A story of incandescent ideals, stunning violence, and extraordinary people. In Massacre, John Merriman brings his prodigious understanding of France and masterful narrative gifts to describe the ten weeks that changed Paris and prefigured the upheavals of our times. Read against the headlines from Cairo or Kiev, this book could not be more timely, or better told.' - Maya Jasanoff, author of Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World

'Irresistible reading. A master historian captures the idealism and the cruelty, the heroism and the horror, of a civil war that shaped modern Europe.' - Peter McPhee, author of Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life

'Massacre is an absorbing and very moving read. John Merriman has found exactly the right tone and mastery of detail—including many new stories heretofore unpublished—to produce the best popular history of the Commune, in English or French, in a generation.'—Steven Englund, author of Napoleon: A Political Life

'Dream of emancipation, nightmare of repression—the Paris Commune was a focal point of the political imagination of nineteenth century Europe. John Merriman’s new book brings vividly to life the hopes and fears, the passions and hatreds and the social and political struggles that inspired a famous revolutionary regime and led to its violent destruction.'—Jonathan Sperber, author of Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life

'The internecine killings that took place in the crushing of the Paris Commune in 1871 make even the Great Terror of 1793-4 pale in comparison. The Commune's brief and striking history and its brutal repression are the subject of John Merriman's fine, compassionate and utterly unputdownable study. Merriman shows in compelling, vivid, and often graphic detail how France's capital and its national government became locked in a vicious struggle which climaxed in one of the bloodiest massacres of an urban population in nineteenth-century Europe. Massacre reminds us that the Paris of boulevards and brasseries was also the city of blood and barricades.' - Colin Jones, author of Paris: Biography of a City

'One of the most terrible and tragic episodes in the history of Paris brilliantly described and analyzed. Merriman approaches the drama from every angle, the politi cal and military aspects set against the economic rupture and the cultural and religious impact besides the bitter ideological splits among the Communards themselves.' - Jonathan Israel, author of A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy

'John Merriman has written this history of the Paris Commune with his usual verve, clarity, and encyclopedic knowledge of French history. But above all, what sets the book apart is the sympathy for ordinary Parisians that breathes through Merriman's narrative, and the piercing manner in which he conveys the tragedy that befell them in 1871.'—David A. Bell, author of The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It

'In Massacre, John Merriman an historian at Yale University, combines two narrative tasks with considerable art: an overview of the tangled background and vivid close shots from the street.'—The Economist

‘Merriman explores the radical and revolutionary roots of the Commune – the ordinary workers, famous artists and extraordinary fire-starting women – and their daily lives behind the barricades, and examines the ramifications pf Commune on the role of the state and sovereignty in France and modern Europe.’—Labour Research.

‘The Commune is an epic story, told here with verve and sympathy.’—David Hopkins, History Today

‘Merriman’s supersedes… as the standard modern narrative… Merriman takes us through the story in considerable detail… [his] evocation of those terrifying days using a collage is contemporary accounts, is the climax of the book.’—Robert Tombs, TLS.

‘An accurate and graphic account of the Paris Commune of 1871… Merriman is a new breed of historian. His eye is a roving one and he snaps images of what was really going on from day to day.’—Illtyd Harrington, Camden New Journal.

‘This blow-by-blow account of the rise and fall of 1871 Paris Commune is, at times, almost too painful to read.’ - Gordon Parsons, Morning Star
ISBN: 9780300219449
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
336 pages, x
8pp. b/w

Sales Restrictions: World except the United States, its territories and possessions, the Philippine Republic, Puerto Rico, and Canada
The Dynamite Club

How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siècle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror

John Merriman; With a New Preface

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