In this fascinating book, the author of The Hinge Factor and The Weather Factor surveys revolutions across the centuries, vividly portraying the people and events that brought wrenching, often enduring—and always bloody—change to countries and societies almost overnight. Durschmied begins with the French Revolution and goes on to examine the revolutions of Mexico in 1910, Russia in 1917, and Japan in 1945, as well as the failed putsch against Hitler in 1944. His account of the Cuban Revolution is peppered with personal anecdotes—for he was the first foreign correspondent to meet Castro when the future leader was still in the Sierra Maestra. He concludes with the Iranian Revolution that ousted the Shah in 1979—another that he personally covered—and, in a new preface, extends his analysis to the Arab Spring.
Each revolution, Durschmied contends, has its own dynamic and memorable cast of characters, but all too often the end result is the same: mayhem, betrayal, glory, and death. Unlike the American Revolution, which is the counterexample, few revolutions are spared the harsh reality that most devour their own children.
“Durschmied is a supremely gifted reporter who has transformed the media he works in.”
“[A] light and lively narrative that serves as a useful introduction for the general reader.”
The former Newsweek correspondent who has toyed about with variations on the theme of "What if?" in his speculative histories The Hinge Factor and The Weather Factor settles down here to look at the actual record of the great political revolutions of the last two centuries. It is not a happy story, nor a heroic one. "Genius, courage and creativity are powerful forces," Durschmied concedes; "but so is evil." And, indeed, every one of the great cataclysms described here seems, at some (fairly early) point in its development, to have been transformed into a mad witch's Sabbath of fanatics, opportunists, sadists, conmen and outright lunatics whose single-minded lust for power would have taken Machiavelli's breath away. Durschmied illustrates it all with vivid, journalistic detail: a Parisian hairdresser arranging the coiffure of the Princesse de Lamballe's severed head; the drunken turkey-shoot in which the Bolsheviks assassinated the tsar's family; Pancho Villa's sport of lining up hostages atop railway cars and gunning them down like bowling pins; the snuff films made of the hangings of resistance leaders for Hitler's personal amusement. The author's intent is not primarily analytical, but he makes it clear that political collapses as complete as those detailed here are never the result of simple conquest, militarily or ideologically, and that no ruler is ever overthrown unless he or she is profoundly inept, weak-willed or stupid (e.g., Louis XVI, Nicholas II, the shah of Iran). Durschmied writes wonderfully fluid and engaging accounts. The final chapter, on the Khomeinite revolution in Iran, is particularly timely now. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. First printing 15,000.