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Demanding the Impossible

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  690 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Updated edition with a new eplogue that examines the most recent developments, including 'post-anarchism' and 'anarcho-primitivism' as well as the anarchist contributions to the contemporary peace, green and global justice movements.
Paperback, Revised American edition, 818 pages
Published 2010 (first published 1992)
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Tim Pendry
This is a fairly substantial and worthy account of the history of anarchism, largely built around review chapters of prominent figures and historical reviews of anarchism in action. It takes a broad view by including writers and thinkers who might better or equally be considered liberal or libertarian, although Marshall is always at pains to show their differences from classical anarchist thought.

It has to be said that it can be a little dull at times and there is a lack of a sustained overview,
عبدالرحمن أبوذكري
Neither do you have to finish reading this book to rate it, nor do you have to be an anarchist to love it. Peter Marshall is really a hell of a good writer. His profound account of anarchism is rare and almost unique. I was not that much enthusiastic about the book in the beginning, when Professor Chomsky recommended it among some others as essential readings on Anarchism, but after I read almost 150 pages out of the 700, I would be mistaken if not recommending it to whoever may be concerned. It ...more
Steven Peterson
May 15, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wide ranging overview of the political theory of anarchism. In that endeavor, it is similar in scope to Woodcock's esteemed volume. The work begins by defining the subject. The second part explores forerunners of anarchism--from the east to the Greeks and so on. The third part considers leading exponents of the theory from France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Part 4? Classic anarchist thinkers, such as Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, and so on. Part five focuses o ...more
Nicolas Garcia
May 20, 2008 Nicolas Garcia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
dense! rich! after I read this I got into a debate with an anarchist . . . anarchists need to brush up on the history of their political theory . . .
Michael Schmidt
I have to give credit where it is due, and when I picked up Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible at Adams' Books in Durban (the symbol on its 1930s concrete facade was a red Circle-A) back in the early 1990s, it was the first book I had laid hands on that attempted a global synopsis of anarchist thought and action.

In many ways, it was hugely influential on me as a young anarchist and lead to my own studies into the history of the anarchist movement and its mass-organisational expressions,
Jul 30, 2014 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is the definitive history of Anarchism as a cultural movement, sociopolitical phenomenon and lastly, a fairly coherent political philosophy with its own analyses, solutions, trends and debates within its own framework.

Peter Marshall delivers a very impressive book, both in depth and scope. In it, one can find pieces from a lucid array of thinkers that range from Taoism to contemporary right wing libertarianism, as well as lessons in history and some political and ethical theory to compleme
Meghan Fidler
Marshall is impressive in his attempt to cover a wide breadth of people, religions, regions and governments, but the manuscript is also weak because of it, unable to give full depictions of any topic broached (it is lamentable, for example, that the majority of women activists are submerged as 'lovers' of the featured men. Covering everyone is impossible, but Marshall made the attempt, so his choices for inclusion are political commentaries in and of themselves).
This is more of a reference man
Jul 19, 2008 Ronan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anarchism, history
Very well written and researched so far. Wouldn't quite agree with his glowing endorsement of Taoism, Buddhism, and some Greek philosophy though. The chapter on Bakunin was very interesting, I'm not sure whether it counts as a hatchet job or a balanced appraisal of the man though. I'm inclined to lean towards the latter as Marshall is consistently balanced and generous, he certainly doesn't lean to the fanatical attacks of other writers on Bakunin.
Remarkable and well-read history of the many facets of anarcho-syndicalism, discussing their roots in everything from Ancient China to Kropotkin, Bakunin, Thoreau, the Situationists, Gandhi and Wilde.
Jose Palafox
This is a 800-page book. The re-print edition by PM Press is a "chop and scan", which means that it makes the actual reading of the book a bit difficult (i.e., words are blurry etc). Nevertheless, a great title. Highly recommend it.
Jan 21, 2011 Erin marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
I had wanted this book for a long time and they had it at Pages Coffee Bar and Used Bookstore in Conway, MA. What an amazing little bookstore!!! Highly recommend it if you are in the area, it made me happy to patronize them.
Jan 21, 2011 Sumayyah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent resource for the future. Of course, this book feels alarmingly like a text book.
Brandon Love
Dec 10, 2014 Brandon Love rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-nonfiction
Clear, detailed and thorough history of anarchism. Marshall does a great job connecting anarchy to its philosophical forerunners. From the philosophical connections to Taoism (in the Tao Te Ching), Buddhism, the Greeks, Christianity, the Middle Ages, the English Revolution, the French Renaissance and Enlightenment and the British Enlightenment.

Marshall also provides detailed accounts of the major anarchist thinkers in the movement and provides information on how their work affected the society a
P.H.G. Haslam
This great volume is fine introduction to the anarchist creed and its history. Marshall traces the story of libertarian and freedom-loving strains throughout human history, and argues the case for these ideas having been around for an awfully long time. A good 200 pages is used documenting this before Proudhon(the first self-professed anarchist) is discussed, and in this way Marshall makes this a story of freedom and popular movements against authority rather than simply of the anarchist moveme ...more
This is a behemoth book of mammoth proportions. Peter Marshall has written the definitive critical history of anarchism, developing a survey of the forerunners of anarchism leading up to current anarchist movements and present day anarchist thinkers.

With chapters covering Proudhon, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Godwin, Stirner, and numerous others, this book is a must-have for anyone interested in the subject of anarchism, or anyone who takes radical social change seriously.

I would say this is more of a r
Jan 20, 2013 Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Woah! All this time studying has actually allowed me to think like a 17th century thinker (Well at least the ones that were published!). Freaky. I have so many parallels with the modern (like 17th century) critics of 'government' and society'. And that's not to say I have any answers or my truth is more poignant than anyone else s but it certainly does address the big problems that still plague society. And you know what, a nice blend of anarchism and libertarianism would actually fix climate ch ...more
Billie Pritchett
Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible is a wonderful expose of anarchism. Marshall painstakingly examines the major figures and their biographies, the history of anarchism, and the core ideas that underly this '-ism.' "Anarchism" is an awfully scary word but the basic principle is a suspicion of centralized government. You can compare it to what is sometimes called "libertarianism." Libertarianism advocates that we should have the most minimal government possible. Anarchism goes a step furth ...more
Ian Drew Forsyth
My god, big book to slog through and he doesn't have much a punch to his narration. Repeats many things, found the most boring part the actual chunky middle of the Classical Anarchist Thinkers.
Liked most of the modern thinkers and the history of different groups, there's a lot of information of course and good distinctions to pick up on, the difference between the state and society, all the -ism adjectives etc. Difference between the individualists and the socialist/collectivist forms of anarchi
Zain Haider
Apr 02, 2015 Zain Haider rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are an Anarchist, question the monopoly of the state on your lives or just have a problem with Authority and Power then this book is (and should become) your Bible, Quran and everything in between.
Marshall has done an impressive job in tracing the lives and philosophies of some of the most important thinkers in the Anarchist school of thought; his selections are broad and extensive, they are inclusive and voluminous (900+ pages) ; many branches and positions within the school are not onl
Apr 28, 2016 Karlie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be the go-to book for radical history. It's the most thorough, all encompassing and realistic representation of the history of class revolt I have read. Marshall manages to chronicle the development of anarchism across all cultures while maintaining a coherent timeline for the overall history. The formatting of the book makes it easy to refer back to specific people or nations if you need a reminder/refresher. The language used is accessible and not up its own ass. Exceptional histor ...more
Dana Garrett
Jun 13, 2012 Dana Garrett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anarchism-read
Demanding the Impossible is a tour de force. It is clearly the authoritative text on the history of anarchism. It covers all of the major and most of the minor figures in anarchism as well as anarchism's ideological patrimony in other traditions. The author takes great pains to be as objective as possible in the body of the text and only reserves a clear but brief presentation of his own views at the end. The book is well sourced and contains a helpful bibliography. I cannot recommend this book ...more
Kevin Tole
Sep 11, 2014 Kevin Tole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
As a reference book on the shelves - 5 star. As a history book - 4 star. As a dissection of Anarchism - 3 1/2 stars. There is far too much of the 'get-out-the-blanket-and-lets-throw-it-over-the-top-of-all-these-counter-culturers-and-call-them-anarchists' for me.

Now so full of notes and scribbles - the most predominant of which particularly towards the end if 'BS!!!!' - that I can't put it back on the secondhand market, but thats what a good book should be like.

Maybe I'll add some more to this la
A history of the ideas of Anarchism. It starts of by giving an overview of anti-authoritarian thought going back to Taoism right on up to Thomas Paine. Then it goes into the development of Anarchism proper by focusing on various influential thinkers. It goes in to the various strains of thought (anarcho-communism, syndicalism, mutualism, etc). It is very well researched.
Aug 30, 2016 Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone agrees that there's such a thing as too much government. But how much is too much? Anarchists say that any government is too much. Not surprisingly, those who have advocated this extreme position have included some colorful characters, so there are entertaining anecdotes in Peter Marshall's book.

A good overview of anarchist history up to the Cold War.
Jul 14, 2012 Alfy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The end of the book was too focused on middle/upper/intellectual class anarchism & its connections with environmentalism, don't know if this means that anarchism is no longer a working class movement or if the author is just not aware of it.
I read the first bit of this and skimmed a bunch of it. Another volume that I can't wait to get my own copy of for some deeper perusal. Really REALLY good collection. I like Marshall's style as well.
Jul 12, 2016 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are a lot of stupid ideas in here and even the author's personal analysis of these ideas is kind of off at times but still, for a summary of all these different schools of thought you're probably not gonna find anything better.
Jun 17, 2012 Dayton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I tend to agree with another person's review of this book "Blowing away cobwebs of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, this is a stimulating & portrait of a highly varied but distinctive political ideal, tradition, and practice arising from the enduring human impulse to be free."
Feb 26, 2014 Ilya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the author's lively (and slightly biased) style. Overall, the book is rather (if not the most) comprehensive overview of various flavours of anarchist thought.
Constantinos (Gus) Kalogeropoulos
If you wish to understand the key elements of Anarchism and Anarchist thought, start with this book. Its the 'go-to' guide, and for good reason.
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Peter Marshall (born 23 August 1946, Bognor Regis, England) is an English philosopher, historian, biographer, travel writer and poet. He has written fifteen books which are being translated into fourteen different languages. He wrote, presented and partly filmed the 6-part HTV series 'Voyage Around Africa', first shown in 1994. He also wrote and presented the two-part series 'Celtic Gold: A Voyage ...more
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“The continued appeal of anarchism can probably be attributed to its enduring affinity with both the rational and emotional impulses lying deep within us. It is an attitude, a way of life as well as a social philosophy. It presents a telling analysis of existing institutions and practices, and at the same time offers the prospect of a radically transformed society.” 3 likes
“Whatever its future success as a historical movement, anarchism will remain a fundamental part of human experience, for the drive for freedom is one of our deepest needs and the vision of a free society is one of our oldest dreams. Neither can ever be fully repressed; both will outlive all rulers and their States.” 2 likes
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