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Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  937 ratings  ·  69 reviews
Lively and authoritative, this study of a widely misunderstood subject skillfully navigates the rough waters of anarchistic concepts--from Taoism to Situationism, ranters to punk rockers, individualists to communists, and anarcho-syndicalists to anarcha-feminists.

Exploring key anarchist ideas of society and the state, freedom and equality, authority and power, the record
Paperback, 767 pages
Published November 19th 2007 by Harper Perennial (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
Jul 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviews
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 rated it really liked it
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
Michael Schmidt
May 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: anarchism
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,
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Demand the Impossible has been on my to-read list ever since I saw its cover with a Noam Chomsky quote on the book racks at Powell’s. However, this is one hefty book and I didn’t want to tackle it until I knew I was mentally prepared. I’m glad I braced myself because Demand the Impossible is thorough to say the least.

I’ve read a good amount of anarchist literature and have been interested in its history and theories over the years. I still can’t quite decide whether I should have read this book
Piers Haslam
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Zain Haider
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Meghan Fidler
Oct 08, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Nicolas Garcia
May 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 . . .
Kate Savage
If this were subtitled "A History of European Anarchist Philosophy," I would be less disappointed in this book. The anarchist ideas and movements that are relevant to me hardly appear. Instead of the rich and lively anti-authoritarian experiments that have happened throughout the world, this book focuses on the intellectual Authorities, the big men with their big ideas, who -- surprise surprise --
at some point try to make themselves secret presidents of secret societies and betray the hope at t
Jun 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Some books change the way you see the world and Demanding the Impossible is one of them. If, like me, you've spent years wrangling with socialism/communism/other assorted left wing isms but had a vaguely uneasy feeling about all of them, then you'll probably find your spiritual home in this book. It covers too much to give comprehensive detail on everything, but it's an excellent history and a great starting point for further exploration. ...more
Dec 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Excellent resource for the future. Of course, this book feels alarmingly like a text book.
Justin Martin
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This sprawling history of the rejection of government -- from Tolstoy to the Toaist/Confucianist conflict clear through to Chomsky, Malatesta, Bakunin and Kropotkin -- is nuanced, critical, and never dry. Anarchism at its core is a debate about how a human acts when left to themselves, and this is a lively one that did more than any nonfiction book to rewire my priors, even when picking through the opinions of somebody flagrantly wrong.
Brandon Love
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mckenzie Ragan
Dense and thorough (but extremely readable), Demanding the Impossible was exactly what I was hoping it would be. Starting with Taoism, the Greeks, and other precursors, Marshall follows the anarchist tradition from its roots to its (relatively) modern manifestations. The end result is a three-headed beast of a field guide: it is as close to a chronological history as possible, given overlaps in time among various schools, people, movements, and events; it is an overview of the major players – bo ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: anarchism
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
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
This is an outstanding encyclopedia of/on all thought, action, theory, history, synthesis, antitheses and cosmology, not just of Anarchism as an idea, but all political/ philosophical/ theological thought that incorporates the notion of human freedom. Im only half-way through but its the kind of book that's hard to put down.
Happily -since reading this book I no longer feel Anarchy is possible which is why I imagine the books title is what it is- but this is a good thing. Why it's impossibility o
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-buy
Absolutely fantastic. Covers everything (really; everything) in a concise, detailed, and objective way. Individual chapters on thinkers and subjects are accessible for people unfamiliar with the content and insightful even for those who know the subject. Spent the best part of two months going through it cover to cover. Can’t recommend it more highly.
Jun 29, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 21, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Jun 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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." ...more
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. ...more
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Sean Gardner
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A must for anyone interested in Anarchism and it's history! Highly recommended! For the seasoned as much as for the curious... ...more
Willie Whelan
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Easy to read, comprehensive history of Anarchist thought.
A very comprehensive and informative history with great biographical information as well on the major anarchist thinkers and practitioners.
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Peter Hugh 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 V ...more

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15 likes · 1 comments
“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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