‘The Anarchists’ by James Joll

First things first: this took me far too bloody long to finish. That’s not a criticism of the book itself – far from it – but more a reflection that I didn’t give it the attention I perhaps should. There’s various reasons / excuses I could make for that, but it mostly boils down to it not being the easiest of reads, and therefore only attracting my attention when I felt I could dedicate half an hour to it without wanting to fall asleep. Time for some fiction now I reckon!

As for the book though, despite the above paragraph, it’s a very interesting read. Effectively a run-down of Anarchism and ‘key’ anarchists throughout the centuries, culminating in their role and defeat into obscurity in Spain in the mid-to-late 1930’s. It covers characters such as Kropotkin, Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Malatesta and Goldman, to name but a few, and also spends a good portion of its time explaining and exploring the somewhat strange relationship between the various anarchists and the communists as were springing up around the time of the First International.

All in all then, lots of things I had – at best – only the slightest of grips on, and it certainly paved the way to making further reading into the different areas more appealing.

It flows well, it’s well written, and spans the periods of time chronologically (as you may expect), often recalling characters that had been introduced earlier on and how most of the main figures knew each other, personally or otherwise,  as well as fairly carefully analyzing some of the failure points and successes at various times in the movement.

One of the things that was perhaps most pleasing about it as a read was the seeming lack of bias on behalf of Joll. As ever with books surrounding the political arena, I’m always a bit wary that the author will be approaching the subject from one side or the other, which usually comes across in the writing and can get a bit tedious. So it was nice to not have that to contend with!

Don’t know if I’d go as far as to recommend this to anyone, but if anarchy / history of political thoughts is your ‘bag’, then you could do worse.