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'People embraced each other, shook hands, joy radiated from every eye, there was no limit to the celebrations . . .'
There can be few more exciting or frightening moments in European history than the spring of 1848. Almost as if by magic, in city after city, from Palermo to Paris to Venice, huge crowds gathered, sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent, and the political order that had held sway since the defeat of Napoleon simply collapsed.
Christopher Clark's spectacular new book recreates with verve, wit and insight this extraordinary period. Some rulers gave up at once, others fought bitterly, but everywhere new politicians, beliefs and expectations surged forward. The role of women in society, the end of slavery, the right to work, national independence and the final emancipation of the Jews all became live issues.
In a brilliant series of set-pieces, Clark conjures up both this ferment of new ideas and then the increasingly ruthless and effective series of counter-attacks launched by regimes who still turned out to have many cards to play. But even in defeat, exiles spread the ideas of 1848 around the world and - for better and sometimes much worse - a new and very different Europe emerged from the wreckage.