1848 Year of Revolution, By Mike Rapport

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The Independent Culture

Largely due to the "restraint showed by the Chartists", this country escaped the tumult that swept a dozen European states in 1848. Rapport's vivid tour d'horizon reminds us of the dramatic birth-pangs associated with the arrival of modernity.

The first deaths in the Paris uprising occurred when "two beautiful prostitutes hoisted up their skirts and, taunting the troops with obscenities, dared them to fire. They were immediately cut down in a hail in bullets." Approximately 1,500 fatalities followed.

In Rome, the moderate prime minister Count Pellegrino Rossi was fatally stabbed in the throat, but Pope Pius IX escaped dressed "in the cassock of a humble parish priest". If political complexities occasionally fog Rapport's exegesis, this remains an absorbing account of a phenomenon that seeded two world wars.