Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits reads like a novel, so it flows from page to page, but what makes the book so fascinating is that it’s true. The true crime feel keeps the book engaging and suspenseful, and the moral underlying in the story, wealth inequality, rings true today. Merriman’s book is dark and fast. You can feel the atmosphere of the era and his writing pulls you into the scene, leaving you with an understanding of why the Bonnot Gang acted out of desperation for them, what felt like a necessity. This is the kind of book you pick up and can’t put down and then spend weeks after convincing your friends and co-workers to read it so you can talk about it ... a must-read for fans of history and true crime alike. It grips the reader and pulls you into a tale so wonderful you almost can’t believe it’s true.
France’s long history of antiterrorist legislation is given a timely appraisal in Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits, a riveting history of the Bonnot Gang, the brutal band of murdering anarchists who rattled the City of Light in the early 20th century ... These were the prototypes of modern terrorism, Mr. Merriman contended, having no specific targets but striking out blindly, causing as much damage as possible among people enjoying themselves in public. It is a rich vein of largely untapped history that Mr. Merriman continues to mine for contemporary resonance here ... Mr. Merriman gives these and other proceedings a vivid recounting. His eye for detail is particularly acute.
Merriman doesn’t have much interest in moralizing about their violence; he plays up the theatricality of it all instead. No doubt other historians have been more blasé about larger body counts, but the author’s excitement and levity makes the whole project a bit unseemly. Murdering people who just happen to be in the way—as the Gang did—is made only slightly more charming with an olde tyme color palette ... Ballad is an action story that would fit in just fine on any number of cable networks, but as a historical event it lacks a certain weight. Merriman doesn’t draw many contemporary parallels, and the best he can come up with in terms of a lesson is that class divisions cause crime. Fair enough, but hardly revelatory. At the end of the day, historical action entertainment is the other side of the illegalist coin, where the violence is once again a means and an end.
Merriman digests memoirs and newspaper archives to create a comprehensive, blow-by-blow account. But his true concern is the correlation between economic hopelessness and political violence ... The result is a lively, erudite work that, without romanticizing the Bonnot gang’s crimes, manages to humanize those in their milieu, and perhaps suggest lessons for the present.
Merriman’s subject is the rise and fall of the Bonnot Gang, but he shrewdly wraps his historical analysis in the arms of a love story. Rirette Maîtrejean and Victor Kibaltchiche met on the battlements of the class war, which fueled their affair and gave it purpose. But Jules Bonnot, the leader of their gang, was more committed to plunder than to the cause.
Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits follows the trail of a committed cadre of 'illegalists' — anarchists who believed that robbing banks and looting stores were fair game in a corrupt society ... Author John Merriman delivers a ripping good yarn with a lineup of compelling characters. It was a pivotal time in France, with World War I looming ... With so many people to introduce and so many intriguing asides — Arthur Conan Doyle even gets a mention — the narrative drags a bit in early chapters. But it picks up speed as it goes and leaves the reader with some timely questions about where a country should set the balance between security and civil rights for people with unpopular views.
Merriman’s electrifying narrative follows the gang on their crime spree, from the bank heist to a gruesome home burglary and murder, along with a host of other crimes ... In addition to his vivid portrayals of the principal characters and events, the author provides informative context to the crimes, outlining the severe exploitation of workers in this supposedly idyllic time in Parisian history. This is a nuanced and fascinating dissection of the events by a riveting storyteller with a sympathetic (but unsentimental) view of the anarchists’ cause.
[Merriman] uncovers the dark side of the famed belle epoque, offering a fresh perspective on the reality of life for much of the city’s population ... Merriman draws heavily on their memoirs, supplemented by archival sources and other contemporary testimony. Unfortunately, many quoted passages are not introduced by speaker, forcing readers to turn to the endnotes to make sense of the citations ... Chilling historical evidence of the dire consequences of inequality and injustice.