A true crime account of six terrifying months in 1911-1912, when the citizens of Paris were gripped by a violent crime streak. A group of anarchist bandits, motivated by the rampant inequality and poverty in Paris, went on a rampage throughout the city and its suburbs, robbing banks and wealthy Parisians, killing anyone who got in their way.
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.