The Odd Man Karakozov: Imperial Russia, Modernity, and the Birth of Terrorism

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The Odd Man Karakozov: Imperial Russia, Modernity, and the Birth of Terrorism
By Claudia Verhoeven
Cornell University Press, 2009
248 pp. $39.95
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It is often argued that terrorism in its modern form originated in tsarist Russia in the 1870s with the birth of the revolutionary organization known as the People's Will. Verhoeven argues that the real forerunner was the psychologically unbalanced, self-imagined revolutionary Dmitry Karakozov, who in 1866 committed the until-then-unthinkable public act of attempting to shoot the tsar. (He missed.) His arrest, trial, and execution and the frenzied efforts of the regime to prove a vast revolutionary conspiracy, she contends, rippled through society, affecting everything from who Fyodor Dostoyevsky's protagonist Raskolnikov became to the symbolism invested in the most mundane aspects of Karakozov's being. To make the case, Verhoeven engages in sweeping metahistorical analysis that stretches the reader's imagination almost as much as her own. This allows her to extract a great deal from a case whose essential questions remain unanswered almost a century and a half later.