26 September 2023

Dancing Before Storms

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Robert T. Harris, Wakefield Press, $39.95.

True to its invitation, get ready for an express ride through modern history!

As well-known commentator on education and public policy, Robert T. Harris explains the story of five revolutions that shaped the modern world grew out of a simple question. Why do people in power and those who surround them so often ignore the signs of impending catastrophe? Hence the title ― Dancing Before Storms ― is both an assertion and a question.

The result is an impressive historical work of comprehensive motivation.

The groundbreaking revolutionary movements were: the 1776 American Revolution, the 1789 French Revolution, the 1848 European Revolution, the Chinese Revolution in 1911 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Harris works on a thought-provoking strand through these five periods: there were warning signs for the exclusive and reigning classes about a revolution being in the air, but they merely continued to “dance before the storm”.

These rebellions shaped the power structures of our modern world. Each time, the elites of the day ignored the warning signs. These main sections align to become a whole, transitioning from one movement to another, like Storming of the Bastille and the rise of Stalin.

Dancing Before Storms is about times of fury and turmoil, the links between them and the personal stories of men and women who had power and influence, but were overtaken by events.

While these revolts offer lessons on how to manage the forces of political, economic and social change, Robert T. Harris argues the human propensity for denial means that we are likely heading toward new revolutions.

There’s no doubt this is an ambitious gambit, but this superior narrative achieves that with insightful research and focus on historical personalities and concealed connections. It’s a captivating parade of characters including Germaine de Staël, Sun Yat Sen, Jacques Necker and Benjamin Franklin.

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