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Fallen Idols: Twelve Statues That Made History

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In this timely and lively look at the act of toppling monuments, the popular historian and author of Blood and Sand explores the vital question of how a society remembers—and confronts—the past. In 2020, history came tumbling down. From the US and the UK to Belgium, New Zealand, and Bangladesh, Black Lives Matter protesters defaced, and in some cases, hauled down statues of In this timely and lively look at the act of toppling monuments, the popular historian and author of Blood and Sand explores the vital question of how a society remembers—and confronts—the past. In 2020, history came tumbling down. From the US and the UK to Belgium, New Zealand, and Bangladesh, Black Lives Matter protesters defaced, and in some cases, hauled down statues of Confederate icons, slaveholders, and imperialists. General Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate Army, was covered in graffiti in Richmond, Virginia. Edward Colston, a member of Parliament and slave trader, was knocked off his plinth in Bristol, England, and hurled into the harbor. Statues of Christopher Columbus were toppled in Minnesota, burned and thrown into a lake in Virginia, and beheaded in Massachusetts. Belgian King Leopold II was set on fire in Antwerp and doused in red paint in Ghent. Winston Churchill’s monument in London was daubed with the word “racist.” As these iconic effigies fell, the backlash was swift and intense. But as the past three hundred years have shown, history is not erased when statues are removed. If anything, Alex von Tunzelmann reminds us, it is made. Exploring the rise and fall of twelve famous, yet now controversial statues, she takes us on a fascinating global historical tour around North America, Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia, filled with larger than life characters and dramatic stories. Von Tunzelmann reveals that statues are not historical records but political statements and distinguishes between statuary—the representation of “virtuous” individuals, usually “Great Men”—and other forms of sculpture, public art, and memorialization. Nobody wants to get rid of all memorials. But Fallen Idols asks: have statues had their day?


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In this timely and lively look at the act of toppling monuments, the popular historian and author of Blood and Sand explores the vital question of how a society remembers—and confronts—the past. In 2020, history came tumbling down. From the US and the UK to Belgium, New Zealand, and Bangladesh, Black Lives Matter protesters defaced, and in some cases, hauled down statues of In this timely and lively look at the act of toppling monuments, the popular historian and author of Blood and Sand explores the vital question of how a society remembers—and confronts—the past. In 2020, history came tumbling down. From the US and the UK to Belgium, New Zealand, and Bangladesh, Black Lives Matter protesters defaced, and in some cases, hauled down statues of Confederate icons, slaveholders, and imperialists. General Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate Army, was covered in graffiti in Richmond, Virginia. Edward Colston, a member of Parliament and slave trader, was knocked off his plinth in Bristol, England, and hurled into the harbor. Statues of Christopher Columbus were toppled in Minnesota, burned and thrown into a lake in Virginia, and beheaded in Massachusetts. Belgian King Leopold II was set on fire in Antwerp and doused in red paint in Ghent. Winston Churchill’s monument in London was daubed with the word “racist.” As these iconic effigies fell, the backlash was swift and intense. But as the past three hundred years have shown, history is not erased when statues are removed. If anything, Alex von Tunzelmann reminds us, it is made. Exploring the rise and fall of twelve famous, yet now controversial statues, she takes us on a fascinating global historical tour around North America, Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia, filled with larger than life characters and dramatic stories. Von Tunzelmann reveals that statues are not historical records but political statements and distinguishes between statuary—the representation of “virtuous” individuals, usually “Great Men”—and other forms of sculpture, public art, and memorialization. Nobody wants to get rid of all memorials. But Fallen Idols asks: have statues had their day?

54 review for Fallen Idols: Twelve Statues That Made History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Holly Cruise

    Cards on the table from the outset, I am one of those historians who saw Colston's statue getting yeeted into the sea in Bristol and immediately thought "Yes, good, History is happening". I have no time and no patience for those who say incidents of statue removal erase History, not least because the number of people I know who knew anything about Colston went from two (me and a mate from Bath) to dozens once his statue took a dunk. Fall Idols is a book about statues getting pulled down in twelve Cards on the table from the outset, I am one of those historians who saw Colston's statue getting yeeted into the sea in Bristol and immediately thought "Yes, good, History is happening". I have no time and no patience for those who say incidents of statue removal erase History, not least because the number of people I know who knew anything about Colston went from two (me and a mate from Bath) to dozens once his statue took a dunk. Fall Idols is a book about statues getting pulled down in twelve specific instances, and also about the very idea of pulling down statues and what it means for History (capital H). It's no spoiler to say that Alex von Tunzelmann does not think that removing statues erases History, because she is a historian and we know that it doesn't work that way. Indeed, this book looks at why statues go up in the first place. The answers are fairly consistent: it's all about glory and trying to write History in place of what is actually happening or happened. Stalin gets pulled down, and the chapter looks at his efforts to rewrite everything about himself from his name to his relationship with Lenin. Robert E. Lee's statues weren't about celebrating his military prowess (he lost the Civil War) but were put up decades after he died in an attempt to assert white supremacy. Lenin didn't even want statues of himself but the apparatus around him did. There is so much interesting detail in here. Examples are sometimes obvious, but also sometimes less well known, like the awful Rafael Trujillo. Some of the stories are also hilarious - the Portland Elks is a classic farce, but the trolling vandal who spraypainted the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen with "Racist fish" in 2020 now has my heart. Maybe even give this book to your angry uncle/friend/colleague who thinks statues are always good. It's certainly well written and argued and they might have some new thoughts after reading.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Oldham

    Good book. I would recommend. The writing style for what could be a dry subject keeps you turning the pages. The book has energy with unexpected moments of humour that genuinely make you smile. Piqued my interest in areas of history I had not previously invested time in trying to understand. In my opinion the weakness in the book is the author’s arguments surrounding the removal of statues, which lacked depth and somewhat jumped from presenting evidence to presenting conclusions.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

  4. 5 out of 5

    L

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Clarke

  6. 4 out of 5

    Darren Gore

  7. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Sinclair

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    Marija

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gail

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alison Hamblin

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gesine

  13. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Johnson

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tylor

  17. 4 out of 5

    Philip White

  18. 4 out of 5

    Warren

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alison

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Boulby

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tig

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  27. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Shields

  28. 5 out of 5

    Maria Gabriella

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cebrina

  31. 5 out of 5

    Gramaryen49

  32. 4 out of 5

    José Oliveira

  33. 5 out of 5

    Jack Manning

  34. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Smith

  35. 4 out of 5

    Warren Glover

  36. 5 out of 5

    Melyssa

  37. 5 out of 5

    Eve

  38. 4 out of 5

    James Harrison

  39. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  40. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  41. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  42. 5 out of 5

    Keith Marshall

  43. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  44. 5 out of 5

    Giles

  45. 5 out of 5

    Ella

  46. 4 out of 5

    Jason Park

  47. 4 out of 5

    Ginger

  48. 5 out of 5

    Gem

  49. 5 out of 5

    Ed

  50. 4 out of 5

    Lara Maynard

  51. 5 out of 5

    Vicky P

  52. 4 out of 5

    Marco

  53. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Bellinger

  54. 4 out of 5

    Flaed

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