cover image Fools, Martyrs, Traitors: The Story of Martyrdom in the Western World

Fools, Martyrs, Traitors: The Story of Martyrdom in the Western World

Lacey Baldwin Smith, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-679-45124-2

Smith, Emeritus Professor of History at Northwestern University, cuts through the hagiography surrounding some of the past's most stories lives and deaths to pose some intriguing questions: Who should be considered a ""proper"" martyr? When is martyrdom a cover for suicide? Is every martyr a hero? Can martyrdom and treason coexist? She notes that ""numerous hints of masochism and sexual perversion, as much as spiritual ecstasy, underlay the early Christian martyr's attraction for torture and death."" Smith examines the story of martyrdom in the West through the lives of, among others, Socrates, Jesus, Thomas Becket, John Brown, Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Still, Smith's book would have more successfully bridged history and modernity by shedding new light on the self-proclaimed Islamic martyrs whose acts of terrorism plague both West and East. Even so, the book will satisfy readers interested in history, psychology and the dynamics of religious fervor. (May)