Michael Burleigh is a man of formidable erudition and remarkable percipience. That he should combine these talents with a loathing of cant, hypocrisy and sentimentality has helped him to fashion an objectivity in his writing that redoubles his already significant standing as an historian. Perhaps best known for his stunning history of the Third Reich, Burleigh last year published Earthly Powers, a chronicle of the interaction of religion and politics from the French Revolution to the Great War. Sacred Causes brings the story up to the present date. Second volumes are often disappointing, but in the scope of his material, the clarity of his thought and the pungency of his conclusions, Burleigh has, if anything, surpassed his earlier achievement.
Interestingly, much of the book is spent giving the lie to the notion that the twentieth century saw the triumph of a secularism that had taken root in the European mind in the nineteenth. Dictators such as Hitler and Stalin mimicked religious tropes and practices when the necessity arose in