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Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World [Kindle Edition]

James MacGregor Burns
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.99
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Sold by: Macmillan

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Book Description

"With this profound and magnificent book, drawing on his deep reservoir of thought and expertise in the humanities, James MacGregor Burns takes us into the fire's center.  As a 21st-century philosopher, he brings to vivid life the incandescent personalities and ideas that embody the best in Western civilization and shows us how understanding them is essential for anyone who would seek to decipher the complex problems and potentialities of the world we will live in tomorrow."  --Michael Beschloss, New York Times bestselling author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989

“James MacGregor Burns is a national treasure, and Fire and Light is the elegiac capstone to a career devoted to understanding the seminal ideas that made America - for better and for worse - what it is.” --Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author Revolutionary Summer

Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling historian James MacGregor Burns explores the most daring and transformational intellectual movement in history, the European and American Enlightenment

In this engaging, provocative history, James MacGregor Burns brilliantly illuminates the two-hundred-year conflagration of the Enlightenment, when audacious questions and astonishing ideas tore across Europe and the New World, transforming thought, overturning governments, and inspiring visionary political experiments. Fire and Light brings to vivid life the galaxy of revolutionary leaders of thought and action who, armed with a new sense of human possibility, driven by a hunger for change,  created the modern world. Burns discovers the origins of a distinctive American Enlightenment in men like the Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, and their early encounters with incendiary European ideas about liberty and equality. It was these thinker-activists who framed the United States as a grand and continuing experiment in Enlightenment principles.

Today the same questions Enlightenment thinkers grappled with have taken on new urgency around the world: in the turmoil of the Arab Spring, in the former Soviet Union, and China, as well as in the United States itself. What should a nation be? What should citizens expect from their government? Who should lead and how can leadership be made both effective and accountable? What is happiness, and what can the state contribute to it? Burns's exploration of the ideals and arguments that formed the bedrock of our modern world shines a new light on these ever-important questions.

Editorial Reviews


"A superb work of synthesis." ---Publishers Weekly

About the Author

James MacGregor Burns was the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College and the author or coauthor of more than two dozen books, including Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and Leadership, which is considered the seminal work in the field of leadership studies.

Norman Dietz, a writer, an actor, and a solo performer, has recorded over 150 audiobooks, many of which have earned him awards from AudioFile magazine, the ALA, and Publishers Weekly. Additionally, AudioFile named Norman one of the Best Voices of the Century.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1121 KB
  • Print Length: 401 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1250024897
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; Reprint edition (October 29, 2013)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CQY9D10
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,518 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Involving, But Somewhat Biased November 1, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Eminent historian James Macgregor Burns has written a fascinating survey of the Enlightenment -- a group of philosophical ideas on liberty, science, and the rights of men -- and the leaders who led movements to change society to conform to those ideals, causing the English revolution of 1688, the American revolution of 1776 and the French revolution of 1789.

I read his compelling narrative with great enjoyment, and would recommend it to others with the caveat that it is an advocacy piece with some major flaws.

This book is not an objective survey of the Enlightenment, but an enthusiastic classical liberal narrative: deists, atheists, scientists, left-wing revolutionaries -- good liberals! Christians, centrists, conservatives, right-wingers -- bad reactionaries!

While I am a liberal -- albeit a Christian -- I am concerned that this viewpoint leads to some historical problems.

For example, Professor Burns depicts the 18th century American colonies as hotbeds of secular thought. Actually, the parents of the colonists who fought in the American revolution participated in a series of intense, widespread Christian religious revivals called the "First Great Awakening" in the 1740s.

Which leads me to another problem with this book -- Professor Burns draws hard-and-fast ideological lines, but reality is much messier.

For example, Professor Burns correctly discusses the erosion of faith in the 17th and 18th centuries, and how, in some circles, this was associated with Enlightenment ideas.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Ideas... October 14, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
James MacGregor Burns is a prominent American historian who won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award for his work Roosevelt - The Soldier Of Freedom - 1940-1945). He is also an incredible inspiration. He is currently 95 years old and still producing solid historical works, such as this one. In the current work he traces the history of ideas, and their principal proponents, during a period favorably referred to as "the Enlightenment," and how these ideas impacted political developments in three countries: France, Britain and the United States.

The author commences with the 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, a free-thinker and anti-cleric, most famous for his gloomy outlook that life is "nasty, brutish and short." Hobbes relationship with Francis Bacon, generally consider to be the father of the modern scientific method is described. Burns then crosses the Channel and chronicles the contributions of Rene Descartes, of "I think and therefore I am" fame. Descartes never completely broke with the Catholic Church, but was a sharp critic of it. He led a mobile and highly secretive life. Next the author sketches the life of Spinoza, an ex-communicated Jew, living in the Netherlands, who first became a disciple of Descartes, and then a critical thinker in his own right. He was one of the first to promote a critical evaluation of the reality of the Bible, and its stories. As might be expected, this won him no friends in the established church hierarchies.

Back across the Channel, John Locke's early life was one beholden to establishment ideas. He credited life experience with changing his mind, and he became best known as an empiricist.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Account for the General Reader October 14, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
James MacGregor Burns's new history of the enlightenment will prove to be an important one because of its breadth, insight, and, simultaneously, its compactness. Peter Gay's magisterial two-volume study remains the standard against which other histories will be measured, but Burns's study is a quick read for an audience of intelligent, general readers.

Part intellectual history and part economic and industrial history, Burns quite properly sees the origins of the enlightenment in the reformation and he tracks its effects down to the American civil war and beyond. The thrust of the enlightenment is its contention that new forms of authority must replace the arbitrary authority represented by the church and aristocracy. That new form of authority will be science, a science that can be developed and challenged by human reason, a science whose (usually, tentative) conclusions and (usually, real) applications can be disseminated to all. The encyclopedia of Diderot and d'Alembert, e.g., provides extensive information on mechanical and industrial processes--the construction of a well or the operation of a printing press.

For the enlightenment, knowledge is power and scientific knowledge represents `objective' power, not the self-interested and arbitrary authority wielded by prelates and aristocrats. Burns traces the superstructure of ideas, from Bacon-Galileo-Newton, et al. and from Hobbes-Descartes-Locke, et al., the period's epistemology undergirding its defense of the individual and the individual perspective, an outlook that joins with democratic impulses in politics and other historical movements to make the enlightenment possible.

It is never, however, an easy course. The English `glorious' revolution is also bloodless.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars but it will be great.
Have not started it yet, but it will be great.
Published 3 months ago by stephen brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by CHF R.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 4 months ago by Susan Rigby
4.0 out of 5 stars The enlightenment and American government,
Scholarly book about the orogins of thougjt that lef tp the development of the American experience,
Published 4 months ago by Lawrence A. Feldman
4.0 out of 5 stars good comparison of the societies where Liberalism was conceived
clear descriptions of mainstream ideas. good comparison of the societies where Liberalism was conceived.
Published 5 months ago by Eduardo Cassese
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Book
Fire and Light is a brilliant synopsis of the the impact of the Enlightenment on Europe and the early American Republic. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Rev. Isaac McDaniel
5.0 out of 5 stars Benefits of enlighenship
Well written, often repetitious, thoroughly thought out and provoking in understanding our present march toward understanding how to live and share our life/lives. Read more
Published 10 months ago by David R. Ewing MD
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Everyone should read this book to gain richer insights into the ideas that shape our world. The development of the ideas and the men - they were mostly men in those days - is a... Read more
Published 10 months ago by michael annison
5.0 out of 5 stars History Lives! Burns Rocks!
An understandable synthesis of history with the forces that shaped it, and which continue to do so. The enlightenment is under attack throughout the world, and only by... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Busy Guy in Peachtree City
2.0 out of 5 stars Biased and not historically accurate. More like a freshman survey...
While I felt the book was heavily biased, it is easy to read and flows well. I would skip the last chapter where the author's throw's in a lot of his biased views trying to tie... Read more
Published 11 months ago by ronisab
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