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Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  191 ratings  ·  36 reviews
"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 ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 29th 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books
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LP Doxtator, Deborah. “Inclusive and Exclusive Perceptions of Difference Native and Euro-Based Concepts of Time History and Change.” Decentring the Renai…moreDoxtator, Deborah. “Inclusive and Exclusive Perceptions of Difference Native and Euro-Based Concepts of Time History and Change.” Decentring the Renaissance: Canada and Europe in Multidisciplinary Perspective, 1500-1700, edited by Germaine Warkentin and Carolyn Podruchny, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, 2001, pp. 33–47.

This has a great critique of 'Enlightenment' impact for colonialism - and I have seen many other critiques of Enlightenment recently, if you are still interested comment and I can check my bibliography app for what I have tagged(less)

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Brad Lyerla
Nov 14, 2013 rated it liked it
I have been wondering about the Enlightenment since reading Yeshua Levin’s book, THE GREAT DEBATE, earlier this winter. In particular, I have been wondering whether the Enlightenment was the beginning of the modern day sense of conservative and liberal. Burn’s FIRE AND LIGHT illuminated my thinking on this subject, though I still have questions.

Burns marks the beginning of the Enlightenment with the Reformation and the end of the church’s unquestioned authority on matters of nature and governme
robin friedman
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
James MacGregor Burns And Enlightenment History

The Enlightenment pervasively influenced Western religion, philosophy, science, art, and government. Scholars still try to sort out what the Enlightenment was, when it took place, and the precise nature of its influence. The venerable American historian James Macgregor Burns' new book "Fire and Light: how the Enlightenment Transformed Our World" (2013) offers a broad interpretation of the Enlightenment with a focus on its political impact. Burns (b.
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Rippling Enlightenment

Burns covers an amazing about of history in very few pages. He begins with the roots of the Enlightenment and follows with its flowering in the 18th century. He alternates between how it blossoms in Great Britain, France and the US illustrating how these new ideas rippled back and forth and uniquely played out in each society citing the divergent outlooks inherent in each of the three nations. I was struck once again by amazing the visionaries that founded our country, Amer
Joseph Stieb
Oct 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Burns provides a pretty straightforward, liberal interpretation of the Enlightenment that I happen to agree with. The first half of the book mainly deals with major thinkers and critics in the Enlightenment: Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Hutcheson, Wollstonecraft, Paine, Burke, Jefferson, Voltaire, Rousseau, and others. These biographies do a solid job of linking their ideas to their lives and explaining the essence of their philosophies. He brings in a few people, like Hutcheson, who usually don't sh ...more
Todd N
Nov 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
I generally feel like I need to know more about The Enlightenment, so when I was ready for a new audiobook this one popped up on Audible and I downloaded it pretty much sight unseen.

It covered both more and less than I expected it too. More because Mr. Burns took pains to put everything in a historical context, so I wound up getting a bunch of French, English, and early American history thrown in as a bonus. Plus, he extended The Enlightenment all the way through Marx. And the book covered less
D.L. Morrese
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Despite the undeniably beneficial and long-lasting effect the Enlightenment has had on…well, just about everything, I’m not entirely sure everyone appreciates how transformational this time was. This may be due, ironically, to how successful it was. Unfortunately, Burns doesn’t provide a chapter defining the Enlightenment in his book, so I’ll try to make up for that omission with a brief description.

Most references will tell you that the Enlightenment was a philosophical or intellectual movement
Lynn Knaapen
Oct 01, 2019 rated it liked it
This was an excellent review and analysis of the way Enlightenment thinking and values played out in Britain, France and the U.S. during the 18th and 19th centuries. Band his short summary looked at its ongoing influence today. I gave it a three because it seemed he could have done as excellent an analysis with some less detail of perhaps a simplification of language. It began to read more text book than book. Still, a good read!
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent overview of Western Enlightenment thinking, mostly focusing on the 18th & 19th century, on politics, society, the economy, liberty, self-determination, etc that has very much made the world what it is today. At 270pages, it's a fairly short read on a very big topic. ...more
Matt Logan
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
It starts well but ends with the same liberal faux-solutions.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A highly readable study of the Enlightenment and its implications for France, Britain, and the United States.
Brandon Bishop
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A nice, bite-sized survey of the Enlightenment. I liked how the author spent time discussing the impact of Enlightenment thought in the 19th century from multiple perspectives.
Daniel Kukwa
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A fantastic overview, well organized and easy to read. Just the kind of historical reference work I find both useful (as a teacher of history) and enjoyable (as a lover of history).
Peter Goodman
Jan 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history


“Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment transformed the world,” bt James MacGregor Burns (Thomas Dunn, 2013). A relatively quick (270) run from the 1660s to today, including political, imperial and colonial, but mostly of philosophical trends and developments. Starts with Hobbes, then with brief but clear descriptions of the movement of philosophical ideas, about how society is organized, about how humans function alone and in societies. The primary argument: Europeans concluded that rea
Angie Boyter
Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a great read for history buffs and the intellectually curious!
In Fire and Light noted historian James Burns MacGregor has written a stimulating account of the last 500 years of Western history using the theme of the Enlightenment and its influence on the many revolutions that produced modern society.
The motivation for the book is an intellectual history, but it covers much more than the ideas themselves and devotes most of the content to wars, politics, industrialization, etc., and how
David Melbie
Jun 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History fans
Recommended to David by: Library pick
I am, and always have been, a big fan of the Enlightenment and the transformation that occurred in society. To be born into this awesome time we live in is indeed a great gift and, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of those thinkers and philosophers who led the charge. As I was reading Burns' take on the whole affair, I was caught up again in the thrill of the ride that all of those great people were on. But, when I made my way to the last few paragraphs of the very last chapter, Burns brin ...more
Hayden Trenholm
Oct 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I received this book free as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

Fire and Light is an ambitious book and, for the most part, it achieves its lofty goals. Burns sets out to show the linkages between Enlightenment thinkers in three countries -- England, France and the United States -- and how their ideas fueled the specific political 'revolutions' in each country. The risk in a relatively short book (270 pages not counting the extensive footnotes) is that it becomes a 'Plato to NATO' survey that barely t
Mar 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fic
An exhaustive overview of the Age of Enlightenment. We get the usual suspects of Hobbes, Locke, Descartes and Espinoza, as well as the American, French and Industrial Revolutions. The book could also be seen as a history of two steps forward, three steps back. With every advancement of freedoms, there were also authorities consolidating more power. But the core of this intellectual movement could still eventually poke through. I appreciated how the book connected different historical movements, ...more
patrick Lorelli
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is a book about the Enlightenment movement and the effect it has had on three countries. England, France and United States. There is a lot of information in this book. It starts before the revolution and goes through to 1850. Right before our civil war (10 years). Frist let me say it difficult to put all of what he talked about into a review. But I will say that at each moment in our young nation beginnings we had the men who saw the need for more. For the Bill of Rights, the checks and bal ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it liked it

Perhaps I have already read enough re: this period of intellectual history or I am simply unimpressed right now by Burns...but I had a hard time reading Fire and Light. Burns, as usu
Nov 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
There is a tremendous amount of information packed into this relatively short (270 pages) book, "Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World". Prize-winning and world-recognized author James MacGregor Burns takes us through the Enlightenment (late 17th to mid 19th century) in England, France, and America. We witness the transition from feudalism to republicanism in all its messy fits and starts. Burns tells us about the many leading political philosophers of the period in all thr ...more
John Kaufmann
Aug 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is history of Enlightenment philosophy and how it influenced political thinking, events, and institutions from Thomas Hobbes and Rene Descartes through Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. In particular, the book looks at the influence of the Enlightenment on events in America (Revolution through the Jacksonian era), Britain as it went through its Industrial revolution, and France during and after the French Revolution and Napoleon. It is at once both a history of the thinking of the major ...more
Kirk Lowery
Sep 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, philosophy
A nice summary of the Enlightenment, although the author's focus is primarily upon the political impact of Enlightenment values and principles upon American, English and French history, politics and economies. I thought the narratives of the French Revolution and industrialization to be especially valuable. He is an apologist for the Enlightenment, and for the superiority of public education under the control of Enlightenment values, i.e., political correctness. He is clearly hostile to religion ...more
Dustin Kiggins
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was an ok read however I felt that it seemed to drag on and on to me. I liked the fact that it covered the Enlightenment founding fathers all around and not just the most popular like John Locke.

I think that the book should've covered how this period affected France, the US, and Britain in their own sections as the bouncing around made it hard for me to understand how this period affected the countries differently. This is my only complaint about the book itself.

Overall its a great boo
Jun 22, 2014 added it
This is one of the best books that I've ever read about the Enlightenment! It combines good historical facts with good reasoning as well as excellent story-telling to weave the logic into the story. The part about French Revolution is particularly standing out in addition to relate the story of United States with Enlightenment. One area it completely misses is the German schools of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, etc.
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very interesting survey of the Enlightenment and its impact on the West, primarily England, France and the first generations in the US. It introduces you to all the famous writers - Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, and all the other players that had such an influence on our country's founders and subsequent history.
Janice Gable
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Pulitzer prize winning academician was 90 when he wrote this: a lifetime of knowledge. It drew together a thousand historical fragments for me, particularly placing the American Founding Fathers in a western world-wide context. And this is a history book that has awareness of women, Africans and Asians in telling an important part of western development.
Kevin Keating
Jul 04, 2015 rated it liked it
The were parts where this book was really interesting and parts where it was pretty boring (i.e. 1820's English Reform movement). In the beginning I liked it and just got less interested in picking it up. Maybe it was just too many pages on the subject.
Sep 01, 2013 marked it as to-read
I won this in a Good Reads / First Reads giveaway and will be reading it, at last, in the coming months. Looking forward to it.
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Worthwhile--not just what the Enlightenment was but how it impacted the governments of France, Britain and America. Definitely worth reading.
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An award-winning author of presidential and leadership studies, James MacGregor Burns was the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College and Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received his bachelor's degree from Williams College and his Ph.D. in p ...more

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