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The World on Fire: 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism Hardcover – 14 Feb 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd (14 Feb. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224075950
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224075954
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.7 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,378,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`a thrilling account of a brief historical moment in which world revolution seemed an attainable dream.' -- The Scotsman

'a lively book' -- The Independent

`a dramatic and elegant narrative' -- Daily Telegraph

`impressive in geographical scope and rife with incident'
-- Sunday Telegraph

'...brief but vivid account of the main events, the real and illusory conspiracies. His book should be read' -- Times Literary Supplement, Geoffrey A. Hosking

`Well-written, intriguing and nicely-produced book' -- Sunday Herald

Book Description

A gripping study of the year 1919, in which Bolshevik ideology and revolutionary sentiment spread tension and terror throughout the world. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dublin 4 on 17 Jan. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Interesting, if at times over-long, account of the Great Red Scare of 1919. The stuff on Germany and Hungary is good, particularly the extent of the post-war dislocation, such as the astonishing number of new-born children who died in cities like Vienna. Meanwhile, the sections dealing with the US and Britain are revealing but get bogged down in too much information. The 'Greatest Democracy on Earth' forgot about its constitution when treating 'Reds'. A shameful chapter in its history.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Miran Ali VINE VOICE on 7 April 2008
Format: Hardcover
Read is not a professional historian and that much is obvious immediately upon taking up his new book. On the 2nd page he compares the world reaction to Bolshevism to that towards al-qaeda, a comparison that many may differ with and not to be made so fleetingly. The book mostly consists of a chronicle of events that took place immediately following the Bolshevik revolution. Unfortunately it concentrates solely on 1919, which has the twin effect of making it inconclusive, as many events rolled on for a few more years (the Russian civil war) and very dull. Even an anti-communist as myself finds his tone a little strident at times and I question some of his conclusions. The books generally lacks any theme or central theory; however it is useful as a reference of industrial actions that took place around the western world in 1919 following the end of WWI. Beyond that narrow point of reference I see no further value to this book.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book interesting and easy to read. The World on Fire deals with the struggle of Communism to be exported past Russia's borders and the struggle to contain it. Readers will perhaps be surprised to know that not only Europe in 1919 was struggling with Communism, but even in the US activists were stirring up trouble.

Highly Recommended.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By stardust on 6 Oct. 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Bolshevik Revolution was as much a threat to liberal democracy and freedom as the Nazi revolution in Germany proved to be. The period covered by the author was a time of great turmoil across eastern Europe and fear in the remaining western world as, emerging ideological forces were challenging the existing order.
They were prepared to and, often did employ violence to exert pressure and control.The author captures this turmoil and fear very well. No-one at that time could see or predict the great tragedy brought by Hitlers Third Reich.The threat was Bolshevism. By covering such a wide area we are able to get some sense of the varying degrees of threat , fear and, in many cases the uses to which the threat was used to contain what were civil rights campaigns. It is a useful introduction to this period in history.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 12 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"The Bolsheviks are coming"! 9 Jun. 2008
By Frank J. Konopka - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This well-written book should be read in conjunction with "Savage Peace" by Ann Hagedorn, which I reviewed on June 28, 2007. They both offer insights into what was happening in the U.S. right after the end of World War I, and particularly the hysteria caused by the Russian Revolution. There are some of the same incidents in both books, but this latest one goes beyond happenings in the U.S., and gives us views of events in Europe, where the fear of a Communist take-over was much more reality-based. This was a very nervous time, and the author captures that feeling quite well. I learned many things that I did not know, not only about my own country, but about European events and countries. It only goes to show that one's education is never complete, particularly as it applies to history. I don't think that I will ever stop learning something new until I am, for one reason or another, unable to read anymore.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A Global Overview 6 Oct. 2009
By Richard Rice - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I disagree strongly with some of the other reviewers of this fascinating book; I find Read's writing both skillful and full of dry understated ironies and humor. It has real literary value as well as historical analysis. I found it hard to put down and in fact went out and purchased another of his books, the 2004 Devil's Disciples, on the immediate circle of Hitler's advisers. So much for the claim that the author is only a writer of children's literature. Perhaps that experience is why his writing is so much better than academic writers or political theorists. Do we critique E.B. White's essays because he wrote Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little? I think not.

Previous reviewers have largely missed the point (and the theme) of this book: it is not about the Russian Revolution. It does cover that event in a marvelously brief and powerful Prologue. And it goes on with an overview of the Civil War. But what Read really does show -- did the reviewers read the entire book? -- how the hysteria Bolshevism produced played out in many other parts of the world. While this global perspective may include some mistakes (I am not a European historian so I cannot comment on that), it does provide a truly global comparative view, and it is full of interesting gems that those trained in national histories might miss. And while there is little detail beyond 1919 -- a common fault in "pivotal year" books -- he does indeed mention in passing later developments. I found the brief reference to post 9/11 hysteria relevant. As Twain said, history does not repeat itself, but it echoes. I suppose one could also use 1949, the year of Communist China, as another catalyst of political hysteria, evidenced by McCarthyism in the United States.

I do wish he had used Japan as another example. After all, Japanese troops did stay in Siberia for a disastrous three years in hopes that the revolution would fail. Few nations had a greater fear of communism in that era than Japan, and it blinded them to danger from the right. The Tokyo urban riots of 1919 scared the leadership so much they imposed rice price controls that impoverished farmers.

Still, the book is an excellent read and frequently provocative. Readers should judge for themselves if the reviewers have a political axe to grind or are fair to this book. I think you will enjoy reading it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Good popular history of an overlooked period 3 May 2011
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There are many books available on World War I and on the Russian Revolution. Books on the immediate aftermath of the war outside of Russia are much scarcer -- at least, as a non-specialist, I'm not familiar with many. Anthony Read fills this hole with a well-written account of the revolutions in Germany and Hungary during 1919 and the labor unrest in many other countries. He does a good job of showing the effects of the Bolshevik successes in Russia on the war-weary soldiers and workers of Europe. One of his themes is the difficulty the public had in distinguishing between Bolshevik agitation and legitimate labor unrest that only had the economic goal of securing higher wages to keep pace with wartime inflation and allowing workers to retain some of the gains with respect to hours and working conditions that governments had granted them during the war. It seems that workers in many countries were unsure themselves during the disordered conditions of 1919 as to which of the two they were aiming for. The result of this confusion was a "Red Scare" in a number of countries, notably the United States, that involved thuggish behavior against people who were far from being revolutionaries.

I have a few caveats: Although Read has done some reading in the secondary literature and in newspapers of the time, he has done no archival research or even consulted academic journals. So, this is clearly a popular history and not a scholarly one. Here and there his views seem to be based largely on one or two secondary sources and a cursory canvassing of newspapers. I have a suspicion that a close reading by a specialist would reveal a number of errors. One I spotted was his confusion of J.P. Morgan with his son J.P. ("Jack") Morgan, Jr. J.P. Morgan, Sr. died in 1913, yet Read mentions him being engaged in various activities after that date -- presumably, it was actually Jack Morgan. Although the book I read was labeled the "American edition" it appears to be a straight reprinting of the original British edition, complete with British spellings and, sometimes obscure Britishisms, such as the following from the beginning of Chapter 9: "While Rosa Luxemburg's murderers were cocking a snook at world opinion at the beginning of May, ...." My one substantive objection is that having decided to include strikes and other labor unrest -- even when unconnected to revolutionary activity -- in his narrative, he ends up plowing through a large number of strikes in the U.S., England, and France that get a bit tedious.

Overall, though, these are minor quibbles. If you are looking for a short and well-written account of this period, this book is for you.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Filling in the Gap 5 April 2008
By R. Mansmann - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought I was somewhat familiar with events in America in 1919, but this book put a lot of information in perspective... really gave me an understanding of the collapse of the German government and the unceratin foundations of the new central European countries> iwas a bit disappointed by the limted information about the Russian Civil War, but all in all, a good book about particulars in a period that most works have omitted.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Excellent summary well woth reading 14 May 2013
By Strv 74 - Published on
It is not easy to write a book about Bolshevism and keep it interesting. Apart from the fact that Bolshevism in itself is a horrible and hopeful parenthesis in human history, it is also a very boring subject since you also have to deal with marxism-leninism. Anthony Read has written a book that rises above all that dreary information and manages to paint a picture that is fascinating and thought provoking when you consider what happened after 1919.

Mr Read is a good author. His writing is well structured and easy to follow. He manages to mix statistics with a number of minor and interesting human stories that keeps the story alive. He has done his homework and managed to find material that few have had the interest or strength to assemble. His ambition is to paint the situation in the world during 1919 against the terrible events taking place in Russia. We are taken on a tour through a number of countries and are told about everything from local wars, revolutions to labor conditions in the industries of the early 1900s. We also meet a number of interesting people, some that did not have their major impact until several decades later but here have their roots and experiences.

Reading the book it comes as a cold reminder to you that it is less than 100 years ago that people starved to death all over Europe as a result of the First World War. The Living conditions for a majority of working people are hard to believe seen from the perspective of today. Even without the threat of communism hanging over the world, at least as perceived by a lot of people, it is very easy to understand the struggle for better living conditions that was necessary.

Some of the developments sparked further interest as the information about the wars between Hungary and Romania as well as the Bolshevik assault on the Baltic countries are presented in a little to general terms.

One major point that reduced this book from five stars to four is the balance between various conflicts. The Largest battle with Bolshevism was undoubtedly fought in Russia and it was lost. The War between Red and White in Russia is not a focus in this book but the title sort of indicates that it should be. After all, the majority of losses and the effects of Bolshevism / communism came to be in Russia and then the Soviet Union. Instead the focus is more on the struggle between labor and industry in the US, Great Britain and Germany. That struggle was interesting too but it sort of pales compared to what took place in the East.

There are a lot of valuable lessons to be learned from this period. One of them, and very well presented, is how easy it is to create mass hysteria and how fast public order can break down by just pulling out the police. Also, how easy it is to forget all the killings that have taken place under the red banners.

For those who have always heard that the roots to the Second World war comes from the First One this book is an excellent presentation. Why did the second World War come about? To a large extent the answers are in this book.
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