The World Aflame–New colorized photo history shines a light on the brutality of war

Review by C.J. Bunce

When the first page reveals full-color children hiding in a trench from the bombs above, you know you’re in for some serious content ahead.  Following up on their new look at the past in their groundbreaking chronicle The Color of Time/The Colour of Time (which I reviewed here at borg), historian Dan Jones and Brazil-based artist and photographic colorist Marina Amaral have dived deeper into the horrors of war in their new book, The World Aflame And the title couldn’t be more apt.  If you think you’ve ever had a glimpse at war, think again.  As said best by The Times (UK), “Purists argue that colourising black and white photographs is sacrilege, but the world has always been in colour.  Truth be told, monochrome is a contrivance.  Human experience is always colourful.”  Your school textbooks were never so frightening, accurate, and true, as what you’ll see on each page of this gruesome and violent look back at both World Wars, or as authors and many historians and world leaders have seen it, one cataclysmic thirty-year war.

You’ll see black and white photographs carefully colored by Amaral, of Model T Fords rolling off the assembly line, a pilot of a new fangled flyer, an increase in seaship technology contrasted with horse-backed soldiers in Mexico.  From the assassination of the archduke of Austro-Hungary launching Germany against Russia, France, and England, despite the recent closeness of the leaders (many by blood relation), the death toll of soldiers precipitated within months.  You’ll see troops in their battle gear, marching, in trenches, wounded in hospitals, and dead on the battlefield all depicted in the book somehow more real because of the added color.  Covert activities, propaganda, new artillery technology, submarine attacks, trench warfare, genocides, chlorine and mustard gas bombs, bomber airplanes, tanks, famine–battles and methods around the globe showed the worst of humanity.

The authors have a wider purpose in creating this book: “We… offer this book as a warning.  As we write, fascism, nationalism, populism, anti-Semitism, hatred, bigotry, racism and the politics of exclusion, division and isolation are on the march once more all over the world.  Let what you see here be a reminder of where this leads.  The world is fragile.  It takes less than we think to set it aflame.”

The book comes from a British eye, so those West of the Atlantic will also meet some leaders–good and bad–that may have been overlooked in the American history texts.  Historical figures you’ll be familiar with, but not so much in color until now, include General Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Laurence of Arabia, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Harry S Truman, Alan Turing, de Gaulle, Chiang Kai-Shek, Trotsky, Mussolini, Stalin, Rommel, and Hitler, and Baron Manfred von Richthofen posing in front of a new machine gun-equipped, blood-red Fokker airplane.  You’ll also see a photograph of nurses in masks treating patients during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19, and many Jewish victims of Nazi Germany.  Military vehicles of every style are here, too, from Dauntless dive-bombers and B-24 Liberators to several tanks from both the Allies and the Axis sides.


How many different ways can humans inflict pain on and disrespect each other?  The book illustrates like never before too many ways, from graphic be-headings to famines and death from starvation and just too many dead soldiers of every nation.  But make no mistake, aside from the front line hospital workers and their patients, what we’re going through on the planet right now is nothing close to that encountered by our recent ancestors in the first half of the last century.  This book reminds everyone how much we owe those generations of steadfast people from not so long ago.

A book everyone should read, but too violent for young kids, it’s officially available next week in the UK and scheduled to be released in hardcover and eBook in August in the U.S from Pegasus Books.  You can pre-order The World Aflame now here at Amazon.  Note the covers and subtitles may vary between the European and American releases.

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