Muse of Fire: World War I as Seen Through the Lives of the Soldier Poets (Hardcover)

Muse of Fire: World War I as Seen Through the Lives of the Soldier Poets By Michael Korda Cover Image

Muse of Fire: World War I as Seen Through the Lives of the Soldier Poets (Hardcover)


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The First World War comes to harrowing life through the intertwined lives of the soldier poets in Michael Korda’s epic Muse of Fire.

Michael Korda, the best-selling author of Hero and Alone, tells the story of the First World War not in any conventional way but through the intertwined lives of the soldier poets who came to describe it best, and indeed to symbolize the war’s tragic arc and lethal fury.

His epic narrative begins with Rupert Brooke, “the handsomest young man in England” and perhaps its most famous young poet in the halcyon days of the Edwardian Age, and ends five years later with Wilfred Owen, killed in action at twenty-five, only one week before the armistice. With bitter irony, Owen’s mother received the telegram informing her of his death on November 11, just as church bells tolled to celebrate the war’s end.

Korda’s dramatic account, which includes anecdotes from his own family history, not only brings to life the soldier poets but paints an unforgettable picture of life and death in the trenches, and the sacrifice of an entire generation. His cast of characters includes the young American poet Alan Seeger, who was killed in action as a private in the French Foreign Legion; Isaac Rosenberg, whose parents had fled czarist anti-Semitic persecution and who was killed in action at the age of twenty-eight before his fame as a poet and a painter was recognized; Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon, whose friendship and friendly rivalry endured through long, complicated private lives; and, finally, Owen, whose fame came only posthumously and whose poetry remains some of the most savage and heartbreaking to emerge from the cataclysmic war.

As Korda demonstrates, the poets of the First World War were soldiers, heroes, martyrs, victims, their lives and loves endlessly fascinating—that of Rupert Brooke alone reads like a novel, with his journey to Polynesia in pursuit of a life like Gauguin’s and some of his finest poetry written only a year before his tragic death. Muse of Fire is at once a portrait of their lives and a narrative of a civilization destroying itself, among the rubble, shadows, and the unresolved problems of which we still live, from the revival of brutal trench warfare in Ukraine and in the Middle East.

Michael Korda participated in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary. He is the author of major biographies of Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Robert E. Lee., as well as the best-selling memoir Charmed Lives.

Product Details ISBN: 9781631496882
ISBN-10: 1631496883
Publisher: Liveright
Publication Date: April 16th, 2024
Pages: 400
Language: English
Erudite and often funny . . . Korda’s group portrait of soldier poets skillfully depicts how different classes of men experienced the Western Front and offers an entry point into a rich seam of under-read war poetry.
— Alice Winn - New York Times Book Review

Michael Korda’s group biography of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and others is richly detailed and elegantly written . . . Korda, keenly attuned to the nuances of Britain’s class system and its overlapping literary circles, excels at tracing the bonds of acquaintance, collegiality, amity and sometimes physical attraction that knit these men to one another . . . engrossing.
— Julia M. Klein - Washington Post

Brief biographies of a handful of WWI soldier-poets provide unique insight into the Great War . . . Tracing each man’s personal trajectory and their interactions with each other, Korda emphasizes the seductiveness of conflict and the fact that poets enjoyed an end-run around the military censors (and a massive readership). For Korda, now 90, this is both the latest in a long line of excellent war histories, including Alone: Britain, Dunkirk, and Defeat in Victory (2017) and Clouds of Glory (2014).

— Booklist, starred review

Korda’s narrative pulsates with fascinating background detail and harrowing wartime exploits, and the story flows sinuously along channels of literary influence as the poets mentor or otherwise inspire one other. Most compellingly, Korda teases out the overlapping relationship between youthful artistic passion and the mass production of populist propaganda, painting trench warfare poetry as a kind of Edwardian TikTok. It’s a sophisticated mix of literary and political history.
— Publishers Weekly

Every page of Muse of Fire betrays a profound intimacy with both the ‘sheer horror’ of the war and, even more, of a time when ‘poetry mattered to people in a way it no longer does to us.’ Michael Korda’s unique angle allows him to break through the cliches and restores to us these poets with a fierce immediacy. His book is itself a moving memorial.

— Daniel Mendelsohn, author of An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

Michael Korda’s soldier poets are fox hunters and artists, aristocratic Brits and middle-class Americans, dashing adventurers and cloddish neurasthenics. Together this select chorus provides some of the best descriptions we have of World War I, the only modern conflict, Korda points out, to come down to us in verse. A masterful book, nimble, lyrical, and searing, and a volume Michael Korda alone could have written.
— Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Cleopatra and The Revolutionary

It’s hard to say anything new about World War I, but Michael Korda shows how warfare can be both terrifying and exhilarating, thereby helping us to better understand not only the Great War but also modern-day conflicts that recall the artillery duels and trenches of the Western Front. This is essential reading to understand warfare both past and present.
— Max Boot, author of Reagan: His Life and Legend

Michael Korda has performed a great public service, reminding us of both the enduring political legacy of the Great War and, by way of the cool intelligence of its poets, its enduring human importance too. All who long for peace should read this memorable and sensitive work.
— Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman

Michael Korda’s elegant book is not just an account of a bloody European catastrophe, but also of the great poets who witnessed it. The poems of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon express the horrors of war better than anything written in prose. To be reminded of that is not only a pleasure to read, but an essential service to our culture.
— Ian Buruma, author of The Collaborators

Captivating . . . Alternating between the early lives of his subjects and their experiences in the trenches while delving into their poetry might be disorienting, but Korda is an expert, so his intertwining narratives intersect in illuminating ways . . . Poets and war are a winning combination in the hands of a seasoned historian.
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review