Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Old World, New World

Great Britain and America from the Beginning

by Kathleen Burk

“This stunning and important work is destined to become the benchmark study of this topic for many years to come.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 816
  • Publication Date October 13, 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4429-4
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $19.95
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 816
  • Publication Date October 14, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8711-3971-9
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $35.00

About The Book

Our close bond with Great Britain seems inevitable, given our shared language and heritage. But as distinguished historian Kathleen Burk shows in this groundbreaking history, recently published to acclaim in the United Kingdom, the close international relationship was forged only recently, preceded by several centuries of hostility and conflict that began soon after the first English colony was established on the newly discovered continent.

Burk, a fourth-generation Californian and professor of history in London, draws on her unique knowledge of both countries to explore the totality of the relationship—the politics, economics, culture, and society—that both connected the two peoples and drove them apart. She tells the story from each side, beginning with the English exploration of the New World and taking us up to the present alliance in Iraq. She reveals the real motivations for settling North America, the factors that led to Britain’s losing the colonies, and the reasons why hawks in Congress took the two countries to war in 1812. Indeed, war between Britain and the United States loomed again later in the nineteenth century, and it took common enemies to bring them together in the twentieth. Since 1945, the world has watched and wondered at the close bonds of the leaders—Kennedy and Macmillan, Reagan and Thatcher, and Bush and Blair.

At once sweeping in scope and intimate in detail, Old World, New World is a vivid, absorbing, and surprising story of one of the longest international love-hate relationships in modern history.


“This stunning and important work is destined to become the benchmark study of this topic for many years to come.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An ambitious, fittingly sized effort to distill the complex, contentious relations between Mother England and her unruly offspring in the New World. . . . Exemplary historical writing, to be read alongside Fischer[‘s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America], with Kevin Phillips’s The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, and the Triumph of Anglo-America thrown in for good measure.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Magisterial . . . A remarkable achievement . . . It will undoubtedly become the first port of call for anyone seeking to understand this vast subject. . . . A wonderful book.” —The Spectator

“With its brilliant insights and lively style, Kathleen Burk’s Old World, New World is an epic history, spanning five centuries of the complex yet enduring Anglo-American relationship.” —Henry A. Kissinger

“Readers on both sides of the Atlantic will relish Kathleen Burk’s magnificently rich history of the connection between former empire and former colonies. As she shows, Britons and Americans have been divided almost as much as they have been united over the past four hundred years—not only by the common language which the two nations use so differently, but also by their similar yet never quite identical way of thinking about international affairs. Each chapter abounds with wit, each page contains some novelty. In short, this is a rather special book.” —Niall Ferguson, author of The War of the World and Colossus

“Some books are great reads, other books fill great needs. This unsentimental, deeply researched look at British-American relations over four centuries is both.” —Thomas Fleming, author of The Perils of Peace and Washington’s Secret War

“A fascinating, richly detailed portrait that explores in all its complexity the turbulent relationship between the world’s two most powerful democracies, whose alliance in World War II helped save Western civilization. Kathleen Burk’s meticulous research and the depth of her understanding of both countries shine through on every page.” —Lynne Olson, author of Troublesome Young Men and A Question of Honor

“Kathleen Burk’s massive book addresses the serious need for an account of the evolving Anglo-American special relationship across the centuries. Ambitious and comprehensive, it treats not only diplomacy but economics, literature, religion, and public opinion from the time of the first English settlements in North America to yesterday. There is nothing else like it.” —Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University, Professor of History Emeritus, UCLA, and author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America


Winner of the 2008 Henry Adams Prize for History


If most Americans and Britons had been asked in 1871 whether they believed it possible that the two countries would ever be allies, the tenor of the answers would have been the same: no. However, the nature of their answers would probably have differed. Most Americans, when they thought of the British, disliked, distrusted, and sometimes feared them. Those who lived in the Great Plains, the South or the West, and especially those in rural areas, were strongly Anglophobic; many saw the British taking over their land, livestock, and railroads, and threatening their livelihoods. Furthermore, the British insisted that gold, not silver, was the measure of a currency—they had been on the gold standard since 1821—and for the silver miners in the West or the farmers who had to pay for mortgages on their land, a hard, gold-based currency, rather than a more inflationary, partly silver-based one, could undermine their economic independence. And because, for example, the prices of most commodities were set in London, British policy mattered.

Most Britons, when they thought of the U.S., had less fervent feelings. They were, increasingly, commercial rivals, but they were not truly imperial rivals, as were the French, the Russians and, soon, the Germans. Many retained their amused contempt for the U.S. and its citizens, but increasingly the idea of war between the two became unthinkable, even fratricidal. More and more, the term “American cousins” came into use.