Acclaimed historian Amanda Foreman follows the phenomenal success of her New York Times best seller Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire with her long-awaited second work of nonfiction: the fascinating story of the American Civil War and the major role played by Britain and its citizens in that epic struggle.
Even before the first rumblings of secession shook the halls of Congress, British involvement in the coming schism was inevitable. Britain was dependent on the South for cotton, and in turn the Confederacy relied almost exclusively on Britain for guns, bullets, and ships. The Union sought to block any diplomacy between the two and consistently teetered on the brink of war with Britain. For four years the complex web of relationships between the countries led to defeats and victories both minute and history-making. In A World on Fire, Amanda Foreman examines the fraught relations from multiple angles while she introduces characters both humble and grand, bringing them to vivid life over the course of her sweeping and brilliant narrative.
Between 1861 and 1865, thousands of British citizens volunteered for service on both sides of the Civil War. From the first cannon blasts on Fort Sumter to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, they served as officers and infantrymen, sailors and nurses, blockade runners and spies. Through personal letters, diaries, and journals, Foreman has woven together their experiences to form a panoramic yet intimate view of the war on the front lines, in the prison camps, and in the great cities of both the Union and the Confederacy. Through the eyes of these brave volunteers we see the details of the struggle for life and the great and powerful forces that threatened to demolish a nation.
In the drawing rooms of London and the offices of Washington, on muddy fields and aboard packed ships, Foreman reveals the decisions made, the beliefs held and contested, and the personal triumphs and sacrifices that ultimately led to the reunification of America. A World on Fire is a complex and groundbreaking work that will surely cement Amanda Foreman’s position as one of the most influential historians of our time.
©2011 Amanda Foreman (P)2011 Random House Audio
"Foreman amply offers a new perspective on the war in an elegantly written work of old-fashioned narrative history.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A World on Fire is an achievement as enjoyable as it is impressive. As in a great nineteenth-century novel, a teeming cast propels this epic - the gallant and the craven, scoundrels and lovers, diplomats and freebooters - some helplessly caught in the gale, others with their hands firmly on the levers of power. Charles Dickens appears in this book; had he been an historian he might well have written it.” (Richard Snow, editor, American Heritage, 1990-2007)
“This is a tale never previously told.” (Stephen Graubard, Financial Times)
OK, I know there are something like 50,000 books on the American Civil War and hence it is rare to the point of infinitesimal to find anything new being published. That is especially true now, as the 150th anniversary of the war is upon us. However, I think "A World On Fire" does succeed in bringing something new, or novel, to the Civil War literature. It is a focus on the English perspective. The perspective of politicians, financiers and the general public in the UK, and the perspective of Britons who participated first-hand in the war itself, on the Union side, Confederate side and in a few cases on both sides (not to mention some of the English journalists).
The book does try to be a stand-alone piece, so it is not necessary to be an expert on the Civil War to put this english perspective in context. The author does that. So for those of use quite familiar with the history, there is redundancy in the work. But it is necessary to put the english views, events, the diplomacy in context without much thinking on the part of the reader.
The book is very well written and read as well. Highly recommended.
This book is endlessly fascinating. Amanda Foreman takes a unique approach not only in her focus on the role of the British government and British subjects, but also in her treatment of American participants, both famous and obscure. The the breadth and volume of research is stunning, and Foreman distills it down to beautiful and insightful prose. I've read about the Civil War for years, and didn't think there was much new to learn - boy was I wrong. Foreman is well served by the narrator. A real treat.
Writing reviews is work. Therefore, I need to be really happy or really unhappy with a book to write one.
In my opinion this is exactly how history should be handled. The book provides a chronological account of the U.S. Civil War with an emphasis on British-American relations. But it is far from a straight history. What makes it great are the way that various themes weave in, out, and around, as it moves forward. It is a work based on a great deal of research, but more importantly, that research is skillfully woven into a coherent and interesting story.
As Americans, we all know how it all turns out; the various explanations of why it happened; and probably quite a bit about at least the major battles and troop movements. It is less likely that we are aware of the tensions with Great Britain created by the War and the War's place in a large world context.
Although scholarly and apparently accurate, it is true "popular" history in the very best sense of the word. It draws from contemporary letters and communications from people of all levels of society; it avoids the problems of boredom that can occur with straight history by including several strands of the story in each chapter; and perhaps most importantly, it lays out a number of very tempting leads to follow - for me, learning more about tensions with Canada and going back to re-read Tories and other books about the origins of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 that set the context for the British-American relationship are on the list. There are a lot of other tempting strands.
This book is a masterwork of research, with unprecedented triangulations (or quadragulations) among the USA, the CSA, GB, and Canada. Not for the novice, and it won't be a best-seller, but a must for the serious student. I marked the narration down slightly for his mis-pronounciations (e.g., Beall [bell], Beaufort [bu-fort] SC vs. Beaufort [bo-fort] NC).
Too much focus on social interactions. Read like society pages. I read first 3rd but couldn't finish it.
Excellent, easy to listen to.
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