A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
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A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  901 ratings  ·  128 reviews
Acclaimed historian Amanda Foreman follows the phenomenal success of her New York Times bestseller 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 Congre...more
Hardcover, 988 pages
Published June 28th 2011 by Random House (first published January 1st 2010)
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Matt
This is a very big book about a footnote of the American Civil War. That footnote is Great Britain’s decision to maintain its neutrality while the Union and Confederacy bled each other white from 1861-1865.

Of course, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of that decision. Certainly, if Great Britain had entered the Civil War, the contours – if not necessarily the conclusion – of the conflict would have been drastically altered. Still, this is a decision point that is usually relegated to a se...more
Geevee
This is a big and weighty book and is a thoroughly interesting approach that focusses on the relationship between Great Britain and the two combatants.

If you're looking for a book that deals with the battles, strategy and tactics in great detail this is not the right volume for you, although these are covered to some extent as the narrative progresses, with some excellent accounts of predominently British subjects fighting on either side that shows the reach the war had across the Atlantic.

Wha...more
KOMET
When I purchased this book over a year ago, I sensed that I would be undertaking an Olympian journey because there is much more about the history of the American Civil War than meets the eye at first glance. The story of Anglo-American relations during this period is a very complex and complicated one. It abounds in drama with a variety of rich and compelling characters (great and small) not unlike that in an epic novel.

I learned SO, SO MUCH from reading "A World on Fire." I had been largely un...more
Jaylia3
This long book about the British impact on the American Civil War follows the lives, motivations and impacts of so many people there is a thirteen page cast of characters, but I was mesmerized. In the preface Amanda Foreman writes that she treats all of the significant and many of the more minor individuals in A World on Fire as if she was writing their biographies, not just compiling a general history. Her attention to those details of both her American and British subjects brings their persona...more
Anthony
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It will definitely be on my top ten list this year and right now is at #1! It is a scholarly look at the Civil War, but from the British point of view. I have read and seen so much of the Civil War but this is an aspect of it that I had never learned much about. This book is about how both the North and the South had agents in Europe, especially in London, to try to influence the European powers. The Confederacy was desperately trying to get Englan...more
Pamela
At eight hundred pages and counting, Foreman’s narrative threatens to be a forbidding slog up a mountain of dispiriting data. Mind numbing statistics like “Twenty-five thousand men were killed, wounded, or missing” on a single day at Antietam loom hazily, but large, in our collective memory. But it isn’t. In fact, Foreman’s way with the data is very reader friendly.

A World on Fire proceeds mainly through biographical material. Family letters, personal journals and memoirs are given as much weigh...more
Jerome
A readable, engaging and fascinating history of Britain’s involvement in the American civil war. Foreman does a great job describing the widespread sympathy for the Confederacy among the English upper class, even though Britain had been a leader in the international movement against the slave trade. Wealthy Brits convinced themselves that the Confederacy would end slavery soon after independence and that supporting the South would speed emancipation. Foreman makes this flight of self-interested...more
Caroline
I've read innumerable books on the American Civil War, but this one is really quite unique - the American Civil War from the British perspective. There were thousands of British volunteers on both sides of the War - Northern and Southern - and their stories are quite fascinating.

But this book is more than just the story of the soldiers. It focuses very heavily on the British government's reaction to the war, the desperate maneuverings to remain neutral, a decision which pleased neither the North...more
Larry
How anyone can rate this book one star without a comment is totally beyond my comprehension. I can honestly say that it is one of the best non-fiction reads of this year (I have the UK edition), and hopefully will be next year when it comes out in the U.S..

The author ties together national relations between the U.S. and the UK during the Civil War, mixes in mini-bios of all of the major characters (both political and military), and discusses many of the major battles. She does this effortlessly...more
Walter
This book is excellent! And exhausting (because it's so exhaustive)!

Author Amanda Foreman has truly created a masterpiece, a(n exhaustively) comprehensive treatment of the role of Britain and its citizens in the American Civil War. In a word, it's fantastic! And in a second word, it's overwhelming. I have rarely felt so dualistic about my experience of a book: I am at once absolutely amazed at the incredible historical treatment of what is clearly an underappreciated subject ... and I am absolut...more
Jeremy
This book focused, sometimes painfully so, on Great Britain’s role in the American Civil War. It jumped chronologically between British subjects in North America who spent the war as soldiers, journalists, diplomats, and observers/tourists on both sides of the conflict and their struggles or triumphs. There were parts that gave detailed and vivid accounts of battles, living conditions, and American culture that were brilliant at times, but also long dry passages explaining certain diplomats angs...more
Ellie
I actually didn't finish this book, but what I did read was pretty interesting. The writing style was accessible and the actual content was relatively easy to understand. The biggest problem with this book is its length. It really should've been split into multiple books, especially considering just how many people she talks about. It's very easy to get confused and mix people up, especially if you put the book down for a few days.

All in all, it was interesting but would've been much better had...more
Steve
No war is local. War, especially, civil war, has an impact that is global in reach and scope. It is unfortunate that American History in the public schools is not taught with great depth. At best most students only get a survey course. If they are fortunate enough to attend college, and smart enough to NOT test out of American History, they may get a more detailed look. Amanda Foreman has done us a great service in documenting the role that the British Empire played in the war. This is a long an...more
Jim
I give it 3 stars just for the author's efforts but i found it too much of an effort to finish the 800-page book. It contains a tremendous amount of details, most of which i found tedious and of little value to the story. I guess a person serious about the subject of the Civil War might think it interesting but it was way too much for me, a novice on the subject.

And in my opinion, "Britain's Crucial Role" in the war (the subtitle of the book) is basically insignifcant in the book.
Nick
I appreciated the capsule biographies of British citizens who volunteered in the armies and navies of both the Union and the Confederacy, but I most enjoyed Foreman's detailed discussion of the two sides' diplomacy vis-a-vis Britain and France throughout the Civil War. Among other things, it fleshed out my pictures of some key leaders of Victorian Britain, such as Lord Palmerston, and of several members of the Adams family, including Henry Adams as a young man.
Luke
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elizabeth
There seems to be no end to Civil War histories and many of them pick over the same material searching for a new point of view. This wonderful volume is a look at the American Civil War from the point of view of Great Britain. For me, it was a revelation to see the War from the outside--not the South as bad and the North as good--simply a country torn by strife with which Britain wants to maintain an economic relationship.
There are many problems with the relationship (not least the fact that Ad...more
Brian
Long ago in the days of my youth, my sister and I would sit in the living room of our parents' house in front of the TV and play Nintendo, and one of the games we loved to play was North and South. In that game, whoever controlled North Carolina would occasionally get reinforcements that arrived by sea, and I seem to recall in the manual that they were implied to come from British aid, so I've known for a long time that Britain had a role in the Civil War, but A World On Fire lays it out in much...more
Bdalton
In A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War, Amanda Foreman provides a comprehensive chronology of the war along with the story of Anglo-American relations. Foreman provides the big picture, but she also details individual stories of Englishmen who fought for the Union or for the Confederacy. While some of these men served as enlisted soldiers (indeed, many were captured or forced into service), many had critical roles as officers with access to key figures in the war. F...more
Walt
I was attracted to this book by a review in the Economist ([...]) - I fully endorse this review. 800 + pages, proportional to the subject matter. Entertaining and informative, I read it over the course of a snow bound week. I was struck by some parallels that I could identify with recent and current events in the interplay of diplomacy, politics and military operations. Extensive notes, good maps (appropriate to the purpose here) and a useful reference list of the major players who appear in the...more
Becky
The American Civil War had consequences for people far beyond our shores. Textile workers throughout Britain suffered greatly. The British Government walked a tight rope of "neutrality" between the Union and Confederate States, with each side taking offense from, and doing their best to change that position of neutrality. Throughout Britain, citizens took sides, some even enlisting to serve the North or the South. British journalists who focused on the North found themselves shut off from access...more
Harold
Foreman is clearly a very good writer. The backbone of this book is one of the best histories of the civil war I have read, since Foreman (correctly) believes that to understand the role of Britain in the Civil War, you need to view it in context. Into this history, Foreman weaves the dynamic of the relationship between Britain and the US (both sides). Did you know that we -- the North -- almost went to war with Britain several times during the Civil War, or that there were those (perhaps includ...more
Matthew
Amanda Foreman's mammoth A World on Fire is a brilliant look at the Civil War from across the ocean. Foreman explores a whole new side to the American Civil War that few historians have touched on. When one thinks of the Civil War they picture a war between North and South with other countries remaining left out. In fact European intervention was just as split over North and South as people were living in America. Not only did thousands of immigrants fight for both North and South, but European...more
Jim
Britain's role in the Civil War is told through a wide diversity of people: Britain's Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, Foreign Minister Lord Russell, the main diplomat in Washington, Lord Lyons, U.S. Secretary of State Seward, U.S. Minister to Britain, Charles Francis Adams, Adams' sons Henry & Charles Francis Jr., minor diplomats & their staff, British journalists covering both the North & the South, British soldiers volunteering on both sides or acting as observers, British subject...more
Linda
I would venture to say that all native-born Americans have been taught about the Civil War in School. What we usually learn is that the North fought the South; it was very bloodly; Gettysburg was an incredible battle and the site for the Gettysburg Address (which we all had to memorize); and that the North won. If we're lucky, we're taught that the North's blockade of Southern ports caused a disruption of business in England.

This book is valuable in that it describes Britain's role in our war. N...more
Jim Gallen
“A World On Fire” chronicles Britain’s pervasive involvement in the American Civil War on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the conflict. This is a long book because it tells a very involved story.

Author Amanda Foreman examines the question from all angles. She writes of the diplomatic wrangling over the Trent and other vessels that were involved in controversial exchanges, Rebel schemes in Canada, Confederate purchases of ships and other material in Britain are examined in detail. Yo...more
Brian Eshleman
The subject is most interesting, emphasizing the role of diplomacy, even world diplomacy, in deciding what has been looked at as primarily an American military event. The way in which the author recaps the major momentum movement of the American Civil War is also helpful. But she chooses such a massive subject that she could use some leavening to make her work more appetizing.

More individual human illustrations would have been helpful in increasing passionate interest in the reader. The relation...more
Keith Akers
This is a comprehensive look at "Britain's crucial role in the American Civil War." It takes the reader through the entire Civil War chronologically. Two of the charms of this book are the maps of key battles like Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, which point out the location of British subjects or other characters of interest, and the numerous drawings of the British journalist Frank Vizetelly. It tells the story of the British diplomats, journalists, politicians, and ordinary subjects who volun...more
Tony
Foreman, Amanda. A WORLD ON FIRE: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War. (2011). ****.
When I finally got this from the library, I almost had to hire a pack animal to get it home. This is a massive work of (semi-)popular history by this historian whose prior work dealt with the Duchess of Devonshire. Most of us know that Britain wanted to side with the South because of her dependence on cotton, but most of us are not aware of the back-room politics that went on at the time, engaged in...more
Brad Hodges
I've read many books on the Civil War, but I haven't read one like Amanda Foreman's A World on Fire before, because it is the story of the American Civil War through the prism of the British. Foreman, in telling a big story, has written a big book that entails the entire spectrum of the war as it relates to Britain--from the Prime Minister to ambassadors in Washington and London to the Confederate attempts to acquire British recognition and aide to the British citizens who fought on either side...more
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Amanda Foreman is the author of the award-winning best seller, "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire", and A World on Fire: A Epic History of Two Nations Divided. She lives in New York with her husband and five children.

She is the daughter of Carl Foreman, the Oscar-winning screen writer of many film classics including, The Bridge on the River Kwai, High Noon, and The Guns of Navarone.

She was born in...more
More about Amanda Foreman...
Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire Georgiana's World Madame de Pompadour What Might Have Been: Imaginary History from Twelve Leading Historians Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (Making History)

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“His (Grant's) face has three expressions: deep thought, extreme determination, and great simplicity and calmness.” 2 likes
“(One bag contained the Confederate flag and a pouch filled with Virginia soil. Georgiana intended to give birth with the flag draped symbolically above the bed and the soil placed underneath to ensure that the baby was a true Virginian.)” 0 likes
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