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

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,430 Ratings  ·  165 Reviews


The Washington Post • The New Yorker • Chicago Tribune • The Economist • Nancy Pearl, NPR • • Library Journal • Publishers Weekly

Acclaimed historian Amanda Foreman follows the phenomenal success of her New York Times bestseller Georgiana: Duc
Hardcover, 988 pages
Published June 28th 2011 by Random House (first published January 1st 2010)
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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 09, 2011 Geevee rated it it was amazing
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.

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
Steven Z.
Nov 24, 2014 Steven Z. rated it really liked it
A WORLD ON FIRE: BRITAIN’S CRUCIAL ROLE IN THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by Amanda Foreman is an amazing book. The breadth of knowledge and research in a narrative that encompasses over 800 pages of text and 100 pages of footnotes is to be praised and warmly received. There are numerous books written about the Civil War, but few that focus solely on the role the British played in the conflict. The story treats the diplomacy of the war in depth ranging from the interplay between Secretary of State Willi ...more
Jun 25, 2012 Jaylia3 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 28, 2011 Anthony rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 21, 2012 Pamela rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 27, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Shelves: civil-war, favorites
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
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
Dec 04, 2010 Larry rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 04, 2012 Jim rated it liked it
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.
David R.
Foreman does a creditable job looking at the American Civil War from a largely British perspective. The typical Civil War history does mention a number of incidents involving Great Britain (e.g. The Trent Incident, the building of the Florida and Alabama, the cotton riots, and more) but never before have I seen them woven into a coherent whole. We benefit from a deep understanding of British political opinion, the agony of decision when a great deal of pressure is built up by both the USA and CS ...more
May 11, 2015 Anthony rated it it was amazing
May 11, 2015

A review by Anthony T. Riggio (Tony) of the book A World On Fire (Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War) by Amanda Foreman

I purchased this book in the Kindle format from Amazon in July 2014 for $1.99 and saved it for future reading. As I started reading the book, I knew instantly that this was a book I would want in hardbound edition in my library and through an on line used book store, I bought it in hardbound. I continued to read the book on my Kindle as the hardbound ed
Aug 25, 2015 Janet marked it as abandoned
My library's audio book section is very hard to browse. I can only look at books alphabetically by title, by author, by release date, or by popularity. To go alphabetically forward or backward, there is no way to jump to the middle. So the way I look at books is limited and limiting.

Browsing backward by title I came upon this book. I remembered that my daughter had read it, and for that reason, and because it was written by a woman, and had to do with the Civil War but maybe not combat, I gave i
Aug 02, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Dec 12, 2013 Walter rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 15, 2013 Jeremy rated it really liked it
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
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
Michael Thompson
Jun 08, 2015 Michael Thompson rated it it was ok
If you're into the Civil War and want to know some fairly obscure stuff about Britain's involvement with the war, this is your book. I love history and am fascinated by the Civil War. This was not one of my favorite books. Not a crushing with details as John Adams (so it's more readable), it was not a very interesting read most of the time. What British politicians were thinking/saying about us during the Civil War was mildly interesting to me (a history teacher). Pretty sure this book would be ...more
Jun 16, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it
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
Colleen Browne
Aug 15, 2015 Colleen Browne rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book but could not award it 5 stars because there were a few inaccuracies and because at times, I detected a bit of the British superior attitude toward Americans in play by the author. That said, Foreman did a fine job of researching an aspect of the American Civil War that is not well understood. Her writing style engages the reader and the biographical notes are interesting and appropriate to the book. I learned a great deal from the book and at the end of th ...more
Apr 19, 2016 Simon rated it it was amazing
First-rate and monumental. It is a superlative account of the diplomatic relationships among the United States, the Confederate States and their hapless mother country. The Brits must maintain themselves at a delicate distance from the American conflict, despite the fact that London, the Midlands and the Atlantic ports are swarming with agents from both sides in the conflict. Foreman argues convincingly that in the end, despite a romantic support for the idea of the Confederacy as emblematic of ...more
Dec 31, 2012 Nick rated it liked it
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.
Apr 28, 2012 Luke rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 14, 2014 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
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
John Wood
Oct 15, 2015 John Wood rated it really liked it
This is a large volume and requires a commitment to read. It is basically a history of the American Civil War, giving British involvement in each battle, blockade running, debates in parliament and other actions. It is well researched and written. Although the British government remained officially neutral, the common, if not, prevailing sentiment in Britain was with the Confederacy, with the belief that both sides would be better off as separate nations, with the somewhat dubious belief that sl ...more
Jan 24, 2015 Joseph rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, smart and (when necessary) snarky history of Britain's involvement in the US Civil War. Really interesting look at how the UK government and citizens were entangled in the war on both the side of the US and the traitors and the aftermath of such entanglements.
Darrell Woods
Sep 28, 2015 Darrell Woods rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is certainly an ambitious work. Foreman has sought to write both a political and military history interspersed with personal stories of British citizens involved in one way or another. It shouldn't be possible in a single volume and there are some problems but overall I think she succeeds. It is very well written, bearing comparison with Antonia Fraser, with little flourishes of the author's personality coming through so that it is never dry or crushed by the weight of detail of such a long ...more
Sep 19, 2015 David rated it it was ok
This sweeping history could be broken down into four interwoven strands: a history of US-UK diplomatic relations in the Civil War, which is fascinatingly told; observations of British visitors and travelers in the same period, which are often interesting; stories of British volunteers on both sides of the Civil War, which are occasionally interesting but don't shed much new light on the subject; and a detailed retelling of every event of the Civil War, which is extremely tedious if you've so muc ...more
Sep 19, 2015 Lorraine rated it it was amazing
Anyone interested in the American Civil War knows it can be the object of infinite study and research. Reading many different works from many different points of view, layers of subtlety build up to show ever more detail about people and events. This masterful work adds the international scene to the mix. As the title suggests, Foreman concentrates on Britain, which maintained an official neutrality during the Civil War, even while Northern and Southern agents scrambled to court, cajole, and man ...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 about Amanda Foreman...

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“His (Grant's) face has three expressions: deep thought, extreme determination, and great simplicity and calmness.” 4 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.)” 1 likes
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