Dec 10, 11
Read in December, 2011
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 recognition of the Confederacy teetered on the brink. Of course you don't need my feeble attempt at explaining the Civil War when you have this magnificent new book. It reads almost like a novel with a cast of characters brimming with life. Foreman has an impressive writing style; combing fact with an elegant style that makes this 800+ book breeze through. The Civil War was so intricate and hinged on so many what if moments that its hard to tell such an expansive story and keep the reader interested. Foreman does so with a novelists sensibility. While some have complained that the book is too long, that it dwells on too many aspects of the battlefield that many American's are familiar with, but they fail to realize that this book is coming from an English historian. I didn't mind the digressions into battles as I felt it gave the book depth by intertwining it with the many English soldiers and citizens who took part. One of my favorite characters was Frank Vizetelly who was a sketch artist for the Illustrated London News who developed an attachment to the Confederate army, and was present for most of the battles. One of the beauties I found in the book was the cast of characters. We meet English and American politicians like William H Seward the American secretary of state to the aged British Prime Minister Palmerston. Foreman is like the British version of McPherson. As I was reading it I kept being reminded of Battle Cry of Freedom and its vast subject matter. Since this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War I think the books timing is perfect, and that anyone remotely interested in history should pick up this book. Don't let the size deter you, it's well worth the effort!