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

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,724 Ratings  ·  181 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: D
Hardcover, 988 pages
Published June 28th 2011 by Random House (first published January 1st 2010)
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Aug 14, 2012 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
May 09, 2011 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.

Brian Eshleman
Aug 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
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
May 26, 2012 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
Jun 21, 2012 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
Oct 06, 2010 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 09, 2011 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
Aug 02, 2011 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
This book is too long by half. 400 pages would've been more than adequate for the author to present her evidence of Britain's supposed 'crucial' role in the American Civil War; the diplomatic shenanigans, spies, plots, and whatnots get redundant and tiresome after a while. Intermixed with the relevant and interesting segments of History, we get side stories about people we've never heard (and therefore couldn't care less) about. These are what - at times - made this book somewhat of a chore to r ...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
Jun 10, 2012 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 04, 2012 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.
Steven Z.
Nov 24, 2014 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
Aug 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
This book has a lot of good stuff, but is just a bit too long and dense for my taste. Very detailed and interesting information about diplomatic relations between Britain and America during the latter's Civil War. I got about a third of the way through when I realized it just wasn't up my alley. Well-written though!
Mar 21, 2013 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
Apr 19, 2015 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
Jan 17, 2013 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
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
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
Aug 20, 2015 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
Michael Thompson
Jun 08, 2015 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
May 11, 2011 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
Sep 25, 2014 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
Aug 04, 2012 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.
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 02, 2011 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.
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Foreman's history of Great Britain's involvement with the US Civil War is a super book: complete, well-written, and human-focused.
Brad Hodges
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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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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