So expansive in its scope, and so well written, that to call it a masterpiece somehow doesn’t seem to do it justice. . . . Foreman displays her exceptional gift for storytelling and for making history both fascinating and relevant.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“History as a Cecil B. DeMille epic . . . One puts down A World on Fire with a sense of awe.”—The Boston Globe
“Thrilling narrative on a grand scale.”—History Today
“[A] remarkable book . . . an extraordinary cast.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[A] magisterial history.”—Newsweek
“A World on Fire” treats readers to a sprawling drama of British engagement with the American Civil War. …Foreman is largely unconcerned with arcane scholarly debates, writing for an audience of non-specialists drawn to engrossing accounts of major historical events.
The Washington Post
In a dramatic change of pace, Foreman, author of the bestselling Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, fulfills her goal of capturing "the many relationships that together formed the British-American experience during the Civil War," from diplomatic maneuvers on both sides of the Atlantic to the sagas of British volunteers in the Union and Confederate armies. Weaving eyewitness accounts into an overview of the war's progress is tricky, particularly since Foreman includes vivid personality sketches of a very large cast of characters. But her massive text slowly comes into focus as we get to know such British participants as Illustrated London News correspondent Frank Vizetelly, whose wartime drawings are the book's visual highlight, and feisty Americans abroad, like Confederate propagandist Henry Hotze, whose masterful manipulation of the English press helped win the South sympathizers in a country where detestation of slavery was nearly universal. The North, meanwhile, struggled to repair relations after the 1861 seizure of two Confederate agents from a British ship. Whether Britain's role in the Civil War was "crucial" remains debatable, but Foreman amply offers a new perspective on the war in an elegantly written work of old-fashioned narrative history. 32 pages of b&w photos; photos throughout; maps. (June)
Whitbread Prize winner Foreman (visiting research fellow, Queen Mary, Univ. of London; Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire) weighs in with a big book rich in description and strong in narrative, with a large cast of characters that includes British nobles and American statesmen jockeying for power, British journalists reporting the war, and Englishmen and Irishmen fighting, respectively, with the Union and Confederate armies in what they regarded as noble causes. Foreman's special strength is tracking the social relationships that bound together, or estranged, the movers and shakers in London and Washington, with keen insights on the political maneuverings that kept England out of the war. If her minibiographies sometimes overwhelm the narrative and her battle accounts distract in their detail, her deftly drawn vignettes remind readers that personal concerns and personalities informed policy as much as national identity and interest. VERDICT The result is a very good read and a grand panorama of the war on land and sea, in the press, and in drawing rooms and public assemblies on both sides of the Atlantic. Highly recommended for all students of the Civil War, buffs and scholars alike, and anyone wanting to understand the complicated world of Anglo-American relations. [See Prepub Alert, 11/29/10.]—Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
Exhaustive record of Britain's growing alarm at the escalating American Civil War and outright sympathy and shelter for the Confederacy.
The Civil War exacerbated old grievances still rankling between the United States and England, which held the moral high ground on slavery and disdained American "exceptionalism." Whitbread Prize–winning historian Foreman (Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, 1999) embraces a vast enterprise, from the buildup to war to the aftermath, and does not fail to amplify in a leisurely narrative fashion all facets of the complicated British and American relationship, including diplomatic, political and military. The author also features accounts by countless other observers, pro-Confederate and pro-Union. English textile mills relied on Southern cotton, while the South leaned on British finance to manage its debt crisis; with the Union blockade of Confederate ports from April 1860 onward, the U.S. and England approached war with each other. Public opinion ran hot or cold, depending on dispatches by journalists such as William Howard Russell forThe Timesand artistic renderings by Frank Vizetelly (he was present during Jefferson Davis' last days as a fugitive). After President Lincoln's assassination, the British press underwent a thorough self-castigation for its pro-Southern coverage. With General Lee's victory at Bull Run, and subsequent march north, the Confederacy anticipated the British gesture of Southern Recognition. Despite avowed British neutrality, the North widely believed that Britain was supporting the Confederacy's blockade-running efforts. Yet the Southern defeat at Antietam began to reveal great holes in Lee's army, and the British could never entirely shake their abhorrence to slavery—leaving the South to its "utter isolation." Foreman's dense narrative ably—but lengthily—reveals the passions that this war aroused overseas.
A staggering work of research, occasionally toilsome to read.