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A World on Fire

Cover of A World on Fire

A World on Fire

Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
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10 BEST BOOKSTHE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW2011 NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington PostThe New YorkerChicago TribuneThe EconomistNancy Pearl, NPRBloomberg.com • Library...
10 BEST BOOKSTHE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW2011 NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington PostThe New YorkerChicago TribuneThe EconomistNancy Pearl, NPRBloomberg.com • Library...
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Description-
  • 10 BEST BOOKS

  • THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
  • 2011

    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    The Washington Post
  • The New Yorker
  • Chicago Tribune
  • The Economist
  • Nancy Pearl, NPR
  • Bloomberg.com • Library Journal
  • Publishers Weekly

    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 Congress, British involvement in the coming schism was inevitable. Britain was dependent on the South for cotton, and in turn the Confederacy relied almost exclusively on Britain for guns, bullets, and ships. The Union sought to block any diplomacy between the two and consistently teetered on the brink of war with Britain. For four years the complex web of relationships between the countries led to defeats and victories both minute and history-making. In A World on Fire, Amanda Foreman examines the fraught relations from multiple angles while she introduces characters both humble and grand, bringing them to vivid life over the course of her sweeping and brilliant narrative.

    Between 1861 and 1865, thousands of British citizens volunteered for service on both sides of the Civil War. From the first cannon blasts on Fort Sumter to Lee's surrender at Appomattox, they served as officers and infantrymen, sailors and nurses, blockade runners and spies. Through personal letters, diaries, and journals, Foreman has woven together their experiences to form a panoramic yet intimate view of the war on the front lines, in the prison camps, and in the great cities of both the Union and the Confederacy. Through the eyes of these brave volunteers we see the details of the struggle for life and the great and powerful forces that threatened to demolish a nation.

    In the drawing rooms of London and the offices of Washington, on muddy fields and aboard packed ships, Foreman reveals the decisions made, the beliefs held and contested, and the personal triumphs and sacrifices that ultimately led to the reunification of America. A World on Fire is a complex and groundbreaking work that will surely cement Amanda Foreman's position as one of the most influential historians of our time.


    From the Hardcover edition.
 
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    one

    The Uneasy Cousins

    Britain and America-Divisions over slavery-Lord Palmerston-Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Stafford House Address-Charles Dickens's disappointment-The caning of Charles Sumner

    For seventy-five years after the War of Independence, the British approach to dealing with the Americans had boiled down to one simple tactic: to be "very civil, very firm, and to go our own way."1 During the late 1850s, the prevailing view in London was that Washington could not be trusted. "These Yankees are most disagreeable Fellows to have to do anything about any American Question," the prime minister, Lord Palmerston, had complained in 1857 to Lord Clarendon, his foreign secretary, fourteen months before Lord Lyons's arrival in America. "They are on the Spot, strong . . . totally unscrupulous and dishonest and determined somehow or other to carry their Point."2 It went without saying that the Foreign Office expected Lyons to be on guard against any American chicanery.

    One of the legacies of the War of 1812 was a British fear that the United States might try to annex British North America (as Canada was then known), accompanied by a conviction among Americans that they should never stop trying. It was neither forgiven nor forgotten in England that precious ships and men had had to be diverted from the desperate war against Napoleon Bonaparte in order to defend Canada from three invasion attempts by the United States between 1812 and 1814. London regarded the burning of Washington and the White House by British soldiers in August 1814 as a well-deserved retribution for the sacking of York (later called Toronto) by American troops.

    Lyons soon discovered, as had each of his predecessors, that the War of 1812 had not only an entirely different meaning in the United States, but also a different outcome. In American histories, Britain had provoked the war by her arrogant and unreasonable behavior, first, by blockading all ports under Napoleonic rule, thereby stifling American trade, and second, by boarding American ships in search of deserters from the Royal Navy. The practice of "impressing" American sailors

  • into the navy was considered beyond the pale, especially when it took place off the coast of Virginia.3 Despite furious protests from Washington, the number of American citizens wrongly impressed had steadily increased over the years, and by 1812 the tally had reached over six thousand. But when the U.S. Congress declared war on June 8, 1812, it was to stop a practice that had already been disavowed by the English; just two days earlier, in London, the British government had agreed to stop impressment-too late to affect the outcome of the debates in Washington.

    The peace treaty signed by Britain and America in 1814, the Treaty of Ghent, was based on the assumption that the war had been a draw since no territory was lost or gained by either side. However, news of the treaty had not yet reached the British and American armies facing each other in New Orleans, and a battle still took place on January 26. Though a small engagement compared to the great battles unfolding in Europe, it was a decisive American victory. General Andrew Jackson's force of four thousand men managed to defeat a British expedition almost three times its size. The fact that this stunning victory occurred after peace had been declared was later brushed aside in the telling. Two great American myths were born: that Andrew Jackson won the war, and that he had not only put the British in their place, but also crushed the army that had defeated Napoleon.

    The failure of the United States to conquer Canada during the war had come as a great surprise to many...
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Amanda Foreman's account of the uneasy relationship between the United States and Great Britain before and during the Civil War is exhaustive but far from exhausting, detailed without being tedious. It takes a solid reader to carry off a work that runs this long, and Robertson Dean is up to the task. He eschews histrionics, which would become tiresome quickly, but his tone has the right note of gravity. He gives just a hint of a British accent to directly quoted material by Englishmen. He also changes his pitch slightly--but without a cartoonish quality--when quoting women. His easy tone carries listeners along, even through the potentially tedious discussions of British Foreign Office politics. R.C.G. (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
  • Michael Burlingame, The Wall Street Journal "Ms. Foreman...is such an engaging writer that readers may find this 958-page volume too short."
  • Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The New York Times Book Review
    "Extraordinary cast....Thoroughly researched and well written...Remarkable."
  • The Boston Globe "One puts down A World on Fire with a sense of awe. Foreman's skills as historian and writer are formidable."
  • The Washington Post "Foreman's descriptive gifts show especially well in bringing vividly to life the political and diplomatic worlds of Washington and London...A brief review can only hint at the expansive scope, rich detail and pulsing energy of A World on Fire."
  • Newsweek "
    "[A] magisterial history."
  • Christian Science Monitor "So expansive in its scope, and so well written...to call it a masterpiece somehow doesn't seem to do it justice."
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Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
Amanda Foreman
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