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A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War [Kindle Edition]

Amanda Foreman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $20.00
Kindle Price: $13.12
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description



The Washington Post • The New Yorker • Chicago Tribune • The Economist • Nancy Pearl, NPR • • Library Journal • Publishers Weekly
In this brilliant narrative, Amanda Foreman tells the fascinating story of the American Civil War—and the major role played by Britain and its citizens in that epic struggle. 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 introduces characters both humble and grand, while crafting 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. 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.
“Engrossing . . . a sprawling drama.”—The Washington Post
“Eye-opening . . . immensely ambitious and immensely accomplished.”—The New Yorker

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews


“Foreman amply offers a new perspective on the war in an elegantly written work of old-fashioned narrative history.”—Publisher's Weekly, starred review

Praise from the U.K. for A World on Fire
A World on Fire is an achievement as enjoyable as it is impressive. As in a great nineteenth-century novel, a teeming cast propels this epic—the gallant and the craven, scoundrels and lovers, diplomats and freebooters—some helplessly caught in the gale, others with their hands firmly on the levers of power. Charles Dickens appears in this book; had he been an historian he might well have written it.”—Richard Snow, editor, American Heritage, 1990–2007

“This is a tale never previously told.”—Stephen Graubard, Financial Times
“Riveting . . . The reader is swept along. . . . One can hardly overestimate the brilliance of Foreman’s conception. . . . A shimmering tapestry.”—Jay Parini, The Guardian
“Amanda Foreman’s magnificent new book . . . resembles nothing so much as War and Peace.”—Adam I. P. Smith, History Today
“A real-life Gone with the Wind . . . extraordinarily rich, racy and poignant . . . an iridescent book.”—Antonia Fraser, The Mail on Sunday
“Magnificent . . . a completely fresh perspective on the first great modern conflict.”—Antony Beevor, author of D-Day: The Battle for Normandy

“The scale of Ms. Foreman’s book is epic.”—The Economist

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 36080 KB
  • Print Length: 1008 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (June 28, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004J4WN2G
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,661 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
193 of 207 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The American Civil War and the Brits June 28, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amanda Foreman's " World on Fire" twelve years in the making and over 900 pages long, is not for the faint-hearted. It is not "Gone with the Wind" or "War and Peace" as some reviewers have suggested. There are no page-turning romances and women are very minor characters. But for the hard-core history buff, "World on Fire" is in some ways better than these great classic novels. It's plot zigzags among 200 characters -- including farmers, soldiers, cartoonists, politicians and labor leaders. It is gritty, off-center, more alive and more disturbing than these broad ranging novels. Unsentimental and a take-no-prisoners, bracing writing style, "World on Fire" is a work of great richness and descriptive power, a complex treat for those with strong concentration powers who don't mind an often confusing and abruptly changing plot strewn with dozens and dozens of unknown characters.

Foreman's research is prodigious,forthright and robust. It includes eye-opening accounts of poorly planned advances by both Union and Confederate armies, equipment pieced together like childrens' toys, and as always in war stories, countless vignettes of scared, hard-charging soldiers who are ultimately blown apart because of bad officers and bad equipment.

The British part of this story has been, for the most part, untold and unmined. Britain's political elites make it their business to constantly upbraid Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William Henry Seward. Above all, despite loftier proclamations against slavery, they don't want their lucrative cotton business ruined with the South and its slave labor.
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79 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Monumental Achievement July 10, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amanda Foreman first demonstrated her ability to bring history to life with her biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Now she has surpassed herself with A World On Fire, a magnificent history of the American Civil War and the highly important part Great Britain played during it. Most Americans who have an interest in the Civil War period will already know that both the North and the South courted British support during the conflict, and that many British subjects were either strongly pro-Federal or vehemently pro-Confederate. But few will have realized the extent to which the war dominated British politics during the 1860s and the amount of British money and the numbers of British people who took an active part in the conflict. Nor will many British or American readers have understood until now the extent to which the Civil War and Britain's response to it shaped the "special relationship" the two nations have enjoyed for over a century.

In the years before the shooting started Britain and the United States had a troubled history. Britain played a major role in the US economy, particularly through the large amount of cotton she purchased each year for her textile mills. Neither fully trusted the other. Boundary disputes over the US Canadian border and other arguments dating back to the Revolution kept Anglo-American relations tense. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 brought matters to a head, first because it led the South to secede and start to fight for its independence, and second because of Lincoln's appointment of William H. Seward as Secretary of State. Seward was ambitious to see the US grow and looked longingly north towards Britain's North American possession, Canada.
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44 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Britian's role is not really the focus October 20, 2011
Although the title of the book surely suggests that the focus will and should be on what was happening in Britain during the civil war, in fact this is mostly simply another comprehensive work on the civil war with slightly more information about Britain's view of the war than most. The best parts of the book for me were indeed those that describe what was happening in London, both in the government and in the American diplomatic mission there and what was happening in the British legation in Washington headed by Viscount Richard Lyons. Those parts represent, however, but a small portion of the book.

Instead, the main focus is on the various battles that were raging across America that made up the civil war. This is information already available in many ways, in particular through James McPherson's seminal works on the civil war. The author brought in the British card by including discussions of actions of subjects of the queen who had come over to the United States to fight in the war. Indeed that individual penetration added interest to the book in the same way that Steven Ambrose's discussions on what specific individuals were up to added interest to his books about the Second World War. But the story was really just about what was happening in America and the fact that some of the described players were of British origin was not, in my mind, a story about the British effect on the war.

The Trent affair towards the beginning of the rebellion where the North and Britain almost came to war because of the captain who removed two Southern envoys to Britain from a British vessel, was dealt with at length. That part of the book was in point to the title, well written and very interesting.

Overall, the book was entertaining and written well, just too long and mostly off topic. I would have been happier with a book about a quarter to a third of the length that really focused on Britain's role in the civil war.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The American Civil War and England, Possible Historical Outcomes,...
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... Read more
Published 12 days ago by Anthony T. Riggio
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoy reading and studying about the Civil War and was ...
I enjoy reading and studying about the Civil War and was reading Team of Rivals about Lincoln and cabinet at the same time so was a very interesting to look at the CW from the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Carol
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
While a very long book the facts are fascinating and give a good look at the events and people of the time.
Published 2 months ago by Peter
5.0 out of 5 stars a World on Fire
Great panorama of the unknown Civil War through the eyes of diplomats and British volunteers as the trajectory of their lives criss crosses fields of battle and history.
Published 2 months ago by Jon
5.0 out of 5 stars The Civil War through a global lens
Most regard the Civil War as a uniquely American experience, a conflict that tested the resilience of the nation and then determined the form that nation would take. Read more
Published 4 months ago by arthur banner
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good insight into the international nature of the civil war
Well written book, not for a casual reader of civil war history. Very good insight into the international nature of the civil war.
Published 4 months ago by J.R.C.
3.0 out of 5 stars A World On Fire
This book is good as a reference book as it cites many sources, but it is hard to follow when trying to get an overall feel of where various British figures stood (Union or... Read more
Published 5 months ago by wolfnerfoxes
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Much history here that I hadn't been aware of.
Published 5 months ago by Gene Peters
5.0 out of 5 stars I found this novel to be an excellent read. I found it most...
I found this novel to be an excellent read. I found it most interesting to view the Civil war from an outside perspective instead of the usual North verses South view. Good read
Published 5 months ago by Boots
4.0 out of 5 stars Good reading and informative
I gleaned a lot of new information.
Published 5 months ago by Willy
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More About the Author

Amanda Foreman is the author of the award-winning best seller, 'Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire' (HarperCollins UK; Random House US), and 'A World on Fire: A Epic History of Two Nations Divided' (Allen Lane UK; Random House US). 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.

Amanda was born in London, brought up in Los Angeles, and educated in England. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University in New York. She received her doctorate in Eighteenth-Century British History from Oxford University in 1998.

'Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire' was a number one best seller in England, and best seller for many weeks in the United States. It has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Hungarian, Romanian, Croatian, Turkish, Korean and Mandarin Chinese. The book was nominated for several awards and won the Whitbread Prize for Best Biography in 1999. It has inspired a television documentary, a radio play starring Dame Judi Dench; and a movie, titled 'The Duchess', starring Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes.

In addition to regularly writing and reviewing for newspapers and magazines, Amanda Foreman has also served on a number of juries including The Orange Prize, the Guardian First Book Prize and the National Book Awards.

'A World on Fire' has been optioned by BBC Worldwide.

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Topic From this Discussion
Would really like to read this but.....
Agreed. Right now the Kindle price is $3 *more* than the hard cover price. That is just ridiculous.
Jul 31, 2011 by Tiberius |  See all 4 posts
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