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A World on Fire: The Epic History of the British in the American Civil War. by Amanda Foreman Hardcover – November 1, 2010

159 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


Amanda Foreman's magnificent book provides a completely fresh perspective on the first great modern conflict. Weaving together a vast panoply of people and events, it dramatically brings alive this extraordinary period on British and American history. -- Antony Beevor It rolls along with the ragged grandeur of one of Ulysses S. Grant's infantry battalions. If you've an appetite for serious history, you'll be in hog-heaven. -- Sam Leith Spectator '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 A World on Fire is a staggering achievement. -- Christopher Silvester Daily Express Here is an iridescent book; vivid like a rainbow but rather more substantial...The book is like Gone With The Wind but with the true history inserted, and even more importantly, it is a biography of two people at an epic moment in their shared history. Anger, resentment, sympathy, loyalty, all the emotions that characterise Anglo-American relations today, can be traced back to this period. -- Antonia Fraser Mail on Sunday

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1040 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846142040
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846142048
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,186,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

199 of 213 people found the following review helpful By Anne Colamosca on 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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80 of 86 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By J. M. Lawniczak on October 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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