A World on Fire An Epic History of Two Nations Divided

A World on Fire An Epic History of Two Nations Divided
Amanda Foreman
Reviewed by eclecticlibrarian
Penguin
Thu, 02/06/2011
978-0141040585
£12.99

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 nor the South - despite Britain supplying both sides with men and matériel, through varying legal and less-than-legal means. The South was convinced that recognition by Britain would establish them as a nation in the eyes of the international community and would end the war; the North was convinced that Britain was doing everything it could to support the South bar recognition, which would almost certainly lead to the North declaring war on Britain.

The public opinion was equally divided. Despite the majority of the country supporting the North, even the hardest-hit regions such as Lancashire that depended so desperately on Southern cotton, there was an incredibly vocal minority that supported the South. Perhaps if the South had not clung so doggedly to slavery it might have attracted even more support - many people sympathised with its revolutionary claims and struggle for independence but could not in all conscience support a nation built on slavery.

This is an exceptional book, from a much-neglected viewpoint. I'm almost surprised this angle has never been explored in this kind of detail before - one would have thought the historic close links between America and Britain alone would have warranted it. It's a long and complicated book, but oh so worth it.

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