My work on the biggest book I’ve ever had to read for school has finally come to an end.
Now it is time for the tale!
A World On Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman is less a book than it is an insanely-detailed anthology of two nations experiencing growing pains. I need not go into detail about the American Civil War — even an elementary school student can give a concise (if oversimplified) summary of the causes and events. But Great Britain was struggling with a changing national identity in the mid-19th century as well, though it was not as explosive or damaging as America’s. The Industrial Revolution had changed GB’s economy, Parliament was fiercely divided among Conservatives and Liberals who constantly argued over the pros and cons of the so-called “republican experiment” (a derisive term for American government), and while its former colonies struggled, the British went back and forth between showing their support for either side and maintaining a strict policy of neutrality.
Foreman has done an exhaustive amount of research, yet her writing style is definitely more “popular” than “historiographical”. The result is a book that can be easily read, yet also used as a secondary source for a scholarly article or paper (hence my interest in it). Its length, and the sheer volume of information contained therein, were the only downsides in my opinion. In trying to cram everything — battles, economics, politics, trade, finances, diplomacy — into one book, Foreman wrote something so massive that it’s difficult to wrap one’s brain around.
But it is in the individual stories where she truly shines. Explaining the motivations and thought processes of many of the players in this extraordinary event in history is what Foreman really does best, and her storytelling is phenomenal.
Length: Goodreads says 988. My copy was over 1,000, but a large portion of this is eaten up by notes and bibliography. The actual number of pages read was 817. Still hefty, but not nearly 1,000 or over.
To Whom: I would generally say to the historian or history-enthusiast; I think it is really too large and detailed to hold the interest of the casual fan.