In This Review

A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
By Amanda Foreman
1008 pp, Random House, 2011

Foreman’s instructive history of the American Civil War from the perspective of the United Kingdom is a fascinating addition to the literature on the war. The competition for British support was one of the major drivers of events in both the Union and the Confederacy. The hope that “King Cotton” would force the British to recognize and support the Confederacy was one reason that many Southerners believed their rebellion could win; the United Kingdom’s decision to honor the North’s initially porous blockade of Confederate ports cut the South off from the foreign markets and supplies without which it could not long survive. Foreman looks at the conflict through four sets of eyes: those of the British politicians and officials who tried to avoid offending either side while pursuing what they saw as their country’s interests in the war, those of the Confederate and Union diplomats and agents in the United Kingdom, those of the British subjects who for various reasons joined or were dragooned into the armies of the contending parties, and those of the British foreign correspondents and writers who covered the war. The result is an illuminating and engaging book that casts new light on figures such as U.S. Senator Charles Sumner, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, and the Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.