Sunday, 26 December 2010
Another Amazon review - this is a gem, get it now!
This is a great big book so, if prospective purchasers don't fancy great big books, would they please stop reading this review now.
On the other hand, if prospective purchasers can cope with a great big book (9 ½ inches by 6 ½ inches by 2 ½ inches weighing about 3 ¾ lbs.), this is a work or rare genius, and I would go so far as to say that, for general historical readers and for 'Civil War' buffs in particular, 'A World On Fire' is a must-have and the book of the decade. It is wonderfully well written and a really great read.
One of the most insightful quotations in Amanda Foreman's masterpiece is by the British writer, William Michael Rosetti (brother of the artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti), who said that, during the war, expressions such as "'I am a Northerner," and "I am a Southerner"' were 'as common on Englishmen's lips as "I am a Liberal" or "I am a Conservative."' The partisan nature of the terrible strife was as much a part of the then British psyche and political scene as it was in America.
Though I am British, I have known since I was a child that I was a Southerner and I recall as if it were yesterday the day I first set foot in Virginia. I was in my spiritual home. It just felt right. I have never felt the need nor the desire to change my attitude and preference.
My guess is that the author is a Northerner in sympathy, but I absolve her of all partisan feelings as she has done her best to present the respective Northern and Southern causes in a fair light. Moreover, she shows an exceptional understanding of the sympathies of both British and American people, not only those who participated but also those who were interested but powerless bystanders like the hundreds of thousands of cotton workers thrown out of work by what was going on over the ocean.
It has been suggested that Ms. Foreman's work should have been better edited. Editing implies correction or cutting. I see no need for correction - other than the three typographical errors that I twigged - and certainly no need for cutting, for, if anything, the book leaves much out and isn't long enough. I could have coped with another 1,000 pages at least.
I was proud to read of distant relatives of both my wife and myself who had played parts on both sides (North and South) and on both sides of the ocean. Abraham Lincoln and William Henry Seward are studied thoroughly and it is again clear to me that Seward, as a drunk, was no credit to the State Department whilst Lincoln can never be absolved from the prime charge of the people of the South, namely, that he raised a great army to invade their states. That army burned houses and destroyed farms wherever it went, right from the start. Poor Virginia, indeed. Incidentally, the book's title is probably derived from the words of the drunken and irresponsible Seward - 'We will wrap the whole world in flames' (page 189).
An unexpected (to me) Southern hero was the British war artist and correspondent Frank Vizetelly (1830 - 1883), whose drawings graced the pages of the Illustrated London News. I had seen some of them before but I had not known what an important part this man had played, being on hand almost throughout and at the end of President Davis's doomed leadership of the equally doomed Confederate States. The book, already a magnum opus, is made better still by the inclusion of much of Mr Vizetelly's marvellous work.
Hundreds of books have been written about the American 'Civil War' (or 'War of Northern Aggression' or 'War for Southern Independence') and all bar a few describe the bitter divisions between peoples of similar blood and the almost indescribable suffering, especially of those in the invaded South. This superlative and stupendous tome succeeds as well as any other because it includes so many first-hand (and, in some cases, new) accounts of individual participants and on-the-spot observers.
The book's greatest strength - and its primary purpose - is its success in showing how important was the attitude of Great Britain and the British people. There were many occasions when British intervention could (and should?) have ensured the ending of the slaughter and there were more occasions than I knew of when Great Britain and the Lincoln regime might have found themselves at war. The then future of Canada was at stake, as was the governance of Mexico, for which France yearned.
Aside from Frank Vizetelly and many others who are mentioned and quoted at length, two more Southern heroes were Swiss-born Henry Hotze (1833 - 1887), a master of propaganda who worked with my Cambridgeshire-born cousin, John George Witt (1836 - 1906), and James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823 - 1901), uncle of Teddy Roosevelt and one of the Confederacy's principal agents in Great Britain. I have read of both previously, thanks to Amazon. Intriguingly, one of the Amazon critics of 'A World On Fire' is one James Bulloch. If the latter Mr Bulloch is a relative of the former Mr Bulloch, I forgive his criticisms and defer to his knowledge. If he is not, I hope that potential purchasers will give more weight to my remarks and buy this magnificent book that is enormously impressive in both scale and scope."
P.S. Here is the link to the above on Amazon.co.uk:
P.P.S. I have bought three copies of this book. One I have read and kept myself. Two I have given to two of my well-read and illustrious brothers-in-law. I hope that each enjoys it as much as I have.