A World on Fire
The above video is an interview with Amanda Foreman who has written a fascinating study of Great Britain and the Civil War, A World on Fire, a book that I have been reading lately. It is a comprehensive history, 958 pages in length, fully sourced and end noted, not only looking at the diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War, but also examining individual Brits who fought on both sides of the War, and studying the travails of British war correspondents who covered the War for British papers. If the British Empire had entered the War on the side of the Confederacy it is hard to see how the Union would have prevailed, and Great Britain came within inches of doing so during the furor over the Trent affair, the Union seizure of Confederate diplomats Mason and Sliddel from the British mail ship Trent, in 1861. Foreman masterfully retells this tale, and explains why the Brits ultimately did not intervene throughout the War. Her tome is one of the more original books on the Civil War that I have read in many a year and very well written.
Whenever I come across a book that I enjoy by an author I am not familiar with, sooner or later I will research the background of the author. For most historians it is usually dry stuff: where they attended college, which historians they studied under, academic positions they have held and a list of the books they have written. The ink stained wretches who serve Clio, the Muse of History, may write about exciting events, but they usually live fairly dull and colorless lives themselves, a historian like Winston Churchill being very much the exception. Well, I quickly learned that there is very little dull about Ms. Foreman!
Born in 1968 she is a daughter of the late Carl Foreman, a former Commie who was blacklisted in the Fifties. He was also a screenwriter of genius, producing the script for High Noon. Foreman embraced Communism, which he later renounced, while studying at my Alma Mater, the University of Illinois. (Well, living among the corn fields at Urbana can do strange things to college students unused to bucolic Central Illinois.!) After he was blacklisted he moved to England where he enjoyed great success with such films as The Guns of Navarrone and Young Winston, becoming a Commander of the British Empire. He also married, for the second time, and had two children, Jonathan and Amanda Foreman. Jonathan Foreman has achieved fame in Britain as a war journalist in Iraq, being embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, and helped found, and writes for, StandPoint , a center-right journal of opinion in Britain that celebrates Western Civilization. (I wonder what Carl would think?)
Ms. Foreman was educated at a boarding school in England, although she lived with her father in California prior to his death in 1984 of brain cancer. She attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and then Columbia. She earned a Phd in history at Oxford, writing her doctoral dissertation on Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, 1757-1807. In 1998 she published her doctoral dissertation. Normally such books fall stillborn from the press, and are usually read only by professors, people who are paid to read them, and students, people who are forced to read them. Not so this book, which, while a superb history of the Duchess and her era, was written in a lively style by Ms. Foreman, who obviously had inherited a full measure of the dramatic skills of her father. The book rapidly became a best seller, and was made into a play and a movie. Not the usual fate for a doctoral dissertation. Continue reading