Friday, September 9, 2016

REVIEW: Our Man in Charleston by Christopher Dickey

Our Man in Charleston
by Christopher Dickey

Publisher: Crown
Page Count: 400
Release Date: July 21, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback ARC

How got
: ARC from LibraryThing giveaway

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

Between the Confederacy and recognition by Great Britain stood one unlikely Englishman who hated the slave trade. His actions helped determine the fate of a nation.

As the United States threatened to break into civil war, the Southern states found themselves in an impossible position: Their economic survival would require reopening the slave trade, banned in America since 1807, but the future of the Confederacy could not be secured without official recognition from Great Britain, which would never countenance such a move. How, then, could the first be achieved without dooming the possibility of the second? Believing their cotton monopoly would provide sufficient leverage, the Southerners publically declared the slave trade dead, even as rapacious traders quickly landed more and more ships on the American coast.

The unlikely man at the roiling center of this intrigue was Robert Bunch, the ambitious young British consul in Charleston, S.C. As he soured on the self-righteousness of his slave-loving neighbors, Bunch used his unique perch to thwart their plans, sending reams of damning dispatches to the Foreign Office in London and eventually becoming the Crown's best secret source on the Confederacy—even as he convinced those neighbors that he was one of them.

In this masterfully told story, Christopher Dickey introduces Consul Bunch as a key figure in the pitched battle between those who wished to reopen the floodgates of bondage and misery, and those who wished to dam the tide forever. Featuring a remarkable cast of diplomats, journalists, senators, and spies,Our Man in Charleston captures the intricate, intense relationship between great powers as one stood on the brink of war

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Winning this book giveaway came at a fantastic time. My interest in how the American Civil War was viewed by or impacted the international community started to really grow just a few months before winning this puppy on LibraryThing. And what a find! Despite a hiccup in the beginning portion, this book proved to be both informative and engaging.

An English diplomat caught between two sides of a brewing civil war is a new story, for sure. Seeing the deteriorating stability of a nation through his unique eyes gives the Civil War a new angle. The author explores in devastating detail a society in freefall as the drums of war rumble louder and louder. Bunch had to do a balancing act unlike many others to serve his country and cause, all the while protecting his very life and family.

The sheer amount of information in here was fascinating. I had no idea that the Union and Britain came SO close to blows and war. Such a knife edge… Thanks to calm heads, that potential conflict was averted, despite the efforts of hotheads and war hawks.

I gotta give props for how the author chose to present his material. It’s not just a conglomeration of facts and figures thrown into paragraphs and then released. Primary source quotes are interwoven with the author’s writing instead of being inserted in block quotes. Also, the time and care given to description and scene-setting also gives this book a fictional feel to it, in that it’s easier to read for your casual history fan. For this person who fits that descriptor, everything worked perfectly in this regard.

At times, the balance of the narrative seemed a bit off. A ton of time was spent on the years leading up to the war; once the war hit, the book was actually starting to wind down already. I can see why this balance was struck as a lot of what happened in Bunch’s tale was during that time frame. Yet, there were times in the first half that I got a bit bored.

Despite this, this is a rock solid work on the subject, especially as there isn’t much on the international take on the Civil War out there. Bunch’s tale alone makes the book read worthy. I loved getting to know him and his situation. Yet, there’s so much more here. If you’re curious about this subject at all, definitely give this book a look!

Note: Book received for free from publisher via giveaway on LibraryThing in exchange for an hones review.

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