New York Times Bestseller
New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"Our Man in Charleston is a joy to discover. It is a perfect book about an imperfect spy."
"Thoroughly researched and deftly crafted. [Our Man in Charleston will] introduce people to a man who should be better known, one who cannily fought the good fight at a fateful moment in history."
—Wall Street Journal
"Dickey tells Bunch’s story with aplomb and a good deal of fine wit. On one level, Dickey has written a spicy historical beach read, chock-full of memorable characters and intrigue. But into this page-turning entertainment, Dickey has smuggled a thoughtful examination of the geopolitical issues of the day...splendid."
"A fascinating page-turner that takes on special relevance as South Carolina fills our thoughts in the summer of 2015...[Dickey] brings to life a feverish Southern city, an un-united nation of states, and the 'lively and indiscreet, indefatigable and thoroughly British' man in the middle. Dickey...clearly understands the dance of diplomacy that evolves day by day as personalities and priorities change."
—Christian Science Monitor
"A dynamite tale of international gamesmanship...Dickey’s prose is lively and entertaining. He writes with care for the reader — identifying and characterizing the major players in the political drama that unfolded."
—Dallas Morning News
"One heck of a good read."
—The Charlotte Observer
"Dickey tells the story of this unsung hero with dash, clarity and a feel for fine detail. ... Our Man in Charleston blows the dust off this forgotten chapter in history and, remarkably, turns it into a thriller."
“A good historical primer on the buildup to the Civil War and a behind-the-scenes look at England’s concern for its own future as the conflict unfolded.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A unique history of the War Between the States from the perspective of Bunch and his important, and little-known, role in the outcome of the conflict.”
—Fort Worth Star Telegram
"[Bunch is] a brilliant find…Dickey, the foreign editor of The Daily Beast and a former longtime Newsweek correspondent, uses his research well: in a story like this one, point of view is everything, and Bunch’s is razor sharp."
"Dickey has written a book that is as much suspense and spy adventure as it is a history book... A story as compelling as this one does not come around very often. With so much already written about the Civil War, and more coming every year, originality is a rare thing these days. The story of Robert Bunch is that and more."
—The Carolina Chronicles
"A fascinating tale of compromise, political maneuvering, and espionage."
"Dickey's comprehension of the mindset of the area, coupled with the enlightening missives from Bunch, provides a rich background to understanding the time period….A great book explaining the workings of what Dickey calls an erratic, cobbled-together coalition of ferociously independent states. It should be in the library of any student of diplomacy, as well as Civil War buffs."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"A fine examination of a superbly skilled diplomat."
"Britain's consul in Charleston before and during the first two years of the Civil War was outwardly pro-Southern and earned notoriety in the North. But in secret correspondence with the British Foreign Office he made clear his hostility to slavery and the Confederacy. His dispatches helped prevent British recognition of the Confederacy. Christopher Dickey has skillfully unraveled the threads of this story in an engrossing account of diplomatic derring-do."
—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom
"Did Robert Bunch, Her Majesty's consul in Charleston, keep Britain out of the Confederacy's war? Drawing on Bunch's clandestine correspondence, Christopher Dickey makes a compelling case that this dazzlingly duplicitous, ardent anti-slaver played a key role. A fascinating, little-known shard of vital Civil War history, brought glitteringly alive with all the verve and panache of a master story teller."
—Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March
“In his extraordinary new history Our Man in Charleston, Christopher Dickey has written a book you can’t put down. This is a well-researched history with the immense power and sheer element of surprise we find in the finest spy novels. It’s like reading a book by Graham Greene, written while he was staying at the house of John le Carré, discussing the fate of nations over drinks. With Charleston consul Robert Bunch, Dickey has introduced a new great man in the great war that haunts America still. I adored this book.”
—Pat Conroy, author of The Great Santini and South of Broad
"Our Man in Charleston is a superlative and entertaining history of the grey area where diplomacy ends and spy craft begins. British Consul Robert Bunch played a secret role in the anti-slavery fight in Charleston, which would remain secret to this day were it not for Christopher Dickey's extraordinary detective skills."
—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire and Georgiana
"Wonderfully written and researched, Our Man in Charleston is the best espionage book I've read. I couldn't put it down."
—Robert Baer, former CIA case officer and author of See No Evil
"Robert Bunch is an unlikely spy, but his bravery and moral sensibility make him an intriguing hero for Christopher Dickey's Civil War history. Dickey knows his stuff, from spying to the slave trade, and he's a master at telling a fast-paced, gripping yarn."
—Evan Thomas, author of John Paul Jones and The Very Best Men
"Christopher Dickey has accomplished the near-impossible—exhuming a forgotten but irresistible character from the dustbin of Civil War history, and bringing him back to life with painstaking research and bravura literary flair. This irresistible book opens new windows onto the complicated worlds of wartime diplomacy, intelligence-gathering and outright intrigue, and the result is fresh history and page-turning excitement."
—Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press and winner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
"A long-needed study of Robert Bunch, British consul in Charleston—a secret agent for the Crown in the Civil War era who outwardly praised the city and its people while privately loathing both, and who discouraged diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy by keeping his superiors abreast of its determination to continue importing slaves. Elegantly written, well researched, an engrossing story."
—Howard Jones, author of Blue and Grey Diplomacy
The ambitious and politically-minded Robert Bunch served as the British consul in Charleston, S.C., from 1853–63, seemingly the ideal choice to represent Great Britain’s interests in the South. But as journalist Dickey (Securing the City) shows, almost no one realized that he had a double agenda. Great Britain had grave concerns during the antebellum period: “England hated slavery, but loved the cotton the slaves raised, and British industry depended on it. Defending Britain’s political interests while serving its commercial interests required constant delicate diplomacy.” Simply put, Bunch’s mission was to subtly sabotage the slave trade and Southern secession, undermining the very institution that produced the goods his country demanded. As Dickey tells it, Bunch was playing with fire, and reader will feel the agent’s mounting frustration as he sends missives back to England, damning the slave trade and Southern arrogance, while wearing a more moderate face for his Charleston neighbors. Bunch’s tale is framed by the larger arguments of the time, including the inexorable march toward war, and the result is a fascinating tale of compromise, political maneuvering, and espionage. Dickey makes it easy to believe that the obscure Bunch really did play a pivotal role during his years in America. Agent: Kathy Robbins, Robbins Office. (Aug.)
Journalist Dickey tells the story of Robert Bunch, a British consul who arrived in Charleston, SC, in 1853. He witnessed and reported to London on the rise of sectional tensions that ultimately led to the Civil War in 1861, specifically focusing on Britain's determination to enforce the end of the Atlantic slave trade. As war began, British dependence on Southern cotton became the Confederacy's trump card in bringing Britain into the war. Bunch maintained a sympathetic veneer that allowed him to gain trust and valuable information from Charleston residents, communicating to British diplomats that the South's antislavery-trade rhetoric aimed to draw the British toward the Confederacy. In telling Bunch's story, Dickey transitions from a slow beginning to a taut ending in which Bunch ultimately is forced to leave Charleston, distrusted by both South and North. Dickey is particularly strong in presenting the often colorful, unreasonable, and desperate secessionists determined to preserve their way of life. VERDICT This account will appeal to general readers and specialists interested in mid-1800s American and British political history, especially the diplomatic aspects of the coming of the Civil War. Its Charleston setting should attract readers focusing on that city's history. [See Prepub Alert, 1/5/15.]—Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato
In this biography of Robert Bunch, the British consul in Charleston, South Carolina, at the beginning of the Civil War, Daily Beast foreign editor Dickey (Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force—The NYPD, 2010, etc.) illustrates how an outside observer can understand more about a situation than the parties involved. The years leading up to the war were vitally important for the British to understand the feelings and actions of that hotbed of secession and slavery. The British and Americans banned the slave trade in 1807, but the Americans added a proviso of a 20-year delay. Bunch's great talent was in convincing Charlestonians to see him as being on a friendly mission. They revealed their plots, plans, and hopes to him, which he used to compose invaluable dispatches to Britain's virulently anti-slavery government. The author thoroughly understands the point of view of the South regarding the slave trade. Cotton was king, and England was its largest customer. While the production had grown 3,000 percent, the slave population increased only by 150 percent. As new states entered the Union, hopefully as slave states, even more workers would be needed for the labor-intensive industry. Virginia and Maryland, states where cotton had depleted the soil, now bred and sold slaves to the new markets, and some argued that the price of long-standing slaves had grown so much that new "stock" would devalue them. Dickey's comprehension of the mindset of the area, coupled with the enlightening missives from Bunch, provides a rich background to understanding the time period. Bunch's work in Charleston helped guide Britain's decisions regarding the cotton-export ban, the blockade, and whether to recognize the Confederacy. A great book explaining the workings of what Dickey calls an erratic, cobbled-together coalition of ferociously independent states. It should be in the library of any student of diplomacy, as well as Civil War buffs.