Late in 2006 a leading adviser at the US State Department insisted that Britain gained little or nothing from the 'special relationship', a term coined in 1946 by Winston Churchill. 'There never really has been a special relationship,' he said, 'or at least not one we've noticed.' Yet a strong modern Anglo-American relationship is undeniable, built on military and intelligence co-operation as well as significant economic and cultural synergies. But it has always been far more complex than the simplistic picture portrayed by some modern politicians, who appear to play up the Anglo-American relationship at the expense of relations with Europe.
British trade and capital have been important components of the American economy since colonial days, and for at least the first century of its existence, the young republic was part of Britain's informal trading empire. Throughout that time, however, relations ran far from smooth, and perhaps it needs a Canadian like Duncan Campbell to make sense of them. This elegantly written history of the nineteenth-century relationship shows how it evolved through literature, commerce and political discourse. But political attitudes to the US were never static or monolithic - whether they be radical, liberal or conservative - and Britain's relations with European powers were far more important. For despite the shared language, there was a strong undercurrent of misunderstanding about relative values while Anglophobia and anti-Americanism consistently coloured attitudes, fed on both sides by strong feelings of patriotic self-righteousness.
The book explodes myths such as British support for the Confederacy - it was really a case of 'a pox on both houses' - and explains how this antagonism was, in no small measure, residual to the War of 1812 which Dr Campbell says both sides won - something this reviewer would dispute. But this entertaining and illuminating book shows the process developing, often with two steps forward and one step back, until over the course of the century they drew together, as that which they shared gradually outweighed that which divided them.