The North Star: Canada and The Civil War Plots Against Lincoln by Julian Sher Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

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Author Julian Sher shares an intimate look into the good and bad impact Canada had on the American Civil War in the book “The North Star: Canada and The Civil War Plots Against Lincoln”. 


The Synopsis

A riveting account of the years, months and days leading up to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the unexpected ways Canadians were deeply involved in every aspect of the American Civil War.

Canadians take pride in being on the “good side” of the American Civil War, serving as a haven for 30,000 escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. But dwelling in history’s shadow is the much darker role Canada played in supporting the slave South and in fomenting the many plots against Lincoln. 

   The North Star weaves together the different strands of several Canadians and a handful of Confederate agents in Canada as they all made their separate, fateful journeys into history.

    The book shines a spotlight on the stories of such intrepid figures as Anderson Abbott, Canada’s first Black doctor, who joined the Union Army; Emma Edmonds, the New Brunswick woman who disguised herself as a man to enlist as a Union nurse; and Edward P. Doherty, the Quebec man who led the hunt to track down Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

    At the same time, the Canadian political and business elite were aiding the slave states. Toronto aristocrat George Taylor Denison III bankrolled Confederate operations and opened his mansion to their agents. The Catholic Church helped one of Booth’s accused accomplices hide out for months in the Quebec countryside. A leading financier in Montreal let Confederates launder money through his bank.   

Sher creates vivid portraits of places we thought we knew. Montreal was a sort of 19th-century Casablanca of the North: a hub for assassins, money-men, mercenaries and soldiers on the run. Toronto was a headquarters for Confederate plotters and gun-runners. The two largest hotels in the country became nests of Confederate spies. 

    Meticulously researched and richly illustrated, The North Star is a sweeping tale that makes long-ago events leap off the page with a relevance to the present day.

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The Review

This was such an insightful and fascinating read. As a history buff, it was so interesting to get a look into how Canada played a role in the events of the American Civil War. The way the author balanced out the heroic actions of those who helped the Union with the shocking revelations of those who worked for or supported the Confederacy was so well done and helped highlight the complex nature of Canadian influence on the war. The biggest thing I always know about was Canada was a safe haven for runaway slaves. Learning of the agents that lived in and worked in Canadian terrorizes added a level of knowledge and shock that I never knew existed before. 

The author’s writing style and unique tone really did an excellent job of painting an image of the events of the stories found within this book. The book does a wonderful job of delivering the history of this book’s subject matter, and yet also adds a personal touch to the writing, giving readers a feeling of honesty mixed with powerful imagery to deliver an almost cinematic, documentary-style narrative that highlights the information in a fresh and exciting way. 

The Verdict

Memorable, engaging, and thought-provoking, author Julian Sher’s “The North Star: Canada and The Civil War Plots Against Lincoln” is a must-read nonfiction history book and one of our most anticipated nonfiction reads of Spring 2023. The thoughtful approach to the subject matter and the rich amount of insight that the author’s work brings to this era of history will keep readers picking up this book over and over again as people’s perceptions of the impact our neighbors to the North had on the direction that bloody war took drastically change forever. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10


About the Author

MONTREAL, QUE.: November 2, 2022 — Julian Sher, the director a new documentary Kings of Coke about the Irish Mafia in Montreal, in Montreal’s Point St-Charles neighbourhood Wednesday November 2, 2022. (John Mahoney / MONTREAL GAZETTE)

JULIAN SHER is an award-winning journalist and the author of six widely-acclaimed books, including White Hoods: Canada’s Ku Klux Klan and “Until You Are Dead”: Steven Truscott’s Long Ride Into History. As an investigative reporter, he worked for the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. He was the Senior Producer of CBC’s the fifth estate, Canada’s premier investigative TV program, for five years. He has directed and written major documentaries, covering wars and intrigue across the globe. His documentary Nuclear Jihad, produced for the New York Times and CBC, won the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. His latest film, Ghosts of Afghanistan, won three top Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Documentary. He is also active in protecting media freedoms, as a Senior Fellow at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Free Expression and working with Journalists for Human Rights. More information at


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