Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor tells the riveting story of a war that redefined North America. In a world of double identities, slippery allegiances, and porous borders, the leaders of the American Republic and the British Empire struggled to control their own diverse peoples. Taylor’s vivid narrative of an often brutal—sometimes farcical—war reveals much about the tangled origins of the United States and Canada.
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A proper history of an obscure epoch
Well, written and more balanced than usual.
Measured, well-enunciated, but with occasional mispronunciations,
Given that the author is an American historian, he is reasonably even-handed and does not portray the War of 1812 in the usual starry-eyed, "it was a glorious victory really" style of most American history. He does, however, occasionally fall into that habit Americans have of portraying the British as a mere foil against which Americans tested their fitness for greatness. He also makes some annoying mistakes which a serious historian should not make, even when talking about a foreign power - he keeps referring to the "imperial lords" (I think he means the British Government) and on one occasion refers to "Lord Wellington". Who? The real strength of the book is to point out the complexities of American motives for the war. He places front and centre the objective of breaking British power in North America, the destruction of Indian resistance (both closely interconnected) and the possible windfall outcome of those objectives, the absorption of Upper Canada. He does not sugar-coat the fiasco that was the American Army's performance on the Canadian frontier. For those looking for a general history of the war, they will be disappointed that he does not cover the naval war or British amphibious operations against American shores in any depth (for this, from a British perspective, see Latimer, "The Challenge"). Similarly, although he is excellent on the internal politics of Canada and the US, he does little to explore the economic effects of the war on the US, probably the key issue of the time.He is also very good on the conclusion to the war, and in particular the British Government's sudden switch from holding out tough terms from the Americans to essentially giving the US everything it wanted. Interestingly, he suggests this switch came after Wellington advised to give the US whatever it wanted, and concentrate on the real issues in Europe. Perhaps Mr. Taylor should have subtitled his book "How the Duke of Wellington Saved the Republic"!
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