The Burning of Washington

  • by Anthony S. Pitch
  • Narrated by Anthony S. Pitch
  • 6 hrs and 3 mins
  • Abridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

With all the immediacy of an eyewitness account, Anthony Pitch recounts the dramatic story of the British invasion of Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1814. The British torched the Capitol, the White House, and other buildings, setting off an inferno that illuminated the countryside for miles around and sent President James Madison galloping out of town. The author's gripping account is filled with details of the attack and directs listeners to the exact location of scorch marks that can still be found on White House stones. He also describes the valiant defense of nearby Fort McHenry and the story of Francis Scott Key, who was detained on a British warship in Baltimore Harbor and wrote what would become The Star Spangled Banner.

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What the Critics Say

"As good as historical re-creation gets! "(Gilbert M. Grosvenor, National Geographic Society)
"Extremely well written, with a wealth of original material." (Rex Scouten, former White House curator)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Ok book - Bad recording.

Content was fine - the audio was recorded on an 8 track in a crowded public booth and converted to an MP3. I have never heard worse audio. At first I thought the author had a bad vioce, but then I realized his voice was too compressed. I think a good recording would have bad the book more interesting.
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- Chris

Of the Old School

The sound quality is exceptionally poor, and with Mr. Pitch's very pukka English accent it sounds like a wartime BBC radio broadcast! Mr. Pitch delivers his book at a run, sometimes jamming sentences together without a pause. Eventually the listener get used to this, and ultimately there is much useful information in this audiobook, but facts alone do not really save it.

It appears that this book was written in 1998, and although Anthony Pitch is an expatriate Englishman, he seems to have imbued the mythology of his adoptive country when it comes to the War of 1812. As with the Revolutionary War, British historians have come late to the scene, and it is the American view which has prevailed unchallenged. Things have begun to change, but Mr. Pitch's book still belongs to the 'old school'.

Within that paradigm Mr. Pitch makes an attempt at even-handedness, but he tends to be betrayed by his repeated references to the British force as a "horde", or similar words, to suggest that the Americans were somehow overwhelmed by a vast military juggernaut. The reality is the British force was small and lightly equipped: Today we might call it a littoral raiding force. This is not made clear. Words like 'vandals' appear, with no counterbalancing explanation of the behaviour of American troops in Canada, or the stated aim of the British to punish America in kind for the burning of York. He also makes some basic historical mistakes, for example when he describes the British troops as 'veterans' of the Peninsular campaign: in fact only one British Army unit had seen combat before.

Mr. Pitch is to be commended for his presentation of the stories of the non-military actors, especially Booth and others caught up in the chaos. He is less objective when it comes to some of the main leaders on both sides. Madison is presented almost as a quiet hero; there is little background on how he took his country into a pointless war that brought suffering to many Americans, Canadians and Britons and nearly split the nation. Admiral Cockburn at times is presented as a well-mannered, posturing hooligan, bent only on destruction rather than a professional military man intent on bringing the war to his country's enemies. A much better study of Cockburn is provided by James Patch 'The Man Who Burned the White House'.

As mentioned, this work really belongs to an earlier form of historiography. It even finishes with reference to 1812 as a 'second War of Independence'. For a corrective to this kind of mythologising the reader who is interested in the War should read Jon Latimer's books '1812 The War with America' and 'The Challenge'. Of course none of these books are available on Audible.com, although plenty of American histories of 1812 are!
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- Amazon Customer

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-17-2000
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press