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Langguth is a wonderful writer and Gardner is a wonderful narrator. Union 1812 tells the story of the early republic, up through the War of 1812. The subtitle is a key to the book's approach: it's a history that focuses on the people involved, with incisive portraits of the earliest statesmen (Washington, Adams, and Jefferson) as well as the later generation: John Quincy Adams, James Madison, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson.
The story is somewhat more panoramic than the title implies. In laying the groundwork for his narrative of the war, Langguth describes the Constitutional Convention and the careers of the first four presidents in a series of brisk chapters. When he gets to the presidency of James Madison, the timeline slows down to focus on the events of the war itself. (The timeline slows down but the pace doesn't: Union 1812 remains a compelling and exciting listen throughout.)
I knew little about the War of 1812 before the book. My main impressions of it came from the movie The Buccaneer, which tells the story of the pirate Jean LaFitte at the battle of New Orleans. I had no idea the US had invaded Canada not once but multiple times over the course of the war; and though I knew the White House was burned by the British, I knew nothing about the campaign that led up to that. I'd heard of Tecumseh, the Native American leader who sided with the British, but had no idea what role he played in the conflict. The book was, for me, full of dramatic surprises.
I liked it so much I immediately downloaded Langguth's "sequel," Driven West, which is supposed to cover the years from the end of the war up to the Civil War. Many years ago, I'd read Langguth's history of the American Revolution, Patriots: if Audible or someone else would care to publish that as an audiobook (hint, hint), we'd have a dynamite trilogy.
My only complaint, as usual with books of this type, is that I needed to track down some good battle maps while listening. Presumably the printed book came with some: it would be nice if there were a PDF with those maps that could be downloaded from Audible. Maybe it's just me. I need to get some spatial sense of what's happening, and if I don't know the geography, I need to look at a map.
31 of 32 people found this review helpful
Surprisingly this book covers quite a bit more than 1812. It begins at the second constitutional convention and ends at the eve of the civil war. The war of 1812 does not really get going until half-way through the book. The treatment of the early years covered many of the founders and events, necessarily lightly. The author also skirts some of the more controversial elements of the various characters, which seemed a bit weak. Otherwise this is an excellent history of the early years of the union and the war of 1812. The narrative shifts seamlessly between stories of characters and battle strategy and action. This was well worth the listen.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful