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"!
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!
Gripping, convoluted, magnificent.
The complexities of a Europe divided between two ruling families - Habsburgs and Bourbons - were clearly explained.
The narrative is delivered by Princess Diana's brother in a clipped, pukka English accent, adding to the 'feel' of the story. It helped immerse the listener in this period of high stakes monarchical face-off.
Ultimately, it is a story that sounds strange to the modern ear: Men willing to face the carnage of 18th Century combat to further the ambitions of remote rulers. And yet it produced remarkable men like Marlborough and Prince Eugene, the military geniuses of their day.
For those not familiar with this period, or why English (later British) troops were marching around central Europe, this is an excellent introduction.
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