©1998 by Anthony S. Pitch; (P)1999 by the Naval Institute Press
"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)
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.
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!
Mr. Pitch to some extent is hamstrung by the audio format. Though I live in the area described in the book I found it very hard to maintain an awareness of the geography presented in the narrative. I recognize the town names and to some extent can place them on a map -- readers from other parts of the world will not be able to. No one outside of this part of Maryland knows where Upper Marlboro is or how it relates to Washington DC. Without graphical representations of the landscape the movements of troops and individuals is a jumble of unknown towns. I found myself just emotionally disconnecting when Mr. Pitch spent the time describing troop movements, reserving my strength for material that didn't focus on positioning
And strength was required. I listened on my Kindle while driving, and in spite of a quiet car I had difficulty understanding the narrative due to the muddy sound of the recording. It wouldn't surprise me if Mr. Pitch recorded this on his own in his living room in order to save a few bucks. Given the salaries history teachers get paid I can understand making such a decision, but it detracted, and I'm a guy that generally settles for text-to-speech for my listening. Much of my energy was spent simply getting my mental arms around the words actually spoken, leaving much less for comprehension of the concepts they were conveying.
I think this is one that's worth getting the dead-tree-edition for. A couple of maps and a clearer channel of communication could go a long way to making this material far more enjoyable.
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