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Cogent, readable and enlightening
Posted by G. Meyers on 12/9/2004
1812 is a riveting account of a dangerous time in our country's history. For a nation only 20 years of age, one whose economic health was so dependent on overseas commerce, to emback so impetuously in a war with the world's greatest maritime power--a power who nearly was succesful in stillbirthing the nations's inception--seems foolhardy at best. The justifiable goals of war: impressmant of U.S. citizens for duty on Her Majesty's ships, the equally unreasonable Orders in Council, that forced the world's seagoing traders to pay protection to the crown, was laudable. But the American rallying cry for Canadian lands today smacks of hypocrisy, given our colonial past, and Jefferson's embargos caused more financial pain --self-inflicted-- than any policy Great Britain had imposed.
As with the Revolution, this war put our national life fully on the line. In 1812, grievances that might have been successfully addressed with patience and diplomacy in the end, through war, built a national character--a sense of collective state's self-- that indeed forged a union that made the coming civil dispute a two-party war and not chaos between 18? states.
I knew none of this, appreciated none of the fragility of our fledgling union before reading this book. Borneman writes compellingly, conversationally, and has a tremendous capacity for building a broader context for events and personalities that ultimately makes sense for what might otherwise be a cocophany of battles, places and people. I highly recommend 1812 The War That Forged a Nation for anyone wanting to add depth to their picture of our nation's formative years. The book belongs on the same shelf as McCullough's John Adams, Ambrose's Lewis and Clark, and Franklin's biography.
Splendid Popular Account on the War or 1812
Posted by John Kwok on 3/2/2005
Author Walter Borneman follows successfully in the footsteps of David McCullough and Stephen Ambrose in writing this highly readable, popular account of the War of 1812. Indeed, "1812: The War That Forged A Nation" is not only the best popular account I have read on this war, but is one of the finest popular histories on the early history of the United States I have encountered so far. To his credit, Borneman traces the origins of the war back to Aaron Burr's infamous conspiracy to create a new "Western Empire" in the frontier country of Ohio and the remainder of the Northwest Territory, and the desires of some Westerners eager to add Canada and Florida to the United States. Perhaps these, more so than British impressment of American sailors, were the root causes behind the War of 1812, which Borneman implies in the opening chapters of the book. And he reveals - at least to me - a hitherto unknown dimension of the war itself, noting how close both the United States Congress and President James Madison came to not declaring war against Great Britain. Once war is declared, Borneman does an elegant job describing all of the major campaigns in Canada and along the western and southern frontiers; he correctly notes the bravery of Canadians defending themselves from the American invaders as well as the gross incompetence of most American generals, with the notable exceptions of Brown, Scott, and especially, Jackson. He also makes a very persuasive case that the American victory at the Battle of Lake Champlain was the most important naval battle of the war, not the Battle of Lake Erie or any of the brilliant frigate duels won by the likes of Captains Hull and Decatur. He also provides sympathetic portrayals of British generals such as Brock and Ross during their respective campaigns in the Great Lakes and Maryland (And yet, I can't help but notice just how incompetent much of the British military - as well as American military - leadership was during the conduct of this war.). I found this splendid one volume history of the War of 1812 hard to put down.