From Publishers Weekly
The deservedly overshadowed War of 1812 was redeemed by heroics at sea, according to this rousing military history. Journalist and military historian Budiansky (The Bloody Shirt) follows the tiny United States Navy, led by a handful of superfrigates, including the U.S.S. Constitution, in its oceanic struggle against the vastly larger, stronger, and haughtier British fleet, whose bullying practice of seizing American merchant ships and sailors provoked the war. Budiansky makes it a classic David and Goliath story, as the plucky Yanks, with better ships, sailing, and gunnery, win a string of resounding victories that wipe the smirks from their adversaries' faces. The author's colorful narrative is full of gory sea battles, chivalrous flourishes, mutinous tars, and charismatic performances by Stephen Decatur, David Porter, and other American naval legends; it becomes grayer and grimmer as the British blockade tightens and the Americans turn from pitched battles to prosaic commerce raiding. Budiansky's well-researched and skillfully written account extracts a gripping true-life naval saga from an otherwise inglorious conflict. 8 pages of color and 8 pages of b&w photos; 11 photos in text; 8 maps. (Jan.)
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Bedeviled on land, U.S. forces were more effective at sea in the War of 1812. Continuing a venerable tradition of historians (Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Adams, Alfred Mahan) drawn to this topic, Budiansky narrates events and ventures explanations for successes of the U.S. Navy against Britain’s Royal Navy. The prerequisite was the pre-existence of an American navy, whose establishment Ian Toll recounted in Six Frigates (2006). Those frigates scored initial victories in warship-on-warship combat (the Constitution’s sinking of the Guerriere) that exhilarated Americans and made U.S. captains (e.g., Stephen Decatur) famous. But naval war in the chivalric style did not strike the historically unsung William Jones as a sensible strategy. Secretary of the navy during the war, Jones is the most important character in Budiansky’s account. Jones thought that attacking Britain’s merchant marine would hamper her superior fleet far more than would destruction of her warships, and so it turned out, as Budiansky’s analysis of the forces tied to convoy and blockade duties verifies. Conversant in nautical technicalities of the age of sail, Budiansky will absorb the avid naval history audience. --Gilbert Taylor