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Through the Perilous Fight: From the Burning of Washington to the Star-Spangled Banner: The Six Weeks That Saved the Nation Paperback – May 27, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“[A] fine study . . . Steve Vogel does a superb job of bringing this woeful tale to life. He leavens his fast-paced narrative with lively vignettes of the principal participants. . . . Vogel meticulously sets the stage for the ensuing debacle.”—Joyce Appleby, The Washington Post

The Perilous Fight is probably the best piece of military history that I have read or reviewed in the past five years. . . . This well-researched and superbly written history has all the trappings of a good novel. There is great heroism, treacherous self-interest, cowardice and intrigue. . . . No one who hears the national anthem at a ballgame will ever think of it the same way after reading this book, nor want the national anthem changed.”—Gary Anderson, The Washington Times
 
“Complementing Donald R. Hickey’s War of 1812 and Alan Taylor’s The Civil War of 1812, this title will contribute to making this war no longer one of our ‘forgotten’ conflicts.”Library Journal

“Vogel . . . superbly dramatizes a campaign whose legacy is ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ both the anthem and the flag for which it stands, today displayed in Washington.”Booklist
 
“The experienced author knows how to write about the military and its human and martial conflicts. . . . A swift, vibrant account of the accidents, intricacies and insanities of war.”Kirkus Reviews

“Very fine storytelling, impeccably researched . . . Through the Perilous Fight brings to life the fraught events of 1814 with compelling and convincing vigor.”—Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of An Army at Dawn
 
“Before 9/11 was 1814—the year the enemy burned the nation’s capital. Steve Vogel gives a splendid account, fast-paced and detailed, of the uncertainty, the peril, and the valor of those days.”—Richard Brookhiser, author of James Madison
 
“The War of 1812 remains one of the most important and least appreciated events in American history. In these engaging pages, Steve Vogel does much to rectify that, telling the story of a critical episode of the conflict with eloquence and insight.”—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Steve Vogel is the author of The Pentagon and a veteran national reporter for The Washington Post. He has written extensively about military affairs and the treatment of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His reporting on the war in Afghanistan was part of a package of Washington Post stories selected as a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. Vogel covered the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, and the building’s subsequent reconstruction. He covered the war in Iraq and the first Gulf War, as well as U.S. military operations in Rwanda, Somalia, and the Balkans. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, Vogel received a master’s degree in international public policy from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812981391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812981391
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Starfire on September 1, 2014
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I bought this book to read during the 200th anniversary of the British burning the White House. As our government did nothing to mark the day, I thought I would, albeit in a small way.
This is a gripping retelling of the fateful British invasion during the War of 1812. While packed with a lot of information (it is much more detailed than any books I've read about this) it moves right along and doesn't drown the reader in trivia. All the major players are here: James and Dolley Madison, James Monroe, Joshua Barney, John Armstrong and Francis Scott Key, among many. The British are well represented here as well with Robert Ross, George Cockburn (a guy who never tired of taking revenge it seems) and Alexander Cochrane. Fascinating people, with human foibles and incredible bravery.
The book also has detailed maps and some pictures of these areas the way they look today, which was much appreciated.
You don't have to be a history geek to enjoy this one. Just read it for the compelling story if nothing else.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ly G on July 28, 2014
I really liked this book. I am not a huge history nut so I didn't actually know all that much about the war of 1812. I know Washington burned and that we had a national anthem but reading more about the story (and not being forced by my history teacher) was surprisingly fun.

The book had a LOT of information and thus took me significantly longer to read than normal. I generally can do about 500 pages per day, this one took me over a week. However, while dense it was interesting and not a bunch of things I didn't care about. The background was well researched and well presented.

Overall i would say this is a great read whether you are a history buff or not.

I received a copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.
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During a recent two-week hospitalization, my closest companion was Vogel’s account of the six-week British campaign to end the see-saw War of 1812 by capturing both the U.S. capital in Washington and the major shipping center of Baltimore, also known as a hotbed of pro-war sentiment. The book was riveting, enough to transport me daily from my near bubble boy isolation chamber existence.

The book, as other reviewers have observed, is character driven, its pages filled with patriots (such as navy captain Joshua Barney) and poltroons (Secretary of War John Armstrong). Through a wealth of primary sources, the author draws rich, believable portraits of his chief characters, including the inept statesmen President James Madison and Secretary of State and de facto substitute Secretary of War James Monroe. The cerebral Madison is an inept war leader who eventually grows in the job; Monroe is a “man of action” who makes a stream of wrong-headed decisions, but learns the lessons of his limitations.

Perhaps Vogel’s most interesting character is British Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, a advocate for repaying the slightest resistance with terror, when not displaying the chivalry expected of his class. The reader learns that Cockburn and his British army ally, Major General Robert Ross, limited their burning (and most of the looting) in Washington to government buildings and a newspaper publishing house that got under Cockburn’s skin.

With the exception of a few officers like Barney, whatever Americans had learned of the art of war during the eight-year War of Independence, they seem to have entirely forgotten by 1814. Again, with the exception of Barney and a few others, they could hardly have played at war more stupidly in the defense of Washington than they did.
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August 24, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington D.C. by the British. It's an event remembered by few, and yet out of it came our most enduring symbols of America... and perhaps much more.

Most historians (or at least those histories I've read*) treat the War of 1812 almost as an extension of the Revolutionary War. But Steve Vogel takes a slightly different approach and emphasizes the more immediate causes, namely the impressments of American sailors by the British into the Royal Navy, and the opportunistic invasion of Canada by American forces. Britain was fighting France at the time, and when they began to run low of manpower they simply grabbed Americans on merchant vessels under the guise that they were still British 'citizens.' To combat this violation of rights, America attacked Britain along the Canadian border, believing that the Canadians would willingly and enthusiastically join the U.S. The timing seemed ideal - Britain was distracted with the war against France - but the Canadians fought back. Using the American attacks as justification, the British navy sailed into Chesapeake Bay and burned many towns, culminating in the conquest and burning of government buildings in Washington, including the president's house and the Capitol.

Vogel carefully weaves the story of Francis Scott Key, an attorney, into the greater history. Key was sent as a delegate to win the release of an American who had been captured by the British. Admiral Cochrane agreed to release him, but not until after the planned destruction of Baltimore. Key ended up being an eye-witness to the bombardment of Fort McHenry from the middle of the British fleet. Fortunately, American militias were in a better state of readiness this time, and the British were driven back.
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Through the Perilous Fight: From the Burning of Washington to the Star-Spangled Banner: The Six Weeks That Saved the Nation
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