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1812: The Navy's War Hardcover – October 4, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Edward L. Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World
“The War of 1812 was a difficult test for the United States, still wobbly on the world stage nearly two decades after formal independence.  That Americans received a passing grade was due in no small part to the exceptional performance of the U.S. Navy, which humiliated the legendary British Navy time and time again.  With verve and deep research, George Daughan has brought those gripping naval battles back to life.  For military historians and general historians alike, 1812:  The Navy's War restores an important missing chapter to our national narrative.”

Richard Brookhiser, author of James Madison
“The War of 1812 was America's first great naval war, and George Daughan tells the story, from the coast of Brazil to the Great Lakes, from election campaigns to grand strategy to ship-to-ship combat. Sweeping, exciting and detailed.”
Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Assistant Secretary of Defense
“In this vitally important and extraordinarily well researched work, award-winning historian George Daughan demonstrates the often overlooked impact of the 20 ship U.S. Navy’s performance against the 1,000 ship British Navy in the War of 1812.  Daughan makes a compelling case that the Navy’s performance in the war forced Europe to take the U.S. more seriously, initiated a fundamental change in the British-American relationship, and enabled us to maintain a robust Navy even in peacetime.”
Thomas Fleming, author of Liberty!: The American Revolution
“At last, a history of the War of 1812 that Americans can read without wincing. By focusing on our small but incredibly courageous Navy, George Daughan has told a story of victories against awful odds that makes for a memorable book.”
Robert Middlekauff, author of The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789
1812: The Navy’s War is a sparkling effort. It tells more than the naval history of the war, for there is much in it about the politics and diplomacy of the war years. The stories of ship-to-ship battles and of the officers and men who sailed and fought form the wonderful heart of the book. These accounts are told in a handsome prose that conveys the strategy, high feeling, and courage of both British and Americans. In every way this is a marvelous book.”
Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History, Rice University
“Every American should read George C. Daughan’s riveting 1812: The Navy's War. Daughan masterfully breaks down complicated naval battles to tell how the U.S. thwarted the British armada on the Great Lakes and the high seas. Highly recommended!”
Publishers Weekly
“A solidly researched, well-crafted account of U.S. sea power in the War of 1812…. Daughan’s achievement is contextualizing the effect of [the U.S. Navy’s] victories…. What kept the peace, Daughan argues provocatively, was America’s post-war commitment to ‘a strong navy, an adequate professional army, and the financial reforms necessary to support them’ – in other words, an effective deterrent.”
Kirkus Reviews
“A naval expert’s readable take on the U.S. Navy’s surprising performance in the war that finally reconciled the British to America’s independence…. A smart salute to a defining moment in the history of the U.S. Navy.” 
Military History
“[A] finely researched volume.…Readers are unlikely to find a more engaging or stirring recounting of the conflict and its place in the rebirth of the U.S. Navy.”
San Francisco Book Review
“With a sailor’s heart, Daughan follows the action of blue water battles on the Great Lakes, deep water fusillades, besieged ports, the razing of our nation’s capitol, and the victory at New Orleans that forever earned international respect for American resolve. Expertly researched and illustrated, Daughan recounts the courage and skill of the men who gave birth to the United States Navy.”
Charleston Post and Courier
“George C. Daughan again has penned a contributory history that is at once enjoyable to read and informative in its disclosures…. With considerable skill, the author has interwoven the political strife with the naval actions to form a coherent and well-written story of that important transitional time in American history.”

Library Journal
“[A] compelling sequel to his award-winning If By Sea....Daughan offers a rousing retelling of the war, strongly recommended for general readers, high school students, and lower classmen.”

Boston Globe
“[A] richly detailed, well-documented, and compelling account....Daughan’s is a history that expands our understanding, debunking several popular myths…. In the end, this history of an oft-forgotten war holds value for all….Readers who have been eagerly awaiting the bicentennial will find in Daughan’s 1812 an account that confirms why the conflict merits remembrance—and celebration.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books
1812: The Navy’s War is an important, well-researched and timely book – next year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 – which scholars and lay persons alike will enjoy for its descriptions of the battles and Daughan’s analysis of the domestic and international dimensions of the war.”
Tucson Citizen
“[Daughan] has written a concise, invaluable history of the War of 1812, placing it in context and making it accessible for modern readers. The War of 1812 was America’s first great naval war and Daughan’s crisp writing and extraordinary research helps breath life into this defining moment of our national history.”

The Weekly Standard
“Frequently [the War of 1812] is seen as a sequence of freestanding, intensely dramatic events rather than as the tightly intertwined series of battles, military campaigns, diplomacy, and domestic politics that it was. But if a compulsion to concentrate excessively on the more spectacular bits and pieces of the conflict has been an endemic problem among academics and writers, this volume is an antidote. Daughan not only thoroughly illuminates the emotion-triggering events of the conflict; he also adds the background that connects the highlights. That background includes, for example, the American and British domestic politics and diplomacy, which were continuously both cause and effect in the process.”

The Providence Journal:
“In 1812: The Navy’s War, George C. Daughan does a terrific job of explaining [the war’s] origins in the British policy of boarding United States merchant ships and impressing sailors, and in its general treatment of America as an upstart challenging its supremacy on the high seas…. With painstaking attention to detail and the ability to make complex naval confrontations understandable, even gripping, Daughan pursues the war north to the St. Lawrence River, east to the British coast where American privateers harassed British shipping, and south to New Orleans.”
The Advocate (Baton Rouge)
“[A] deep and detailed page-turner of a book. With crystal clear maps and unadorned prose, [Daughan] gives new life to the personalities, strategies and desperate struggles of the consequential, yet ultimately unproductive War of 1812…. Daughan narrates the story of the all-important naval war with a palpable sense of expectancy on nearly every page – with the clock ticking and the battle at hand.”
Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, Washington Times
“Other authors in the recent past have covered various aspects of the War of 1812, but George C. Daughan has put it all together in one well-written and interesting volume. It’s a book hard to put down and is most highly recommended as a good read. Its coverage of an important time in the history of the United States will make it a worthy reference for years to come.”
American Spirit
“The fledgling U.S. Navy had advantages that would surprise, infuriate and ultimately impress the British, as renowned naval military historian George C. Daughan wonderfully illustrates in his new work, 1812: The Navy’s War…. Daughan’s love of the sea and naval history is infectious…. Those who are familiar with C.S. Forester’s Hornblower tales or Patrick O’ Brian’s stories of Captain Jack Aubrey will enjoy this narrative of the American side of the Napoleonic wars and thrill to the progress of an underdog along the route to world power.”
Roanoke Times
“[1812] should become a standard text for the serious history student…. This book will do well to remind us, in times of danger and uncertainty, of how welcome a bulwark is a powerful navy.”

The Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Daughan shows how the war at sea fitted into the American war effort and how the Navy – and the country – came out of the war better for the experience…. Mr. Daughan suggests that the War of 1812 was indeed a second war of independence, completing what had been started in 1775, strengthening the nation’s democratic principles, and establishing a new and positive relationship in which Britain recognized America’s place in the world.”

San Antonio Express-News
“A masterful, spellbinding account of maritime battles that pitted a fledgling republic’s 20-ship Navy against an experienced British fleet of more than 1,000 men-of-war…. [Daughan] expertly walks his readers through the build-up for war and its ensuing battles, keeping the action flowing with vivid descriptions of events that capture the imagination…. 1812: The Navy’s War is a mesmerizing tale.”
Gordon S. Wood, New York Review of Books
“Daughan does a good job recounting the battles on land, but he comes into his own in describing the battles that took place on water. His accounts of the single-ship duels in which the Americans prevailed – the Constitution versus the Guerriere, the Wasp versus the Frolic, the United States versus the Macedonian, and so on – are especially exciting.”

American Heritage
“[Daughan] deftly situates the naval story within the broader contours of the war, exploring diplomacy, the dustup over impressment, the Napoleonic wars, and the ill-fated Canadian campaigns. Much of the book’s originality lies in its conclusion. Historians have long recognized the overmatched Navy’s exploits against the British colossus – a David-versus-Goliath contest – but they have tended to denigrate its strategic importance. Daughan argues that the naval captains’ bravery helped bring about a decisive change in European attitudes toward the United States.”

“This gripping history details how a 20-ship American Navy upset the goals of Imperial Britain, which commanded the seas with a fleet of more than a thousand men-of-war.”

About the Author

George C. Daughan holds a Ph.D. in American history and government from Harvard University and won the 2008 Samuel Eliot Morison Award for his previous book, If By Sea. He resides in Portland, Maine.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465020461
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465020461
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"1812: The Navy's War" is a well written account of America's war with Britain from 1812 till 1815. The author has attempted to show the role of the fledgling US navy and how it was a determining factor on the conduct of the war and the subsequent peace signed at Ghent in 1814.

The author has provided the reader with great accounts of naval combat; ship-to-ship broadsides, boarding parties and frigates manoeuvring through shot and shell and stormy waters to gain the tactical advantage. Mr Daughan has not neglected the many combats on land along the Canadian-US border nor the many naval combats along the lakes and waterways in that area. He also covers the happenings in Napoleonic Europe as the Emperor of France marches into Russia and the subsequent campaigns to push his forces back into the borders of France.

The political manoeuvres in American, Europe and Britain and not neglected either, nor the fighting in other parts of America concluding with the disastrous battle of New Orleans. The book has fifteen maps covering every area of the conflict including Europe and a number of black & white diagrams and drawings. It would have been nice to have a few of the wonderful colour prints depicting the many naval combats mentioned included in the book but I dare say the expense negated that possibility.

The one thing that for me detracted from this enjoyable account was the author's numerous comments enforcing his view that the British were `bad' while Americans were `good'. This could have been left out or presented in a way so the reader could draw their own conclusions from the historical facts. However, having said that this is still a book that anyone interested in this period will enjoy and I recommend it for all that enjoy a good history book.
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Format: Hardcover
Often, books don't live up to the hype in the "blurbs" written in the editorial reviews. In this case, though, they are on the money. This book is exciting to read. That "can't put it down" quality isn't something I find in this genre often, but 1812 kept me up until the wee hours last night. It's a new perspective, meticulously researched and beautifully drawn. Highly recommended whether you are an 1812 fan, a fan of naval history, or even someone who typically shies away from military history -- I'd have to agree with one of the editorial reviews that says every American should read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
The War of 1812 was forced upon the East by the people living west of the Appalachian Mountains. At the time Westerners were over a million people, roughly 20 - 25% of the total US population. Even a cursory read of history reveals that the Western territory was up for grabs with Britain intriguing to lock the United States east of the Appalachians. At that point in time, a United States we were not. However, after this war, we most definitely were.

George Daughan has written a breathtaking description of the naval War of 1812. It is often stated that a handful of ships and stalwart crews overcame spectacular odds. It is true. They did. But a closer look reveals that England had set itself up for the embarrassment they suffered during these actions. Materially fewer in number, almost laughingly so, U.S. ships were vastly better in terms of armament, construction and speed, their crews were much better trained and their captains, for the most part, decidedly more audacious. While US forces generally performed poorly on land, Washington was burned, etc., it was at sea that our armed forces fortunes were brightest.

You will greatly enjoy this fine work. Fast paced, even riveting, Daughan details a conflict so one sided on a ship to ship basis, English histories ignore these conflicts and this war to this day. This was the war that truly united the United States.

Outnumbered, outgunned and outmanned, the naval conflict was consistently America's finest effort.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
George Daughan's recent book, 1812: The Navy's War, covers more than the naval aspects of the war. It presents a thorough description of the land war and diplomacy associated with the war. I read this book to develop a better understanding of the War of 1812, its significance, and its necessity. Frankly, my prior opinion was that the war was a colossal mistake in that it was declared by the US after Britain had acceded to many of our demands, but before that news had reached Washington by boat from London. Have I changed my mind? Read on.

The Setting and Basis for Anglo-American Conflict

In 1812, Britain had been at war with France for most of the last twenty years. The US was not a formal participant prior to 1812, but had been at odds with both Britain and France throughout much of that period, especially during the Quasi Naval War with France in the late 1790s. The basis of these conflicts centered on the claimed right of the US as a neutral power to freely trade non-military goods with both Britain and France. Both European powers sought to restrict US trade with the other by declaring blockades and seizing US ships. In addition, the British regularly stopped US ships to search for and seize suspected deserters from the British Navy. The best these sailors could expect was impressment into the British Navy along with punishment for desertion.

The US had long insisted that Britain cease its interference with US trade and the impressment of sailors seized from US ships. By 1812, patience had worn thin; President Madison requested and congress declared war on Britain. Meanwhile, and yet unknown in Washington, the British government had agreed to respect the neutrality US ships but insisted on its right to search for, seize, and impress deserters.
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