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Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence Paperback – November 13, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Langguth follows his popular Patriots with a fast-paced account of the War of 1812. Ostensibly a fight over the impressment of American sailors by the British, this little-understood three-year conflict was really about who controlled the middle of North America. As the subtitle suggests, Langguth argues that only with America's second victory over England did the new nation fully confirm its sovereignty over the vast western territories. Langguth thankfully takes his time setting up the war, spending 150 pages walking readers through the first decade of the 1800s, when Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase and attempted an ill-fated embargo against Britain. Though not a traditional military history, this book has a few rip-roaring battle scenes, such as Andrew Jackson's famous routing of the British at New Orleans. Langguth presents the War of 1812 as a pivot, the end of the era of early America. The war's end unleashed the next stage of aggressive expansionism. Langguth's prose is vivid, and he brings to life a panoply of personalities, from Dolley Madison to Tecumseh. He hasn't broken new ground, but he has provided a panoramic view of a decisive event in American military and political history. B&w illus., 5 maps. 100,000 first printing.(Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Interest in the War of 1812 has revived, and Langguth contributes his narrative to a body of recent popular books by Robert Remini (The Battle of New Orleans, 1999), Walter Borneman (1812, 2004), and Ian Toll (Six Frigates, 2006). The salient features of Langguth's recounting are, first, a summary history of America's frictions with Britain during the presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, and, second, an emphasis on military leaders of the war itself. Titling most chapters after a president or a military officer, Langguth details the two decades preceding the War of 1812, in which the permanence of the Union was open to question, wars with Indians periodically erupted on the frontier, and the British navy harassed American trade. These issues conflated into the war, whose battles around the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and the Gulf Coast Langguth generally presents from the viewpoint of the commanders on the scene. Langguth gives a good accounting of the personalities in charge of the overall conflict. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (November 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416532781
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416532781
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,086,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. J. Langguth on January 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
First two explanations: Amazon won't print this response without a rating of stars. I'm the last person to offer a judgment, but since the computer is implacable, I settled on a four. Then, too, I had originally sent this note to follow Mr. Heater's, but again the Amazon computer had its own ideas. Perhaps interested persons should first read his thoughtful remarks before my answer to them.

Authors should not respond to criticism that concerns matters of taste, but matters of fact deserve a reply:

First, my thanks to Mr. Heater for pointing out a mistake on page 106 of "Union 1812." Of course, Meriwether Lewis was Jefferson's secretary, not William Clark. It was one of those inexplicable slip-ups that sometime happen, especially when the paragraph is peripheral to a 482-page book. But any error is deplorable, and that one will be corrected in future editions.

Mr. Heater is on shakier ground with his complaint about my referring to Francis Scott Key as "Frank." Then, as now, it was a common nickname. For example, John Randolph, as their friendship progressed, started a letter on May 10, 1813, "Dear Frank, for so without ceremony permit me to call you."

It may console Mr. Heater that my choice could have been even more distressing to him. Victor Weybright, in his biography of Key, "Spangled Banner," reports that Revolutionary War comrades of Key's father, John Ross Key, had stopped at the Key family home after the war ended to see John's new baby. When the infant grew up to be a lawyer, he sometimes represented those veterans and always refused to take a fee.

As for the veterans, Weybright tells us, "They called him Frankie Key as long as he lived."
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Format: Hardcover
This book has many of the same quirks as Lagguth's previous book Patriots (it does tend to be gossipy and jump around) but don't let that stop you from reading about one of the most fascinating period's in American history. Traditional sources tend to write as if the Revolutionary War was finished and the country bounced along until the Civil War. A.J. Langguth proves that the first years of American Independence were trying and difficult and while the results were amazingly successful there was a great deal of anguish we were proceeding down the wrong path. This book is fascinating and engrossing and well worth your time if you're a student of the path's less travelled in American History.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished A. J. Langguth's Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence. This is the sequel to Langguth's excellent 1991 Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution, and is written in the same style. Instead of being a solid historical narrative, it instead focuses on individuals and their contributions to the subject. In this instance, it addresses the American politicians and soldiers who brought about and fought the War of 1812. While this is an interesting and novel approach, it means that there are large gaps in the coverage of the conflict. As just one example, there is no coverage of some of the important land battles such as Lundy's Lane. Langguth focuses on the great Indian leader Tecumseh, who played a critical role in the War of 1812, and was killed in battle while fighting alongside the British. Tecumseh was a born and charismatic leader who earned the respect of friend and foe, including his arch enemy, William Henry Harrison. While I've read a few books on the War of 1812 over the years, I've never seen one that addresses it from the perspective of the political and military leaders of the United States. The focus on Tecumseh, who was definitely an American legend, is particularly interesting because it focuses on the role that the Indians played, and the fact that they entered into a marriage of convenience with the British in the hope of regaining the lands that they lost to the white settlers.

Langguth is a journalist by training, and he's a terrific writer. The book is very well written, with an easy, flowing style. At the same time, I did find the fact that the book jumps aroudn quite a bit to be a bit frustrating and disconcerting, as it emphasizes the gaps in the coverage of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
I was looking forward to this book since I was not conversant with the War of 1812. Unfortunately, close to half of the book is not about the War. The first 160 pages are thumbnail rehashes of American history from Washington's retirement after the Revolution through the Constitutional Convention, through the administrations of Washington, Adams and Jefferson and the early life of Tecumseh. Suddenly, we're following an invasion into Canada led by an American named Hull and learn four pages into that description that Madison had signed a delaration of war against England and there was a plan, in fact, to invade Canada. Where either of those points came from was not described in detail as other facets of the war would be.

The relevant points of the first 160 pages could have been summed up in 10 pages - our first three presidents, given the opportunity, avoided foreign wars. Instead, it read like a survey book that was going to cover 100 years in 400 pages. For those who are mildly conversant with American history, these pages were needless. The 38 page Afterword was interminable and went into the next few presidential elections - long after the War of 1812.

On the other hand, the accounts of the battles, on land and on sea, are terrific. After Mr. Lagguth got into the war, the book improved tremendously, although I thought it a bit thin on the dissent of the New England states. If these two hundred pages had comprised the entire book, it would have been absolutely wonderful and a five star beauty. in addition to the battle scenes, he describes the participants and their motivations well.

Mr. Lagguth is obviously a good writer and it really shows through in his battle accounts. He obviously knows his stuff.
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