The best and most recent books on the War of 1812

Troy Bickham Author Of The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812
By Troy Bickham

Who am I?

I am a Professor of History at Texas A&M University and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. I find the War of 1812 fascinating because throughout history one would struggle mightily to find a war so small with so many great consequences. Conflict between the U.S. and British Empire could have been averted (and it nearly was) in 1812 just as it had for years, and it ended with neither side recognizing a victor and an agreement to return to a pre-war state of affairs. The bicentennial of the War of 1812 brought fresh perspectives from a wide variety of historians, who as a group asserted the importance of the war to world history and global affairs to our understanding of the war.  Below are some of my favorites.


I wrote...

The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812

By Troy Bickham,

Book cover of The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812

What is my book about?

The Weight of Vengeance provides a provocative new account of America's forgotten war, underscoring its significance for multiple sides by placing it in a global context. The Napoleonic Wars profoundly disrupted the global order, from India to Haiti to New Orleans. Spain's power slipped, allowing the United States to target the Floridas; the Haitian slave revolt contributed to the Louisiana Purchase; fears that Britain would ally with Tecumseh and disrupt the American northwest led to a pre-emptive strike on his people in 1811. This shifting balance of power provided the United States with the opportunity to challenge Britain's dominance of the Atlantic world. And it was an important conflict for Britain as well.

The books I picked & why

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The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies

By Alan Taylor,

Book cover of The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies

Why this book?

The bicentennial of the War of 1812 injected new life into a largely sidelined subject in early American history, drawing a variety of contributions from a range of historians. The Civil War of 1812 is the contribution of one of the leading historians of early America. Beautifully written, as are all of Taylor’s books, this book focuses primarily on the political, social, and cultural aspects of the conflict that transpired along the United States-Canadian borderlands.  In so doing, he gives equal attention to divisions the war caused in Canadian, Native American, and U.S. communities.

The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies

By Alan Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Civil War of 1812 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the early nineteenth century, Britons and Americans renewed their struggle over the legacy of the American Revolution, leading to a second confrontation that redefined North America.  Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor’s vivid narrative tells the riveting story of the soldiers, immigrants, settlers, and Indians who fought to determine the fate of a continent. Would revolutionary republicanism sweep the British from Canada? Or would the British contain, divide, and ruin the shaky republic?
 
In a world of double identities, slippery allegiances, and porous boundaries, the leaders of the republic and of the empire struggled to control their own diverse peoples.…


Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815

By Stephen Budiansky,

Book cover of Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815

Why this book?

While the outcome of the naval war was a foregone conclusion, the United States Navy and a swarm of privateers punched well above their weight, humiliating the world’s preeminent navy early in the conflict and boosting American national morale. There are a number of excellent books on the naval history of the conflict, but, carefully researched and accessibly written, Perilous Fight is my favorite telling of this critical aspect of the War of 1812.

Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815

By Stephen Budiansky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Perilous Fight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Perilous Fight, Stephen Budiansky tells the rousing story of the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812, when an upstart American fleet fought off the legendary Royal Navy and established America as a world power for the first time.
 
Through vivid re-creations of riveting and dramatic encounters at sea, Budiansky shows how this underdog coterie of seamen and their visionary secretary of the navy combined bravery and strategic brilliance to defeat the British, who had dominated the seas for more than two centuries.  A gripping and essential hsitory, this is the military and political story of how the U.S.…


The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon

By Jeremy Black,

Book cover of The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon

Why this book?

While the Napoleonic Wars affected all aspects of life in Britain, the complete marginalization of the War of 1812 in British history is more a reflection of British historians’ interests than the experiences of people at the time. Jeremy Black, the most prolific British historian of his generation, does much to correct that oversight in his War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. 

The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon

By Jeremy Black,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The War of 1812 is etched into American memory with the burning of the Capitol and the White House by British forces, The Star-Spangled Banner, and the decisive naval battle of New Orleans. Now a respected British military historian offers an international perspective on the conflict to better gauge its significance.

In The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon, Jeremy Black provides a dramatic account of the war framed within a wider political and economic context than most American historians have previously considered. In his examination of events both diplomatic and military, Black especially focuses on the actions…


The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812

By Gene Allen Smith,

Book cover of The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812

Why this book?

Gene Allen Smith’s Slaves’ Gamble is one of my favorite books on the War of 1812 primarily for two reasons. First, he shifts the focus to the largely overshadowed South. Second, he brings enslaved Africans into the wider discussion about the conflict and its consequences.  Aside from Native Americans, no group suffered more as in consequence of the War of 1812’s outcomes: U.S. hegemony over North America and with it the assured expansion of the slave-holding republic.

The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812

By Gene Allen Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Slaves' Gamble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Images of American slavery conjure up cotton plantations and African American slaves locked in bondage until the Civil War. Yet early on in the nineteenth century the state of slavery was very different, and the political vicissitudes of the young nation offered diverse possibilities to slaves. In the century's first two decades, the nation waged war against Britain, Spain, and various Indian tribes. Slaves played a role in the military operations, and the different sides viewed them as a potential source of manpower. While surprising numbers did assist the Americans, the wars created opportunities for slaves to find freedom among…


When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington

By Peter Snow,

Book cover of When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington

Why this book?

Peter Snow is amongst the greatest historical storytellers, able to produce driving narratives that bring characters both great and small to life and make sense of complex events. This book is the most comprehensive and riveting account of one of the most memorable, yet misunderstood, events of the War of 1812.

When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington

By Peter Snow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Britain Burned the White House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As heard on BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.

Shortlisted for the Paddy Power Political History Book of the Year Award 2014.

In August 1814 the United States' army is defeated in battle by an invading force just outside Washington DC. The US president and his wife have just enough time to pack their belongings and escape from the White House before the enemy enters. The invaders tuck into the dinner they find still sitting on the dining-room table and then set fire to the place.

9/11 was not the first time the heartland of the United States was…


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Interested in the War of 1812, the White House, and the United States Navy?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the War of 1812, the White House, and the United States Navy.

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