The best books on the War of 1812: Canadian sacrifice in the cause of freedom

Jonathon Riley Author Of A Matter of Honour: The Life, Campaigns and Generalship of Isaac Brock
By Jonathon Riley

Who am I?

I served for 40 years in the British Army, including many tours of active duty. I commanded operations in every rank, from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant General. I had the privilege of commanding not only British troops, but also troops from the USA, Canada, Australia, and more. I was Director-General and Master of the Royal Armouries and since 2013 I have been Visiting Professor in War Studies at King’s College London. I hold three degrees including a PhD. I've published more than 20 books and numerous articles. I continue to learn new things from history every day, as well as passing on our history to others, and that’s what books are all about.

I wrote...

A Matter of Honour: The Life, Campaigns and Generalship of Isaac Brock

By Jonathon Riley,

Book cover of A Matter of Honour: The Life, Campaigns and Generalship of Isaac Brock

What is my book about?

Isaac Brock, still a hero in Canada if little known in his native country, was the British General responsible for defending the long frontier of what was, in 1812, Upper Canada, with meager forces in the early days of the War of 1812. His daring and his mobilization of the reluctant militia, as well as his partnership with the great native war-chief Tecumseh, led to American humiliation at the captures of Fort Mackinac and, more importantly, Fort Detroit. These victories made Canadians realize that a war against the USA could and would be won – which it eventually was. Brock never lived to see this, for he was killed leading his troops into action at Queenston heights, defeating an American invasion of the Niagara, on 13 October 1812.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of In the Midst of Alarms: The Untold Story of Women and the War of 1812

Why did I love this book?

Readers are Dianne and her husband Don have been personal friends for many years. Like many people, I was deeply saddened by her untimely death last year. Dianne had a wonderfully fluent written style, so easy to read, and could capture a moment like few others. Her book gives insights into wartime life and the role of women in the early 19th Century in Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto (the York), as well as in Washington DC and Philadelphia. While the men did the fighting, the women backed them up – on the frontier, quite literally. A fascinating book written with passion and insight.

By Dianne Graves,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In the Midst of Alarms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The War of 1812 between the United States and Britain has been covered in detail by many historians, but its impact on the lives of women has been largely overlooked. After years of research, Dianne Graves has produced a marvelous study of how the war affected women at all levels of society, from high society in Washington and Quebec to the women who followed their husbands to the front lines. She brings to life the untold stories of wives, daughters, heroines and harridans, as revealed in memoirs, diaries and letters of the time. The book is well illustrated with portraits,…

Book cover of And All Their Glory Past: Fort Erie, Plattsburgh, and the Final Battles in the North, 1814

Why did I love this book?

This is the final book in Don Graves’s trilogy on the War of 1812, following Where Right and Glory Lead, and Field of Glory. Don is an eminent historian on the war and his research is impeccable. Just as important, he writes an engaging narrative with surprisingly vivid insights into the minds of men in battle. It is no surprise that his books have remained in print for many years. I have had the pleasure of Don’s friendship for almost 20 years and have tramped many of the battlefields with him – always enlightening, always enjoyable.

By Donald E. Graves,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And All Their Glory Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

And All Their Glory Past

Book cover of Defender of Canada, Volume 40: Sir George Prevost and the War of 1812

Why did I love this book?

John Grodzinski was a career army officer in the Canadian military and a professor of history at the RMC. He is also a personal friend of many years. His subject, Sir George Prevost, is one of the neglected heroes of the War of 1812. He was neglected at the time, as the attention of the Government in London was far more engaged by Napoleon than President Madison; neglected thereafter in favour of more glamorous subjects. But it was Prevost’s defensive plans and actions that preserved Canada from the American invasions of 181. Much went wrong as well as right thereafter, and Prevost took the blame. John Grod’s book provides a thoroughly balanced look at what actually happened and why. Having myself been in command of a theatre of military operations far from home, I understand the stresses and strains, and the loneliness of command that Prevost knew all too well.

By John R. Grodzinski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Defender of Canada, Volume 40 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When war broke out between Great Britain and the United States in 1812, Sir George Prevost, captain general and governor in chief of British North America, was responsible for defending a group of North American colonies that stretched as far as the distance from Paris to Moscow. He also commanded one of the largest British overseas forces during the Napoleonic Wars. Defender of Canada, the first book-length examination of Prevost's career, offers a reinterpretation of the general's military leadership in the War of 1812. Historian John R. Grodzinski shows that Prevost deserves far greater credit for the successful defense of…

Book cover of The Good Soldier: The Story of Isaac Brock

Why did I love this book?

When I was 11 years old, my parents put this book in my Christmas stocking. They knew nothing of Isaac Brock and were probably attracted by the cover, showing Brock in his cocked hat, mounted on a grey horse, waving his sword, and encouraging British troops in red coats forward into action. Historically it was full of errors, but I loved that cover and I loved the book. Because of it, I became one of the few British Army officers who knew about Brock and in 2012, it led me to do what I had long wanted to do – write an authoritative biography of the General. I shall always be grateful to Don Goodspeed!

By D.J. Goodspeed,

Why should I read it?

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

Book cover of Don't Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812

Why did I love this book?

Don Hickey’s book separates fact from fiction – surely a laudable goal for any historian. But all too often, folklore and fairytale become established as truth and there can be no shaking it. Hickey has written five books and more than 50 articles on the War of 1812 and there are few more authoritative writers than him. I chose this one because it looks at so many aspects of the war: military and naval history, politics, diplomacy, economics, and trade. He includes the British, the Americans, the Canadians, the native and black people: men and women, soldiers and sailors, civilians, pirates, and spies. There is something in it for everyone and I for one could not put it down.

By Donald R. Hickey,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Don't Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No longer willing to accept naval blockades, the impressment of American seamen, and seizures of American ships and cargos, the United States declared war on Great Britain. The aim was to frighten Britain into concessions and, if that failed, to bring the war to a swift conclusion with a quick strike at Canada. But the British refused to cave in to American demands, the Canadian campaign ended in disaster, and the U.S. government had to flee Washington, D.C., when it was invaded and burned by a British army.

By all objective measures, the War of 1812 was a debacle for…

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