Best book on the War of 1812?

I’m more or less a history buff, and and I’m trying to read and understand as much as I can before I die (whenever that is).

Just yesterday, I purchased a copy of Battle Cry of Freedom (I’ve borrowed it from the library, but now I have my own copy), and I want to learn more.

My question for this thread is, what is/are the best book(s) on the War of 1812 for a layman (not a scholar)? I’ve just found this:, and I’m going to look more deeply, but I’d like some recommendations.

In exchange, I’ll offer one of my favorite history books: Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana.

(Next, I’m interested in histories about the Punic Wars and Peloponnesian War, as well as economic panics and depressions in the United States (19th century specifically), but one thing at a time.)


Battle Cry of Freedom is about the Civil War (and is very good), not the War of 1812.

Six Frigates by Ian W. Toll is the best book I’ve found on the naval side of things in the War of 1812 (and of course there’s Theodore Roosevelt’s classic, The Naval War of 1812).

Not a book, but PBS just did an interesting 2 hr (I think it was 2 hrs) documentary on that war. You might check it out-- I found it to be really fascinating.

Kate Caffrey’s The Lion and the Union : the Anglo-American war, 1812-1815 1978

Aus Nat Lib . Amazon
Wise, witty and cynical of all sides. Big on military aspects.

By staring at the Aussie page and noticing an anomaly I’ve surmised that was the British title; the Yank version, 1977, seems to be:

The Twilight’s Last Gleaming : Britain vs. America 1812-1815
I may be wrong, but that’s doubtful.

I’d recommend 1812: The War That Forged a Nation by Walter Borneman. A good general history of the war.

I’ll refrain from being snarky, and instead be serious. I knew that; I was establishing my interest in history.

Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll check them out.

If you’re interested in getting the Canadian perspective, there’s the excellent two volume popular history by Pierre Berton: “The Invasion of Canada 1812-1813” and “Flames Across the Border 1813-1814.”

One of the ironies of the war is that the attempt by the US to capture the Canadas probably ensured the development of a separate Canadian nation.

After the Revolution, a lot of Loyalists came north and essentially founded Upper Canada. However, one of Berton’s themes is that by 1812, the feeling of hostility toward the US was starting to wane. He thought it was possible for Upper Canada to have been steadily pulled into the US orbit, given the similar political and ethnic traditions.

But then the US invaded to conquer the Canadas, and ensured that there would be a renewed hostility towards the US and the re-inforcement of the Canadian identity as separate from the US.

I read your comment the same way as **Elendil’s Heir **: I thought you were suggesting “Battle Cry of Freedom” was about the War of 1812 and thought you’d made a mistake when you bought it, given your OP.

I read a book on a specialized part of the war, then realized I didn’t know the full story. So I read Donald R Hickey’s The War of 1812; A Forgotten Conflict. I think it was the Bicentennial edition. Hickey is a recognized scholar on the war & I enjoyed the book.

So far, we’ve had recommendations for books from the U.K. Perspective, the US perspective and the Canadian perspective. The one that is missing is from the perspective of First Nations, who were active participants in the War. However, i don’t think anyone’s written that one yet.

Miss Caffrey ( although presumably American, I’ve found not much info on her — she also wrote a book on the Fall of Singapore and a history of the ship Mayflower ) did include Tecumseh and the Prophet.

Genl. Harrison was not a nice man.

Oh aye, Tecumseh and the Prophet all get mentioned (and Joseph Brandt during the Revolutionary War), but always from the perspective of the European/North American protagonists. I’d like the book that approaches the War of 1812 from their perspective, their goals, with Harrison and Isaac Brock as the outsiders.

The book I mentioned did give several sides to the War of 1812. For the UK, it was a sideshow to their struggle against Napoleon. For the US it was a colossal blunder; we’re lucky the final treaty restored things to status quo ante bellum. For Canada, it helped shape that country; repeated bloody but unsuccessful invasions of Canada led to the campaign on the Chesapeake–and the burning of most public buildings in DC.

The Americans who started the war claimed that British maritime depredations were the main reason–but defeating the First Nations/Indians was an unspoken motive. (And the Federalists who opposed the war inquired–if “maritime depredations” are so bad, why are we invading Canada? Repeatedly?)

This one looks good:* The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies* by Alan Taylor.

Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Naval War of 1812” is excellent. (In an appendix, he sums up the land campaigns.) Very readable, and fun. The parts where he attacks the official British history of the war is particularly good. (If he’s correct, it’s superb scholarship. If he’s wrong, it’s just Yank jingoism. From Teddy, it’s not always easy to tell!)

Also, free on Project Gutenberg. How ya gonna beat that?

“Two Years Before the Mast” is excellent!