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When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington Hardcover – 12 Sep 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (12 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848546114
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848546110
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.9 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 231,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in Dublin as the son of a British army officer, Peter Snow is a highly respected journalist, author and broadcaster. He was ITN's Diplomatic and Defence Correspondent from 1966 to 1979, and presented Newsnight from 1980 to 1997. An indispensable part of election nights, he has also covered military matters on and off the world's battlefields for 40 years and at the Royal Television Society Awards in 1998 Peter won the Judges' Award for services to broadcasting. In 2004, Peter and his son Dan presented the BAFTA-winning Battlefield Britain for BBC2 and worked on the follow-up series, Twentieth Century Battlefields. Together they wrote two books to accompany the series. Peter is married and has six children.

Product Description

Review

[An] excellent account . . . Snow, an experienced British journalist, has told the story of those engagements with brio and a fine gift for making sense of the complexities of battle . . . a fine example of serious and literate popular history (Washington Post)

Snow's narrative is authoritative and absorbing, his profiles sure and compelling, his judgments considered and fair, and his documentation most impressive (Library Journal)

Never before has this story been told more fully or more engagingly, with greater empathy for both sides, or with greater balance. The pace is brisk, the characterizations sure, the judgments done with a light touch. The book distinguishes itself by rounding off the story of Washington with the subsequent Baltimore attack-both part of the larger British Chesapeake campaign. For the story of that campaign, this is now the narrative to read (Publishers Weekly)

With ample quotes from English letters and diaries, Snow ably brings out the humanity of his subjects (Kirkus Reviews)

Peter Snow's account of this extraordinary event in British-American relations reads like a military thriller, each chapter raising the tension with a mass of detail and a kaleidoscope of characters who transform this book from what could have been a dry, chronological account into a riveting romp . . . Snow adds an extra ingredient - a boyish enthusiasm for his subject . . . a meticulous and fascinating account (The Times)

A stirring tale (Max Hastings, The Spectator)

The result is superb. When Britain Burned the White House is an exemplary work of history - lucid, witty and humane, with terrific pace, and so even-handed that it will surely be received as well in America as here (The Spectator)

Snow builds his account on the voices of those who fought and witnessed the campaign, from nervous US militiamen to Ross, Cockburn and Dolley Madison, the president's resourceful wife. Written with verve and insight, this is a fitting reminder of a remarkable interlude in a war that deserves to be better known (BBC History Magazine)

Book Description

The 1814 invasion of Washington.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Keith Smith on 8 Oct. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Peter Snow has with excellent original detailed research, thrown new light on an episode unique in United States History. Little known in the UK, overshadowed in the US by the Battle of New Orleans and often misunderstood in Canada as their own victory, Peter Snow has produced a fine even handed account of who was there and what happened.
Having studied the war (of 1812) and this remarkable campaign in particular for many years I can say without hesitation it is a standout must read reference book.
I like in particular the new revelations on the influence and involvement of two talented officers Harry Smith and even more importantly the young George De Lacy Evans. references and notes are well researched and recorded.
Thank you Peter Snow for a long overdue totally original piece of work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David Herdson on 18 Jan. 2015
Format: Hardcover
That the capital of the United States was occupied by an invading army, which then proceeded to torch the White House, the Capitol and various other government buildings, is not a fact widely known and certainly not widely celebrated. For the Americans, it is understandably a moment best glossed over; for the country which carried out the raid – Britain – it’s an event that fits neither the narrative of its own moment (when the focus was on concluding the war with Napoleon), nor that of today’s close Anglo-American relationship.

In fact, the whole War of 1812 (misnamed – it didn’t finish until 1815) tends to be rather unjustly overlooked by history, not least because the only lasting outcome it produced was to confirm the status quo in North America – though the significance that shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly for Canada. It did, however, produce several genuinely iconic moments, at least two of which are covered in Peter Snow’s book.

Snow’s story is that of the British campaign in Washington DC and Maryland in 1814. He strips out the wider strategic angles other than to place the campaign in the context of the hit-and-run strategy the British had to engage in, in a war they were not keen to be fighting against an enemy they had neither the desire nor the means to (re-)conquer.

It is a story he tells well. It’s thoroughly researched and he’s particularly strong in bringing the characters involved and their lives vividly to life; not just the soldiers and sailors doing the fighting but also the civilians unfortunate enough to be in the line of the advance.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Cangoose on 13 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I listened to this on BBC R4 and knew I'd have to read it. Peter Snow has caught the wonderful mood and nature of Britain at war, civilised even in the burning of Washington. Its a wonderful read because Peter Snow captures the British indignation of the slightly cowardly declaration of war by the Americans in 1812. The Yankees took shameless, opportunistic advantage of the fact Britain was locked in titanic conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte. The U.S. took umbrage at the pressing of their seamen, and the effect of the blockade and saw a chance to get a few good licks in on Canada while the Lion was occupied.
Its wonderful reflection that with Emperor Napoleon supposedly safely in Elba, that the British had the will to send the modest force necessary to humble the snapping Yankee terrier. As a Canadian, our history was shaped by the various American invading armies of the period, and there is no doubt that this salutary lesson got the attention of our neighbours to the south.
I love the British characters, all larger than life and involved in an amazingly daring 'cutting out' expedition of extraordinary success. Peter Snow has added personalities and foibles and he brings it all to life. His account is a harsh look at the new young nation, quailing in the face of a well trained army and powerful fleet; but he is more than fair and quick to highlight the Yankees' modest successes.
It was a jolly good read.

When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington
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I knew that we had burned the White House but that's about it, I did not know when and assumed it was during the War of Independence. However after buying a copy of a book titled 'The Challenge' by Andrew Lambert ( A really good read in itself ) the whole 1812 war with America grabbed my attention when previously it had not. many an American as they do had informed me that they had kicked our butts in that one too ( I would remind them they didn't even do that in the first one, when the European powers joined their side it became a world war for Blighty and unwinnable, until then most battles were won by Blighty and she was doing pretty well ) Looking at unbiased accounts from the 1812 war on can say that if anyone did win it, it was Blighty, it captured the capital, the Americans fled, they even left dinner on the table, it was burned along with the dockyard, treasury and other buildings of note, the US navy was blockaded and the economy bankrupted. With Canada defended. This war was launched by a president hoping to take advantage of Blighty being distracted fighting Napoleon in Europe. A really interesting read. I am developing quite an interest in US history, albeit a short history non the less the development of the states fascinates me and I have visited seven times.
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