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The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812 Hardcover – 5 Apr 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057127319X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571273195
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 4.5 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 149,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'[A] highly opinionated and superbly evocative account of the Anglo-American naval conflict ... Thrilling, even hypnotic.' --Sunday Times

'An accomplished work, full of high drama, trenchant argument and solid scholarship.' --Piers Brendon, Independent

'Superbly evocative account.' --Catholic Herald

'An excellent read ... I must recommend the work most highly to the widest possible range of readers.' --Navy News

Book Description

From the author of Nelson and Admirals comes an exciting naval history of Britain's other conflict in 1812 - with the American navy.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Revisionist history at its best, debunking the confusion of myth with fact that has persisted in the case of the war of 1812.
For two centuries American academics and writers have consistently outgunned their UK counterparts. In part this is not surprising: for Britain the conflict was a sideshow to the more crucial Napoleonic wars, in the newly independent USA it helped develop further the sense of national identity.
Rightly so in the case of the latter, yet anyone familiar with the tortured efforts by successive American commentators to gild the lily can acknowledge the need to redress the balance.
Teddy Roosevelt was a prime exponent of the tendency, with his convoluted mathematical attempts to downplay American firepower; Dupuy and Dupuy likewise offer a partial account of the President-Endymion encounter. Tellingly, the great US naval historian Mahan offered a more even-handed analysis of the war.
The truth was that the fledgling US navy had plenty of which to be proud. If the object of a battle was to win speedily, with maximum advantage and with the fewest casualties, there is plenty to commend the three victorious Amrican frigate actions.
Likewise, no amount of argument can detract from the fact that Shannon and Chesapeake were evenly matched and the better captain won on the day.
Lambert's book possibly won't find favour with everyone across the water. He might in fairness be faulted for too glibly dismissing American anger over the Royal Navy's high handed attitude to impressment (essential as the tactic may have been). Yet this is an outstanding contribution to the genre and to the pursuit of historical truth and well-written too.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At last, we are presented with a seminal piece of work by a British academic on the Anglo-American naval conflict of 1812. This book blows away the often 'farcical' mythologies and misconstructions depicted by some American historians, who, so wrapped up in 'Old Glory' relegate their work to little more than pulp fiction rather than an accurate and mature account of true events. As a serious academic, Lambert, does not fall into this criteria, he remains impartial and pays respect to both sides and applauds the superb seamanship often displayed by the Americans. Nevertheless, he has put the record straight regarding the reverses suffered by the valliant but often out gunned Royal Navy; culminating in one of the greatest duels in naval history; that being, HMS Shannon under the command of the maverick, Captain Phillip Broke and the USS Chesapeake, one of the big 'original six' Yankee super frigates. Captain Broke had honed his crew to such perfection that they captured the much bigger and more powerful Chesapeake in less than fifteen minutes, a herculean breath taking achievement. Lambert presents the conflict in a global, eco-political context with Britain locked in a 'zero sum' war with Napoleonic France. The book is superbly written and flawlessly researched and a must for any naval historian or enthusiast.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had never really taken much notice of the 1812 war against America, I was vaguely aware of American support for France. I had in my youth made a plastic model of "HMS Shannon" and listened to Lonnie Donegan's version of "The Battle of New Orleans" and in my ignorance thought the burning of the White House was part of the American War of Independance. I now realise I was typically British in not being aware of or interested in America's first military defeat. It is oft said that "History is written by the victors", but this is not the case with the 1812 war.The Americans regard the 3 successful engagements by the USS Constitution plus a victory at the battle of New Orleans as an overall victory. Nothing can be further from the truth and to read of the success of the Royal Naval blockade which brought the US to virtual bankcrupcy not to mention the thwarting of American ambition for Canada makes fascinating reading.The account of the contest between the Shannon and Chesapeake together with the equally enthralling contest between HMS Endymion and USS President redresses the American spin. I read most of this compelling book in one sitting which is a great credit to the author.Highly recommended and essential reading for those interested in Naval Warfare in the age of sail.
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Format: Hardcover
A very good book. Prof Lambert, in my opinion, is the best naval historian there is. As the other reviewers have said this book is superb at addressing the myths and misunderstandings regarding the conflict and putting it in its proper worldwide context. I would think it is the best book on the topic for a hundred years. However, it just lacks a little of the sparkle that Lambert's previous books have. It on occasion seemed a little repetitive. I like the historic maps that were included but a couple of general maps would have helped.
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The War of 1812 is almost unknown in the UK today, where children are taught only about the Second World War, which happened between 1967 and 1893. When I try to tell Americans what actually happened in the War of 1812, as opposed to what their mythology claims, they also tend to say that no-one knows anything about that, nowadays (by which, I assume, they are trying to imply that it doesn't matter). Yet educated Americans, to this day, describe the war as the "Second War of Independence" and obsessively claim that the United States have never lost a war; the American national anthem (based on a London drinking song) dates from the 1812 war.

Both myths were exploded, very early on, by the lawyer William James, who found himself in the US when war broke out and was held there for the duration, although, it has to be said, pretty well treated and allowed access even to US Naval dockyards. Professor Lambert describes James as "polemical", apparently not as a compliment. The funny thing is that his own book is a lot like that of William James. He is ruthless in his relation of the facts and rips apart the stale American myths. It is not a history of the whole war and does not claim to be. As with William James, he explicitly concentrates on the naval war. He refers to the Canadian war, when it is appropriate, and to the incompetent New Orleans campaign, but anybody wanting to read in detail about these should go to the relevant Canadian and American literature, respectively.

What Lambert does is place the war in its context, in terms of American politics and expansionist ambitions and in terms of the continuing Napoleonic Wars.
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