What’s your favorite book about 1812?

There’s a new initiative called World Book Night that allows readers to give away 480,000 books.  To join you need to be willing to distribute 24 copies.

I was thinking it would be nice if we could vote for some books that teach history.  It would be a shame if some substandard “chewing gum for the brain” book won.

It would be much worse, however, if the winner were one of those dull “classics” that everyone displays but no one reads.

No, I think it should be something interesting, something people don’t already have on their bookshelf.  Maybe some forgotten episode in history.  The book should be well written, and something that makes people want to learn more.  (Neither jingoistic hero worship nor resentful rants are that interesting.)

I was thinking that Americanos: Latin America’s Struggle for Independence by John Charles Chasteen is a quick read.  We read the personal stories of revolutionaries, travellers, and even mercenaries guarding a postal train.  It has the added advantage of leaving a lot of unanswered questions, and has a great bibliography.

Other books I was considering nominating include CS Forester’s The Barbary Pirates which appears to be out of print.

Although Forester’s book is highly romanticized, it’s a fast and entertaining introduction to the “Tripolitan War” that trained America’s sea captains for the war of 1812. Besides, it’s just as accurate as many of the academic treaties on the same period (which I know doesn’t say much.)

For World War II enthusiasts, I’d consider The History of the British Army Film & Photographic Unit in the Second World War by Dr. Fred McGlade.  It covers the story behind some of Britain’s rising filmmakers, as well as the point of view of people on the front. Why do some people think that America won World War II on her own? This book answers the question in more ways than I expected, including interesting eye witness reports of the taking of Rome, the disappearance of photographs, and the campaign to get Americans to join the war.

In addition, Dr. Glade’s book let’s us know why it was so important to document the war without sounding preachy.  He knows how to find the right quotes to bring life to back to the events.

Despite the fact that Dr Glade knows his stuff, he doesn’t write like a stiff academic.  His is definitely a book worth reading.

Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation 1940-44 by Charles Glass is also fascinating. As the title suggests, it explains the way expatriots were treated during the occupation, but it goes beyond that.

Some books I would not suggest include Battle Cry For Freedom (an overrated and factually inaccurate compilation of soundbytes), Horrible Histories (though kids find it entertaining, it turns them off from finding out more), and anything written by Osprey in the past ten years or so (nice pictures, terrible history.)

More about World Book Night.

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