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The War of 1812 and the Rise of the U.S. Navy

By Mark Collins Jenkins and David A. Taylor

Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2012

12-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, ix + 270 pages

Illustrations, bibliography, index. $30.00

ISBN: 9781426209338 

            Mark Jenkins and David Taylor wrote The War of 1812 and the Rise of the U.S. Navy in commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The authors provide a well-written narrative of the War of 1812, including ample first-hand accounts of events and effectively highlight the rise of the United Staes Navy as it pertained to the war. It is a great introductory work for anyone who wants to learn more about the War of 1812 or the early history of America’s Navy, but it offers little to enthusiasts and does little to help advance scholarship on the subject.

            The book’s five chapters cover a different front of the war during a different year. It starts by exploring the early origins of the war and the creation of United States Navy, and from there covers every year and major campaign of the war from Canada, to the Great Lakes, the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, Washington D.C., and New Orleans. The authors’ narrative of the war is easy to follow and enjoyable. Although the work is focused on the United States Navy, the authors do well to incorporate the major events of the war that are necessary to the narrative of the war, but have little to do (directly) with the navy. The reader benefits from their effort to explain the extensive naval terminology, making it possible for any reader to easily follow their narrative.

            The authors use primary sources very well and incorporate them into almost every facet of the book. Particularly useful are the first-hand accounts of the naval engagements from participants on both sides. One feature of the book that cannot go unnoticed is the work’s use of illustrations, maps, and images of artifacts. Their placement throughout the book is superb, with at least one on every page. It is clear the authors put a lot of effort into selecting the right image, illustration, picture, and map associated with each page and each one fits perfectly with the event that is covered. Also helpful were the descriptions beside each illustration, map, or image to help explain its significance to the topic when it was necessary for some of the more obscure topics.            

            Although the work was well written and enjoyable, the authors make no argument in the work and it is only a narrative of the major events of the war, along with an account of the significant role the navy played in the war. This book is good for anyone who is looking for an introduction on the War of 1812 and does particularly well at highlighting the early history of America’s Navy. For those who already possess a background in the War of 1812 it is an enjoyable read, but it offers little new evidence or any new arguments to help advance scholarship in the field. 

Patrick J. Klinger

East Carolina University