When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington (Paperback)
  • When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington (Paperback)
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When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington (Paperback)

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Paperback 320 Pages
Published: 05/06/2014
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As heard on BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.

Shortlisted for the Paddy Power Political History Book of the Year Award 2014.

In August 1814 the United States' army is defeated in battle by an invading force just outside Washington DC. The US president and his wife have just enough time to pack their belongings and escape from the White House before the enemy enters. The invaders tuck into the dinner they find still sitting on the dining-room table and then set fire to the place.

9/11 was not the first time the heartland of the United States was struck a devastating blow by outsiders. Two centuries earlier, Britain - now America's close friend, then its bitterest enemy - set Washington ablaze before turning its sights to Baltimore.

In his compelling narrative style, Peter Snow recounts the fast-changing fortunes of both sides of this extraordinary confrontation, the outcome of which inspired the writing of the 'Star-Spangled Banner', America's national anthem. Using a wealth of material including eyewitness accounts, he also describes the colourful personalities on both sides of these spectacular events: Britain's fiery Admiral Cockburn, the cautious but immensely popular army commander Robert Ross, and sharp-eyed diarists James Scott and George Gleig. On the American side: beleaguered President James Madison, whose young nation is fighting the world's foremost military power, his wife Dolley, a model of courage and determination, military heroes such as Joshua Barney and Sam Smith, and flawed incompetents like Army Chief William Winder and War Secretary John Armstrong.

When Britain Burned the White House highlights this unparalleled moment in American history, its far-reaching consequences for both sides and Britain's and America's decision never again to fight each other.

Publisher: John Murray Press
ISBN: 9781848546134
Number of pages: 320
Weight: 266 g
Dimensions: 198 x 128 x 24 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

[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

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“THE SCORE DRAW WAR.”

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... More

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