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Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  141 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
In "Perilous Fight, " Stephen Budiansky tells the rousing story of the underdog coterie of American seamen and their visionary secretary of the navy, who combined bravery and strategic innovation to hold off the legendary Royal Navy.
Budiansky vividly demonstrates that far from an indecisive and unnecessary conflict--as historians have long dismissed the War of 1812--this
Hardcover, 422 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published December 23rd 2010)
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Igor Ljubuncic
Jan 27, 2016 Igor Ljubuncic rated it really liked it
This was an excellent book but not mega excellent like some of his other works.

On the plus side, it tells about the obscure war between the US and Great Britain - and Canada - back in 1812-1815, an era before useful modern technology that would let us document stuff in a precise way. So it's almost hearsay, based on letters and some official paperwork. Still, it's an exciting one, because I've heard a lot about this forgotten war from each one of the involved parties. The Americans think they've
Jan 03, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I enjoyed this book which read more like a Tom Clancy novel than a history book. This was a fascinating, detailed, and well-written book on the naval portion of the War of 1812. It was fascinating to learn more about this little known war. How different the world was during this period - personal honor that had to be maintained by duels, of sea captains that financed their own ships and profited from 'legalized' piracy, to name just a few of the historical differences between then and now.

This b
Christina Dudley
Feb 17, 2012 Christina Dudley rated it really liked it
I came to this book not knowing a thing about the War of 1812 beyond Dolley Madison saving crap out of the White House before it was burned and something about Andrew Jackson and that folksy song from the Battle of New Orleans.

Budiansky paints a detailed picture of the origins of the American navy, the causes of war, the strategies, the infighting, and so on. Some of the early ship-to-ship battles are as thrilling as any out of Forester's Hornblower series, and there were many historical anecdot
Feb 10, 2014 Terri rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
In need of a little bit of American pride? Here's the book for you!

"The Constitution's crew was brought swiftly and silently to their action quarters... Only then did Preble give the customary hail. 'What ship is that?'
Across the water a defiant echo came back: 'What ship is that?'
Again the question was repeated, again with the same result. At which Preble grabbed the speaking trumpet and, his voice strained with rage, shouted, 'I am now going to hail you one last time. If a proper anser is not
Todd Price
Aug 22, 2015 Todd Price rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. Admittedly, I love history, and am somewhat of a "War of 1812" fanboy. But really, Budiansky does a great job retelling the story of America's first true venture into the deep waters of naval warfare. If you love "swashbuckling" fare, then this is definitely for you. Wooden hulls, tall masts, yards of white canvas, and rolling waves set the scenes for some of the most amazing stories of courage. As Budiansky relates, the War of 1812 was an era of a ludicrous attachment ...more
John Hill
Dec 15, 2014 John Hill rated it really liked it
The War of 1812 has been, in almost every single American History class I have taken, really shortchanged when compared with other conflicts and wars in American History. Usually, it is significant only in that the Capital burned and we never annexed Canada. Also, Battle of New Orleans. But really there isn't much made about it. And the Navy is almost never mentioned in any great context.

I am intrigued in the culture around the British Navy of this time. I read a lot of Pope and O'Brien as a te
Aug 21, 2015 J.S. rated it really liked it
Even though the United States had gained independence thirty years earlier, Great Britain hadn't really gotten the message. They still thought of - and treated - Americans as delinquent and troublesome subjects of the Crown. And when they intercepted merchant ships on the seas they frequently forced American seamen to serve aboard British ships - a practice called "impressment" - claiming they were British citizens.

The War of 1812 (a name not decided upon until the 1850s) actually lasted 3 year
Jim Gallen
Aug 29, 2014 Jim Gallen rated it it was amazing
Much of the cause of the War of 1812 arose out of maritime disputes: Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights. “Perilous Fight” is an exhaustive study of America’s War with Britain on the high seas, 1812-1815. Although the most significant aspects of the Naval War of 1812 occurred on Lakes Erie, Ontario and Champlain, this book represents new scholarship on the ocean war, drawing heavily on the classics including Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Naval War of 1812”.

Author Stephen Budiansky incorporates the high s
Sep 08, 2011 Randy rated it liked it
Reading O'Brian's The Fortune of War piqued my interest about the War of 1812. In The Fortune of War, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin get swept up in the war and are observer/participants in two of the most famous single ship battles in the history of the US Navy (the Constitution vs the Java and the Chesapeake vs the Shannon). The War of 1812 is what put the US Navy on the map. Three quick single ship victories over the Royal Navy put Britain back on its heels and required boatloads of rational ...more
Doug Vanderweide
Jul 16, 2011 Doug Vanderweide rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, military, naval
Delivers exactly what it promised: A fairly comprehensive history of America's nascent Navy, and the politics and tactics behind the naval campaigns of the War of 1812.

Budiansky has strong skills for writing about actions but has an even better pen for plowing through the myriad behind-the-scenes maneuvering and personalities involved in the politics -- literal and figurative -- of the naval service.

The book almost exclusively concentrates on the American side of the war, and short-changes a ful
Bob Price
Oct 01, 2012 Bob Price rated it really liked it
Stephen Budiansky's Perilous Fight engages a seldom studied period of American history, the Naval War in 1812 to 1815.

No other war lead to the development of the American Navy then the War of 1812. Before this war, the US Navy, while heroic, was largely untried. Most of the Madison Administration did not see the need for a large standing Navy.

Madison frankly felt that the US Navy was going to be crushed by the much larger British Navy. He put his emphasis on the land war...only to be soundly
Margaret Skrivseth
Mar 27, 2013 Margaret Skrivseth rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-1812
The War of 1812 is often referred to as the "Forgotten War."I admit to knowing very little about it until recently. It seemed to be a small conflict between Great Britain and the newly formed United States. But now I understand that there were a lot of factors leading up to the war. Budiansky does a great job of placing a conflict between the leading empire of the time and its former colony onto the global stage. For instance, we see how the Napoleonic Wars in France contributed to our own war w ...more
Apr 22, 2011 Ross rated it liked it
This is strictly a book for American history buffs who are also particularly interested in maritime history. It is a very detailed and comprehensive coverage in 300 pages of the three year war at sea and the great lakes. It is basically about the birth of the U.S. Navy. It is about the fact that John Adams was entirely correct that America needed a navy, however small to start, and that Thomas Jefferson was dead wrong to oppose the building of the frigates that proved so critical to our success ...more
Dec 20, 2015 Keith rated it liked it
This is a well-written account of the US Navy in the War of 1812. It started strong with adventures of the Constitution and other warships, but for me it fizzled out at the end. The second half of the book focused more on the Secretary of the Navy rather than the ships and high sea battles.

It’s a serviceable history for those interested in Navy affairs or the War of 1812. If you’re looking for a swashbuckling history of daring adventures on the high seas, you might want to look elsewhere. Nor d
Brian Mccown
May 03, 2013 Brian Mccown rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Budiansky's interesting and lively account of how a tiny, grudgingly supported navy basically defeated the largest, most powerful navy in the world.

In many ways, the War of 1812 is forgotten - the US didn't win the war, and the largely futile land campaigns are best forgotten. However, there was one positive result: the fledgling US Navy, using hit-and-run and asymmetric warfare tactics, kept the vastly more powerful British Navy off balance. Ultimately, this small force helped guarantee the ri
Daniel Farabaugh
Oct 24, 2015 Daniel Farabaugh rated it liked it
An enjoyable although at times dense book. Some of the sailing terminology and description got a little hard to follow at times. The larger point that the other was making and the chronicling of the course of the war was engaging.
Charles Inglin
Sep 11, 2015 Charles Inglin rated it really liked it
Very interesting and well written account of the naval aspect of the War of 1812. The author presents a good amount of background information on the development of the US Navy from the early years of the republic, the personalities and the politics involved. Well worth reading for a beginning or intermediate student of the subject.
Jul 29, 2011 jallioop rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who like nautical fiction of the same era
Very readable and interesting, not dry at all. I read a lot of nautical fiction, and I would recommend this book to nautical fiction readers - many of the real exploits recounted in this book read like the exploits of your favorite fictional nautical heroes (Hornblower, Aubrey, Ramage, etc.). It was also very interesting to see things from the American point of view since most nautical fiction of a similar era is about the Royal Navy. A warning: The book uses many nautical/navy terms without any ...more
Dan Rogers
This was one of three books I was required to read for my summer workshop on the USS Constitution and the War of 1812. Although the book was packed with a lot of information, I found it difficult to read due to my lack of understanding the many naval and/or nautical terms used throughout. The author could have helped the reader immensely by providing a glossary. Otherwise, a very informative work which has helped me gain 1) a greater understanding of the War of 1812 and, 2) a better appreciation ...more
Dec 06, 2015 Rachel rated it it was amazing
This book gave me a perspective on the War of 1812 that I had never experienced, even as a high school history teacher with a Master's degree! I loved the detail of interpersonal conflicts, how politics affected each nation's readiness, and how the nature of the American landscape at that time was reflected in the types of warfare used. I was continually putting the book down to quote sections to those around me, after coming across what I considered to be a startling statistic or comparison. I ...more
Jan 17, 2013 Gail rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book very much. I had a difficult time keeping all the names straight and the dates tended to backtrack and jump ahead somewhat. A chart of who's who, a time line and shorter chapters would have helped me, the ignorant reader, but I can't fault the author. The bibliography is nearly as long as a chapter all in itself. He clearly did a tremendous amount of research and was quite clear on who was who by the time he began writing his book. I would recommend it for anyone interested i ...more
Dec 21, 2013 Sam rated it really liked it
Very good book about the War of 1812. Author gets into why we got engaged in that war and the ups and downs of it...from a maritime perspective. Despite the fact that the British Navy was the most powerful on the seas, at the time, the United States engaged in battle with the Brits and, for the most part, held their own. If you're into maritime history, especially from a war perspective, this book is an enjoyable read.
Betsy Dion
Aug 12, 2012 Betsy Dion rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
If you are interested in military history, you will probably like this book. It is filled with fascinating accounts of the characters and politics of the naval portion of the War of 1812. It seems like the war cost a lot and accomplished little, and yet it caused a significant shift in attitude and culture that did have lasting effects. The economic aspects of the war, like trade restrictions and privateers, were also interesting.
Apr 21, 2014 Sharon rated it really liked it
I found this book absolutely fascinating. I love reading about the early 1800s ships of the line, and getting to see the politics behind growing America's navy early on was really interesting. I loved reading about the battles and seeing the shift in the way war was fought just over the course of three years.
David Eppenstein
This was a good history, well written and informative. While much of the naval history was known to me the author did manage to supply even more interesting detail to well known events and even managed insight into details of the ground war going on at the time.
May 14, 2012 David rated it it was ok
Disappointing naval history of the War of 1812. Focuses on only the war on the high seas, which ignores the vital lake campaigns. Very uneven battle depictions as well. Some battles are described over several pages, while others get a paragraph.
Dec 26, 2013 Mof rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book makes one wonder why the war colleges even exist. American military learns nothing from its past. The War of 1812 was on of the many times in history when in asymmetric warfare the weaker side wins by not losing.

Friedrich Haas
Aug 08, 2012 Friedrich Haas rated it liked it
Shelves: war-historical
When you read history in school, it is so glorious how we were fated to be, but when you read actual history, you wonder how we muddled through, and how alien our progenitor countrymen can seem, and yet familiar.
Nov 02, 2011 Dan rated it really liked it
Detailed naval account of the War or 1812. Though Budiansky makes passing mention of land battles none are covered in more than a couple of paragraphs.
James Cozzarelli
May 15, 2011 James Cozzarelli rated it really liked it
This book is a very informative look at the reasons behind decisions made by the various leaders of the naval war in 1812.
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Historian and journalist STEPHEN BUDIANSKY is the author of twelve books about military history, science, and nature.

His latest book is THE BLOODY SHIRT: TERROR AFTER APPOMATTOX, which chronicles the struggles of five courageous men in the post-Civil War South as they battled a rising tide of terrorist violence aimed at usurping the newly won rights of the freedmen.
More about Stephen Budiansky...

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