Book Review: Neither Victor nor Vanquished: America in the War of 1812


by William Weber

Washington: Potomac Books Inc., 2013. Pp. xx, 242. Maps, tables, chron., notes, biblio., index. $27.50. ISBN: 1612346073

A Speculative Critique of the War of 1812

Former intelligence professional Weber gives us not a history of the War of 1812, but rather a meditation on the second war with Britain.  Weber opens with “The Need for New Narratives.” He suggests that after 200 years we might want to examine why the war is so little thought about today and also perhaps rethink the received views on the war on both sides of the pond.  He follows this with what he calls “A Classical View of the Military Balance,” reexamining the received narrative and suggesting some new perspectives on the military situation. Weber then takes an unusual but interesting comparative look at the American invasion of Canada in 1814 and the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863.  He follows with a critical look at the leadership on both sides during the war, a rather depressing task given that a handful aside (e.g., Brock, Brown, Scott) hardly anyone comes off looking good. 

Weber then indulges in some speculative “alternative history,” which is at times a useful tool for critical analysis of the actual events.  He opens this part of the book with a looks at the work of Henry Adams, who more than a century ago made what still remains a deeply interesting analysis of the war and the personalities who conducted it.  From this, Weber gives us a critical look at some “what ifs.”  Among these are a look at the Bladensburg Campaign, asking if Washington might have been saved, contemplating alternative ways in which the war might have ended, including a “Worst-Case Scenario,” and even offers some interesting thoughts about “What if the War of 1812 had Never Happened?”   

Neither Victor Nor Vanquished is a good read for those interested in the War of 1812 or “alternative history.”

Note: Neither Victor Nor Vanquished is also available in e-book format, ISBN 978-1-61234-608-3.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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