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WesternSFA
1812
by David Nevin
A Forge Paperback, 2012, $15.99, 445pp
Release Date: January 17, 2012

Tor has re-issued the historical novel that glamorizes the war the US likes to gloss over in our accounts of history. 1812 (originally published in 1996) glorifies the men and women of that time, including Andrew Jackson and his religious wife Rachel, Dolley and James Madison, Daniel Webster, Winfield Scott, and Sally McQuirk. Nevin writes of them with genuine admiration, making them at once human and heroic, giving their actions a gravitas that seems to justify all means as they maneuver in politics and war. By showing the roles women played in the events of the “glorious war” Nevin corrected oversights perpetrated by most textbooks, and it is always vicarious fun to read about presidents enjoying privilege and luxury in The White House.

However, this is unabashedly Jingoist historical fiction. Americans wear white hats, British wear black. A few token American rascals cause trouble, then promptly get their just desserts. I wish history had been this nice; I wish the continental United States ’ foundation was as splendid and noble as this book makes it sound. But sentences like “More and more land was opening, more towns, more settlers, more traffic on the rivers” put a thin, pretty veneer over ugly realities of land theft, deliberate genocide, slave labour, robber barons, political/corporate conniving, and a hypnotic religious platform of “Manifest Destiny” that warped all religious teachings.

This book is a lovely way for children to learn about famous men and women, including several presidents, and to gain a narrative-based appreciation for the events of this time. It is a Garden of Eden, Disney version of history. Adults can enjoy it just as much as we enjoy Disney cartoons. And certainly, learning some history in an appealing, heroic form is better than remaining ignorant, so I recommend this book – with reservations, and a recommendation to read Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age as a corrective sequel. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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