America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307270696, 448pp.
Publication Date: January 18, 2011
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 “forgotten war” had profound consequences that would change the course of naval warfare, America’s place in the world, and the rules of international conflict forever. Never again would the great powers challenge the young republic’s sovereignty in the aftermath of the stunning performance of America’s navy and privateersmen in sea battles that ranged across half the globe. Their brilliant hit-and-run tactics against a far mightier foe would pioneer concepts of “asymmetric warfare” that would characterize the insurgency warfare of later centuries.
Above all, the War of 1812 would be the making of the United States Navy. Even as the war began, the nation was bitterly divided over whether it should have a navy at all: Jeffersonian Republicans denounced the idea as a dangerous expansion of government power, while Federalists insisted that America could never protect its burgeoning seagoing commerce or command respect without a strong naval force. After the war, Americans would never again doubt that their might, respect, and very survival depended upon a permanent and professional navy.
Drawing extensively on diaries, letters, and personal accounts from both sides, Budiansky re-creates the riveting encounters at sea in bloody clashes of cannonfire and swordplay; the intimate hopes and fears of vainglorious captains and young seamen in search of adventure; and the behind-the-scenes political intrigue and maneuvering in Washington and London. Throughout, Perilous Fight proves itself a gripping and essential work of American naval history.
“A joy to read for the interested reader of history, the amateur historian, and at the same time a worthy reference for scholars . . . With excellent narrative, battle diagrams and photos, this book is a keeper. It's timely, well-written, interesting and a recommended read.”
—Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, The Washington Times
“A rousing story . . . Budiansky writes with sure and vivid command.”
—Evan Thomas, The Washington Post
“Military historian Stephen Budiansky meticulously recreates three years of pitched and pyrrhic battles, while nicely folding in the collateral intricacies of rigging, reefing and tacking, the ambitions, caprices and cruelties of the captains and the exasperating policies of the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic . . . Budiansky is strictly on the beam, both with nautical and literary sensibilities.”
—Jonathan Lazarus, The Newark Star-Ledger
“The author’s colorful narrative is full of gory sea battles, chivalrous flourishes, mutinous tars, and charismatic performances by Stephen Decatur, David Porter, and other American naval legends . . . Budiansky’s well-researched and skillfully written account extracts a gripping true-life naval saga from an otherwise inglorious conflict.”
“Perilous Fight showcases Budiansky’s rare talent for writing history that is simultaneously enlightening, insightful, and entertaining. Impeccably researched and artfully written, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening account of how America’s ‘Big Stick’ navy got its start.”
—Bill Sloan, author of The Darkest Summer and The Ultimate Battle