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November 2012

The War of 1812: Win, Lose, or Draw? (Part 1)

November 30, 2012 | John P. | Comments (0)

Both Canada and the United States began their bicentennial celebrations and acknowledgement of the War of 1812 earlier this year. The war is of interest to Canadians as the then-British colonies of Upper and Lower Canada (aka Ontario and Quebec) formed part of the battlefields on which the conflict was fought between the United States (with France) and Great Britain (along with her colonial allies). Many books have been written on the War of 1812 but a good cross-section of titles will bring out different aspects of interest to the amateur and professional historian alike such as: different theatres of the war (land-based vs. naval); the April 1813 occupation of York (present day Toronto) by American forces; leading British military personalities in the war including Sir Isaac Brock; the pitting of people with similar backgrounds against one another; and, the political divisions in the United States of America between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians.

Whatever one’s thoughts are on whether the war was won, lost or stalemated between the opposing sides, reading a variety of titles on the war can bring much to the forefront as we learn more about a war that has been a mystery to many people. Here are some examples:


Astonishing General


The astonishing general: the life and legacy of Sir Isaac Brock / Wesley B. Turner, 2011.

Retired historian Turner examined the enduring popularity and recognition of General Brock. Brock had an aptitude for understanding people and their intentions. Friend and foe alike admired Brock. He won the support of generous benefactors, who appreciated his treatment of soldiers, his relationship with the military, and his influence upon the political process in Upper Canada.


Battle for the Bay the Naval War of 1812


Battle for the Bay: the Naval War of 1812 / Joshua M. Smith, 2010.

Historian Smith examined the coastal warfare that occurred along the northeastern United States and in the Bay of Fundy area. The British used local people as crewmembers on their ships to battle against American privateers seeking profits in the Bay of Fundy region. Smith covered the September 1813 battle of the American brig Enterprise and the brig HMS Boxer (assisted by the provincial ships Bream and Brunswicker).


British generals in the War of 1812


British generals in the War of 1812: high command in the Canadas / Wesley B. Turner, 2011.

Retired historian Turner examined the records and roles of five British Generals in Canada during the War of 1812 (Sir George Prevost, Isaac Brock, Roger Sheaffe, Baron Francis de Rottenburg, and Gordon Drummond), taking into account their British army experience and participation in the European and West Indian theatres of operation. The author examined each general’s leadership qualities and offered his opinion on why only Isaac Brock is remembered today.


Capital in Flames


Capital in flames: the American attack on York, 1813 / Robert Malcolmson, 2008.

American forces landed on the western side of York (close to the current grounds of the CNE) in April 1813. Their amphibious operation was delayed by the deliberate explosion of York’s armaments magazine by British forces. British troops led by Major-General Sir Roger Sheaffe retired from the field. Rev. John Strachan and others did their best to rally the local citizenry. American troops looted York and took valuable military supplies and food, departing after six days of occupation within the protection of their naval dominance of Lake Ontario. It is questionable whether the burning of the White House and other Washington D.C. buildings in August 1814 was intended as retaliation for the occupation of York.


Civil War of 1812

The civil war of 1812: American citizens, British subjects, Irish rebels, & Indian allies [1st ed.] / Alan Taylor, 2010.

Pulitzer-prize winner and historian Taylor has produced arguably the most attentive and detailed treatment of the War of 1812, approaching the conflict as a civil war between people of similar backgrounds (Aboriginal tribes, Irish and Scottish immigrants, American-born, British North American-born and British-born) separated by a political boundary. Military conflict along the Niagara River and in the Great Lakes served to polarize opinions. Taylor covers the topics of dissension, military recruitment, and forceful seizure of farms and villages.


1812 the Navy's War


1812: the navy's war / George C. Daughan, 2011.

Historian Daughan stressed the importance of the young United States’ naval victories over the Royal Navy during the War of 1812 within the context of trade blockades as part of Great Britain’s war with France and the incitement of aboriginal peoples in the fight against American expansionism. The author also examined developments on shore, including: the political divisions between the pro-British Federalists (who opposed the war) and the pro-French Jeffersonians; Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans; the burning of Washington D.C. and the White House by British forces; and the dubious attempts of the United States to invade British North America.


This selected list is by no means exhaustive so I will review additional titles on the War of 1812 in the near future.

Movember Reading: Memorable Moustaches in Fiction

November 18, 2012 | Winona | Comments (4)

In honour of Movember (the month formerly known as November), and for all you moustachioed readers and writers out there, I offer you six memorable 'staches from the stacks:

Hercule Poirot's Moustache

Poirot by CounihanIlustration by Claire Counihan

The moustache belonging to Agatha Christie's famous fictional Beligian detective is a lot like the man himself: impeccable, fastidious, and quite unique. When we first meet Hercule Poirot, and his moustache, it is through the eyes of Captain Hastings:

"Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible."

- from The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (also available as an e-book and in large print). For more Hercule Poirot at the library, click here.


Asterix's Moustache

Asterix Obelix Dogmatix
Illustration by Albert Uderzo

Moustaches are hardly unique in the village of invincible Gauls in the beloved comic books by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Everyone's got one: our hero Asterix (bushy and yellow); his best friend Obelix (bushy and red); even loyal canine companion Dogmatix (bushy and white). When the Romans send a spy, Caligula Minus, to infiltrate the village and determine the secret of the Gauls' superhuman strength, he gets a moustache too (bushy and orange, and fake). But the spy's identity is revealed when his fake moustache is pulled off during the course of a traditional dance:

Asterix: "What on Earth is this?"         

Caligula Minus: "'s a detachable moustache! The latest thing from Lutetia!"

Asterix: "I don't think you're a Gaul at all! I believe you're a ROMAN SPY! GET HIM!"

- from Asterix the Gaul by Goscinny and Uderzo. For more Asterix at the library, click here.


Ignatius J. Reilly's Moustache

Ignatius J. ReillyIllustration by Myron Grossman and Michael Tedesco 

Ignatius J. Reilly's moustache is the centrepiece in the idiosyncratic appearance of this misanthropic, delusional iconoclast, who is introduced on page one of John Kennedy Toole's posthumously published cult classic:

"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs." 

- from A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (also available as an e-book and an audiobook). For more on Toole's life and work, check out:


Colonel Aureliano Buendia's Moustache

One Hundred Years of SolitudeIllustration by Tom Rainford

Early in Gabriel García Márquez's multi-generational masterpiece Colonel Aureliano Buendia adopts a moustache that signals his growing militarism:

"About that time he had begun to cultivate the black mustache with waxed tips and the somewhat stentorian voice that would characterise him in the war."

Later, when the Colonel has withdrawn from fighting, his moustache only serves to remind us of the futility of war:

“They had allowed him to shave. The thick mustache with twisted ends accentuated the sharp angles of his cheekbones. He looked paler to Ursula than when he had left, a little taller, and more solitary than ever.”

- from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (also available in large print). 


Captain Hook's Moustache

Captain Hook Peter and the StarcatchersIllustration by Greg Call

Captain Hook, the sinister pirate captain and archnemesis of Peter Pan, is a classic villain of children's fiction whose moustache is terrifyingly menacing: 

"He was a strikingly unpleasant figure, with a pockmarked face and a large red nose, like a prize turnip, glued to his face. His long black hair, greasy from years without washing, stained the shoulders of the red uniform coat he'd stolen from a Navy sailor on the high seas, just before escorting that wretched soul over the side of the ship. He had dark, deepset, piercingly black eyes, overshadowed by eyebrows so bushy that he had to brush them away to see through the glass. But his most prominent feature was the thick growth of hair on his upper lip, long and black, lovingly maintained, measuring nearly a foot between its waxed and pointed tips. It was this feature that gave him his name, the most feared name on the sea: Black Stache."

- from Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry. For more Captain Hook at the library, check out:


 The Fu Manchu 

Dr. Fu ManchuIllustration by Mort Engle

Dr. Fu Manchu's moustache is so iconic that it is the origin of an entire style of facial hair: the Fu Manchu. Actually, the evil criminal genius himself only wears the Fu Manchu in the film and television versions of the books; in Sax Rohmer's pulp fiction classics Dr. Fu Manchu doesn't have a moustache at all. But both the Dr. and his namesake moustache have become synonymous with racist portrayals of Chinese villain stereotypes in the West throughout most of the twentieth century:

"Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."

- from The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer. For more Dr. Fu Manchu at the library, click here. For more on negative Asian stereotypes in fiction and film, check out:


Got 'mo examples? Add yours in the comments below!


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