Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Book Review: "Patriotic Fire"

I had no idea that Winston Groom (most famous, of course, as the author of Forrest Gump) also has written military histories. I just finished his newest offering, Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans, and wanted to just say a few words about it.

First, I should say that I quite enjoyed this book as an account of the battle, as well as a short biographical sketch of many of the major players (Jackson and Laffite, of course, but also several of the British commanders as well). Groom has a well-deployed talent for battlefield description and narrative, which requires a certain kind of writer to do adequately. He tells a good story here, puncutated with parenthetical asides linking the events of 1814-5 to the present through members of his own family. I learned several things in this book, most notably that the British tried to bribe Laffite to join their side and help them take New Orleans before he took up common cause with Jackson and the American troops.

Unfortunately, now I must grouse. Groom completely eschews footnotes for this book, and his quasi-bibliographical essay at the end explains little about which sources were used to make which statements (not to mention that many of the sources he uses seem to be early biographies of the participants - not usually the most authoritative sources). I also found some of Groom's hyperbole slightly annoying, as well as his justifications for some conclusions on which prior authors are divided; he basically says he picked the interpretation that made the most sense to him.

For serious scholars, there are undoubtedly better options for books on the Battle of New Orleans. If you're looking for nothing more than a good armchair read, however, you could do worse than Patriotic Fire.

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