Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tecumseh & Brock: The War of 1812

by James Laxer

It's not much of a surprise that this year would see a plethora of new books examining the bicentennial of the beginning of the last war fought on Canadian soil.  The War of 1812 was really a conflict between America and Britain, and between America and a loose confederacy of Aboriginal nations, but Canada became the setting for much of the conflict.

In James Laxer's new book, Tecumseh and Brock, he sets out to examine the two title figures - Tecumseh, the charismatic leader of the Aboriginal confederacy, and General James Brock, defender of Upper Canada.

The problem with the book is that both of these august men did not live too long once they entered into the conflict, and while they are both without doubt among Canada's greatest heroes, their influence on the war did not outlive them for long.

Laxer is at his best in the beginning of the book, when he writes about the world into which Tecumseh was born.  The Shawnee, his people, found themselves embroiled in the Endless War that began with Europeans arriving in North America.  Hounded and displaced, Tecumseh (and his brother) was one of the most influential leaders to unite his people and resist American expansionism.

I enjoyed reading this book, as it served as a good overview of the war, but the title does not match the content.  After Brock died in 1812, and Tecumseh a year later, the war and the book both carried on, through the Treaty of Ghent and the cessation of hostilities in 1815, which resulted in a reversion to original territorial holdings, a set idea of where borders would lie in the then-upopulated West, and a complete abandonment of the Aboriginal people south of the 49th parallel by England.

Laxer's writing is clear, if a little stiff in places.  He doesn't propose any new theories of the war, nor does he indulge himself in creative prose.  This is a straight-up history book, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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