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Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812
By Robert Booth
Thomaston, Maine: Tilbury House Publishers, 2015
6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, 244 pages
Illustrations, map, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
ISBN: 9780884483571

 

    Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812, by Robert Booth, is an informative account of the lives of two historical figures during the War of 1812 and illustrates how delusions of grandeur ultimately led to catastrophic consequences. Captain David Porter is the main character, a deluded yet incredibly ambitious officer in the United States Navy. United States Consul General Joel Roberts Poinsett is a smart and worldly man charged with inciting revolution in South America. They serve as the main characters in a wild and extraordinary journey of two men's lives in the war-torn world of the early nineteenth century. Fantastical, but thoroughly researched for its quality in interpreting the life stories of Porter and Poinsett, it is heavily based on Porter’s journal entries which he eventually published in 1815 as Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean. Poinsett’s own personal accounts are utilized as primary source material, along with a plethora of other firsthand stories and secondary sources.  Descriptive in regard to the lives of both men on a larger global conflict scale, the narrative is indicative of the amount of research that Booth undertook to write this book.


    Booth articulates very well the history of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain with events leading up to, during, and after the conflict. Though primarily based on accounts of Porter’s and Poinsett’s experience, the book also touches on other broader scale conflicts such as the revolutionary movements in Chile that Poinsett helped but failed to establish. Other major historical events are also explored and woven seamlessly into the focused story of Captain Porter: a man who defied his own government’s orders to pursue an ill-constructed fantasy of fame and fortune. Booth does well to show the depth of character in Captain Porter and his obsession with the Pacific Ocean. This self-serving fantasy drove him into such frivolous madness, leading him and his men into an outlandish and suicidal pursuit of his own desires.


    This is perhaps the greatest strength of the book. It takes an in-depth and analytical perspective of Porter’s mindset not only as a naval officer, but as an intense, emotional, and unpredictable individual. Porter’s personal journal entries and the author’s interpretation of them do well to explain the anger, frustration, and egotistical tendencies of the captain. Booth is very expressive with his writing. He is able to use cohesive sentences to break down and explain the mental rational of Porter, so much that it makes the narrative engaging and entices the casual reader to continue reading on sentence by sentence till the end of the book.


    The perspectives of other characters in this book are also equally described, particularly with the sailors on Essex under the command of Porter. Reviewing their accounts gives the reader a sense of physically being there as the sailors’ experiences are explained. This collection of historical narratives reads like adventure story. Well-written and researched, Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812 by Robert Booth is a wonderful book for anyone to enjoy. The title of the book is somewhat is fitting, as it explores the dark corners of the human desires, obsession and their consequences.

 

Paul Gates
East Carolina University

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