Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy

Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy

by Ian W. Toll


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"A fluent, intelligent history...give[s] the reader a feel for the human quirks and harsh demands of life at sea."—New York Times Book Review
Before the ink was dry on the U.S. Constitution, the establishment of a permanent military became the most divisive issue facing the new government. The founders—particularly Jefferson, Madison, and Adams—debated fiercely. Would a standing army be the thin end of dictatorship? Would a navy protect from pirates or drain the treasury and provoke hostility? Britain alone had hundreds of powerful warships.
From the decision to build six heavy frigates, through the cliff-hanger campaign against Tripoli, to the war that shook the world in 1812, Ian W. Toll tells this grand tale with the political insight of Founding Brothers and the narrative flair of Patrick O'Brian.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393330328
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/08/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 81,151
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Ian W. Toll is the author of Pacific Crucible, The Conquering Tide, and Six Frigates, winner of the Samuel Eliot Morison Award and the William E. Colby Award. He lives in San Francisco and New York.

Table of Contents

Debts of Gratitude     IX
Note on Language and Nautical Terminology     XIII
To Provide and Maintain     1
To the Shores of Tripoli     145
England Again     255
Epilogue     453
Chronology of Later Events: 1815-2005     469
Notes     483
Bibliography     525
Index     541

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Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
PaulBuckner More than 1 year ago
I enjoy a good history, and Ian Tolls book is well researched and contains exhaustive details. I enjoyed learning the details of each ship, from where the beams were cut and shipped to where the cannon came from. Well done, complete with excerpts from letters and drawings of the ships themselves. Paul Buckner, author of "From Broke to Broker, and other stories of finding financial freedom."
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read and listened to this book several times, and seem to enjoy every bit of information given by the author more and more each time. Mr. Toll does a thourogh job of combining historical recounts of U.S. Naval battles and political causes and effects while describing, in detail, the sacrifice every man in the 18th and 19th centuries endured. I am currently listening to this book on CD in my car for, quite possibly the 16th time and after disc 6 has ended, I'll replace it with disc 1 again. Thank You, Ian W. Toll.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed every page of this book. A little difficult to put down. Helps the reader to gain a real appreciation for the great sense of patriotism possessed by our early countrymen. They seemed to understand that they were part of a very special generation of Americans. The book has interesting insight into the social and political oddities of the era. If you enjoy US history or maritime history, you will probably find this to be very good reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best history books I've ever read. It's flow and captivating style leaves you wanting more. It seems to be unbiased as it points out failing on all sides. A great refresher course on early American History focused around our Navy. It points out things about the War of 1812 that I didn't learn in school.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very good story told in a recording that could have been done better. Ian Toll has written a very enjoyable and instructive account of the first six frigates built by the U.S. Navy. Laymen like myself with an interest in the Age of Sail, the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Pirates, and the War of 1812 should enjoy it. A nice book to listen to on your way to visit USS Constitution. Mr. Toll covers bits of the political background of events, snapshots of key figures, and recounts of many of the famous actions of these frigates. He says enough about each of those topics to be interesting and to keep the story going by quickly. It can be appreciated without constant reference to a map which is very nice since most of us purchase audio books for times during which reading is impractical. The reader speaks at a good speed and is clearly understandable although some of the early chapters are read in a monotonous tone. The audio recording leaves much to be desired, however. Most of us purchase audio books for times during which reading is impractical. For me, that is exercising on the treadmill. So any issues with the recording tend to be quite a nuisance. Most of the chapters start in the middle of a track, making it clumsy to find a stopping and restarting point. The last track on each CD starts and runs for several minutes of nothing before finally switching to the next CD ¿ it distracts you into doing something and then resumes the reading on the next CD just before you could do anything. The audio level is not consistent between many tracts, requiring frequent readjustment of the volume. The first audio book I purchased had at least two bad tracks on the second CD but Barnes and Nobel did exchange it for me with one that worked. It is a great story but don¿t expect the quality of its recording to match.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are a war history buff suffering from a nagging lack of knowledge about America¿s role in the Mediterranean in the age of the Barbary Coast corsairs, the ineptitudes of elected officials, the run-up and engagement in the war of 1812, or the early history of the US Navy read this book. Add to that the evaporation of zeal in some of our early statesmen, the false confidences in heroes, the stumbling tactics of politicians and the steadfast confidence in the righteousness of a nation new to freedom, and you have a great book. So far as the Mediterranean was concerned, passing through the straits of Gibraltar took us into a strange, little known enclave of mysterious religion, piracy, bribery 'tribute' and other means of assuring safe passage for trade. Six frigates is not just about our early Navy. It uses the vessels around which to build a narrative taking us from our fledgling days as a nation to a world maritime powerhouse. It seemed that Britain had learned nothing about us during the recent war that gave us our liberty. That nation still looked upon us as colonial upstarts, not really worthy of serious concern to a country that considered itself `rulers of the waves.¿ Along came the war of 1812, where we defeated HMS capital ships, one after another, to the point where upturned British noses could no longer be pacified by starched handkerchiefs. Up turned hulls were more likely. We learned that we, too, were a nation dependent on the sea and that we had as much claim on the broad expanse of the Atlantic as did the British. On land, we were surprised that the Brits could humiliate us from Canada, pillage Washington and that they would suffer a colossal defeat outside of New Orleans. They, of course, had much more seniority in ruling the sea but that would not last. We, however, had infinitely more coastline and were an ocean and a continent away. Through it all, we prevailed and the story is enlightening. We learn much more about our early years than just about how to build a navy. We learn, stumbling at times along our way, how to build a nation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Six Frigates realistically portrays not only the nation's struggle for a navy but the young country's own deperate struggle to exist and be respected by the then world's powers. Evidently, the pecking order for bullies began with respect for a country's citizens and navy at sea. The book emphasizes that without a navy to protect its trade and commerce, the fledging United States was at the bottom of the pecking order. An excellent book that teaches the importance of such simple things as a navy that we tend take for granted in the modern world. Unfortunately the book emphasizes that politics and politicians have not really changed since the birth of the nation. It is easy to understand why some presidents (early and modern)will never have an aircraft carrier named after them. The book makes you want to cry in frustration and then shout and cheer in triumph. An excellent, moving book that deals with the reality of history in a gripping, hard to put down manner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written. Masterfully thought out. Mr. Toll moves easily through his pages - taking the reader with him. He tells a straightforward story and yet covers the complexity of what turns out to be a many faceted situation. His jumps in time and focus in order to present a broad and multi-dimensional description of his subject are never jolting, disturbing or confusing. Instead they add dimension and depth to the remarkable story he tells. He has written not just a description of an incident of the times but rather an account of the American world as it was - which provides insights to what has followed and where we stand today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book out there on the early Navy of the U.S.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jztemple on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent book, very readable but also very informative. It describes the history of the United States Navy from just after the War For Independence through the War of 1812, with an epilogue taking the story up through Teddy Roosevelt. Covers not just naval actions but also the politics and national controversies over the creation and maintaining of a naval force.
mk885 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read after visiting Old Ironsides USS Constitution in Boston on Thanksgiving. Enjoyed history of Navy at beginning of 19th century and also hearing about growing US trade and 1812 war with England
Shrike58 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good popular account of the United States Navy in the early republic, with almost as much emphasis on the political context that the force was embedded in as on the naval action. If there was one particular section that interested me above the others it was the combat actions of the Quasi-War with France, mostly due to my relative ignorance.
worcester on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wildly uneven work that often seems like a Frankenstein monster assembled from the parts of other, better books. One can fairly easily identify scenes from McCullough's John Adams, Dumas Malone's Jefferson, Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Roosevelt's own The Naval War of 1812. Toll does well when he describes incidents of naval combat, particularly his recounting of the campaign against Tripoli and frigate duels of The War of 1812. Also good is his explanation of the code of dueling prevalent in the U.S. Navy's early officer corps. Other parts of the book are mystifying. While "Six Frigates" ostensibly examines the "epic history of the founding of the U.S. Navy", Toll, oddly, devotes only a paragraph each to the Battle of Lake Erie and the Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain and a footnote to the capture of U.S.S. Essex, while devoting three pages to the Battle of New Orleans, a land battle where the U.S. Navy failed to make an appearance. Also strange is Toll's decision to spend four pages of his epilogue attempting to link Roosevelt's studies of the War of 1812 with his decision while President to back the building of the Great White Fleet, rather than focusing on the fates of the "Six Frigates" and the men who fought in them. Skip this one and go right to Roosevelt's The Naval War of 1812. It's better written and more insightful.
rcsj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating history of the US Navy's earliest days. I truly enjoyed all of the historical detail surrounding the construction of the US Navy's first frigates and their subsequent battles. The book does much to establish the early US Navy as a successful organization that managed to produce important victories (if only for moral support) against the much larger British Navy. Equally interesting is all the biographical information of the sea captains who piloted these great ships - what a different era.
johnleague on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Take the seven weeks your basic U.S. History class spends on the period from the ratification of the Constitution through the War of 1812. Mash it up with any of Patrick O'Brian's novels. Append a little bit about how this particular cocktail affected Teddy Roosevelt (and subsequently the U.S. as global political and military power).What you wind up with is Ian Toll's Six Frigates, a wonderfully detailed examination of the evolution of the young United States.Really, imagine the U.S. History class you took in high school as it would have been taught by a naval historian. That's what Toll has created here. Also imagine that he brought in Patrick O'Brian to teach the parts about the conflicts with the Barbary States and individual engagements with the Royal Navy. Toll's accounts, both of political machinations and sea battles, are vividly rendered with exhaustive use of first-hand accounts and details. A long book, Six Frigates reads quickly in large part because of the rich evocations of pre-Industrial sailing, war and politics.The one thing that holds this book back is the generally undefined use of nautical and ship's terms (larboard, mizzenmast, royal yards, top sails, etc.) Toll points out in a brief foreword that the book might have been half-again as long had he paused to define all these terms, and he is likely correct. But a short glossary or a diagram of Constitution with her various sail apparatus would have made many of the details in the book more meaningful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Historical accurate and riveting.
paradiserunner More than 1 year ago
A spectacularly told story of how America's navy got its start, remarkable for the depth of research and readability. Just superb.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lucid, thorough, and exciting.
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mikentexas More than 1 year ago
I first listened to this when a friend loaned me his copy. I liked it so much that I ordered my own. This book is full of rich detail about a critical period in America's history that few pay much attention to. At the same time, it provide a window into the trials and tribulations of our first navy. Highly recommended for anyone with more than a passing interest in American history.
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