Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
On my way home last week, I stopped into a shop in the Denver airport to pick up a bottle of water. I didn’t have any cash left and I couldn’t bring myself to put just two bucks on my credit card, so I also snapped up a paperback copy of Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. I had dimly recalled reading some good reviews of a book they did a few years back about George Washington’s spy ring, so I thought well, why not?
Well, I suppose that the sub-heading on the cover (“The Forgotten War That Changed American History”) should have given me some clue. “Forgotten” war? The Aroostook County War is a “forgotten” war. The Battle of Picacho Pass is a “forgotten” skirmish. Any reasonably-educated American ought to at least have heard of the Barbary Wars, if not remembering their details.
(Of course, my definition of “reasonably-educated” may vary somewhat from other folks’ these days.)
At any rate, it turns out to be a very superficial account. Not a bad way to waste a rainy afternoon if you actually don’t know anything about the period, but I can’t say that I got anything out of it at all. (I was encouraged by the book’s suggestion that Capt. William Bainbridge probably could and should have stayed with the U.S.S. Philadelphia after she grounded in Tripoli Harbor instead of immediately abandoning her to the enemy.) I also thought that its conclusion that the experience picked up by the young American Navy in its few brushes with the Pirate Fleets stood them in good stead for taking on the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 was probably an overstatement. And I was disappointed that the book only hinted at, rayther than exploring deeper, the obvious historic parallels between that period and the dealings we have with modern potentates in exactly the same region (motivated by exactly the same worldview).
Eh. Maybe I’ll give it to one of the kids.
On the other hand, flipping through the bibliography, I came across two books I also own: Ian Toll’s Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy and Richard Zacks’ The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805. Go read those, instead.
Speaking of books, every now and again regular Friend of the Decanter Old Dominion Tory sends ol’ Robbo a parcel of books on various topics of military history. At the moment, I am about a quarter way through one of ODT’s most recent offerings, Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket by Richard Holmes.
I hadn’t heard of Holmes before. However, when I mentioned him on a FaceBuke page dedicated to the writings of George MacDonald Fraser, I received an overwhelming burst of enthusiastic praise from other GMF sharks.
I can see why. Holmes is all over his subject (i.e., the British Army of the Georgian and Victorian Eras): Organization, weapons and uniform, tactics, support staff, individual personalities – in short, everything that shaped Tommy Atkins – you name it and it’s there. He covers these matters through a combination of numerous citations to source letters (and records) and a kind of rambling series of linked anecdotes. I’d love to go to dinner with this guy and then spend the evening over a bottle of good single malt.