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

November 1st, 2010

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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.


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History Books "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.
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  1. R. Hardy
    November 1st, 2010 at 10:34 | #1

    Rating

    America has had a navy since the American Revolution. General Washington’s Continental Army prevailed in that conflict. Ian W. Toll writes that in contrast, “The Continental Navy, with few exceptions, was a wasteful and humiliating fiasco.” Only a few decades later, however, by the War of 1812, the United States Navy was a formidable and respected force. Toll has masterfully presented the history of those decades in _Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy_ (Norton). This is Toll’s first book; he is a former financial analyst and political speechwriter, but it is big, authoritative, and often exciting. It nicely ties the inchoate navy to the political philosophy of the new nation, and to the world events which compelled America, often reluctantly, to take to the seas in warships. Despite its size, annotations, and enormous bibliography, because of its concentration on personalities and action, Toll’s book is less the dry history of the naval theorist than it is the thrilling nautical tales from Patrick O’Brian. (In fact, in compliment to that accomplished storyteller, Toll has incorporated a page of the Jack Aubrey novel _The Fortune of War_ into his account of the 1812 battle between the frigates _Constitution_ and _Java_.)

    The colonists had always been enthusiastic about making their fortunes from the sea or commerce upon it, but after the Revolution, they had almost nothing that could be called a navy. They also did not have the Royal Navy to protect their merchantmen. So when American merchant vessels come into the Mediterranean, they were at risk from the pirates of the Barbary states, but when the nation started seriously considering a navy, there was no naval tradition to go by and there were no easy or predictable answers; many argued against having a navy altogether. The continuing capture of vessels by the pirates, however, caused President Washington in 1794 to sign into law the purchase of six innovative warships. Jefferson was the first to deploy the navy into war, against the pirates. The expedition was the first of many victories for the _Constitution_ and the beginning of the reasons that the world needed to take notice of the new nation as a naval and international power. The second great conflict covered here is the War of 1812, fought against the huge and powerful British Navy over its confiscation of American merchant shipping, and its impressment of American sailors into British service. The commanders of the U.S. vessels were too brash to accept the aura of invincibility that the Royal Navy had as its due, and in three single ship duels, the sort of thing at which the British were champions, the Americans got clear victories. The war changed the way the world thought about the United States and how it thought about itself. Churchill wrote that there remained anti-American sentiment in England for several years, “… but the United States was never again refused proper treatment as an independent power.” It was only after the war of 1812, Toll reminds us, that Americans started speaking of the United States in the singular rather than in the plural.

    Toll is exceptional at showing how human personalities and foibles made a difference in peculiar ways. The first British ambassador to the United States reported in 1803 with disgust that he, while wearing full diplomatic regalia, was received by President Jefferson “standing in slippers down at the heels … in a state of negligence actually studied.” The diplomatic acrimony over this and other slights only ended when war wiped them out. Toll asks, “Could a pair of slippers come between nations?” There are many pages devoted to superstitions. Whatever comfort against fate the superstitions might have given sailors, plenty were positively unhealthy, like the belief that bathing was dangerous because it might wash away your good luck, or that tattoos were protection against venereal disease. Even more surprising are the sections on dueling, which remained popular among hotheaded young American officers long after it was abandoned in other quarters. “The junior naval officer, done up in his high standing collar and gold lace, was as testy and vain as a fighting gamecock,” Toll writes, and if a war was not handy, he was eager to show his honor in front of the pistol of a fellow officer. “Not surprisingly, the frequency of dueling appears to have been inversely related to the frequency of naval combat.” Any excuse might do; one midshipman took offense when another entered the wardroom with his hat on, and challenged him. Toll even pays a historian’s compliment to Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote _The Naval War of 1812_ during his off hours from college and law school; the work on the book gave Roosevelt lessons used “… in the course of his remarkable career as an American statesman and a devoted imperialist.” One page after another in this fine history yields curious facts, thrilling scenes of battle, and grim depictions of battle’s toll.

  2. A. G. Corwin
    November 1st, 2010 at 14:29 | #2

    Rating

    Few eras of American history are more misunderstood than the naval history of early America after the Revolutionary War. Former financial analyst and political aide Ian Toll sheds new light on this era in his richly detailed and comprehensive first book, Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. The saga of the original six frigates, the Constitution, Constellation, Congress, President, United States, and the Chesapeake, is one of naval necessity, partisan politics, and the ungainly steps of a young country attempting to defend and assert itself in a dangerous world.

    A common misconception in American history is that the original six frigates were begun during the Revolution. As Toll describes in excellent detail, it was in fact under the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams that the decision to form a standing navy was made. With America’s merchant fleet under predation from North African pirates, French privateers, and British warships, ships to protect and fly the flag were necessary. An already contentious and partisan Congress argued endlessly over the formation of a American navy to deal with the problem, and finally the Naval Act of 1794 approved funding for the construction of six ships: four 44-gun and two 36-gun frigates. Designed by Joshua Humphreys, the ships were to be the strongest and most effective frigates afloat, a tough job in a world where the Royal Navy dominated. The frigates would play key roles in the quasi-war with France, the Barbary wars, and the War of 1812, and Toll chronicles the personalities, the politics, and the world situation that shaped both the ships and the campaigns in which they took part.

    What these ships are best known for, and what is most familiar with the laymen are the battles. Toll describes every major ship-to-ship engagement fought by the original six with a vividness rarely seen in naval histories, rich enough to hear the thunder of the guns and smell the cordite from the gunpowder. The major actions described are: Constellation v. L’Insurgente, Constellation v. La Vengeance, United States v. Macedonian, Constitution v. Guerriere, Constitution v. Java, Shannon v. Chesapeake, and President v. Endymion. Also well addressed are the actions against the Barbary states, including a well-written chapter on the loss of the subscription frigate Philadelphia, and the daring exploits of Stephen Decatur to destroy the captured frigate. The major naval figures of the era like Truxton, Bainbridge, Hull, Decatur, Rodgers, and Barron are all examined by Toll with an observer’s eye that fleshes out the caricatures as most histories portray them into real life men.

    The end of the War of 1812 saw the launch of the first American ships-of-the-line, but it was the frigate navy that paved the way. Toll’s book is an important addition that clears the mythology away from the early US Navy and incorporates all the naval, economic, political, and social elements that contributed to its founding and formation. Toll occasionally strays out of his lane, and the postscript loses a bit of focus delving into the post Civil War navy, but as a whole, this is an excellent book that will satisfy naval buffs and students of history alike. Toll’s elegant and rich writing and exhaustive research marks him as an author to watch, and I eagerly await his next work. The original six frigates played a large part in the prestige of early America. Their successes, and their failures, demonstrated that the young United States was a blossoming world power worthy of respect and regard. Highly Recommended.

    A.G. Corwin

    St.Louis, MO

  3. Larry K. Kennedy
    November 1st, 2010 at 14:54 | #3

    Rating

    It isn’t often that one finds a book about less popular subjects without also having to endure wild enthusiasm or hyperbole the minute it’s opened. Toll describes the events leading to the acceptance of a sea-going body by our flegling nation with an analytical and sober mind. Blending political machinery with equisitely described sea and ship knowledge, he tells the how a handfull of ships and dedicated men laid the foundation of a nation. Toll is often unsympathetic, yet also unjudgemental. Still, he cannot hide his love for the “wooden ships and iron men” that transformed America from a backwater nonentity to a nation to be reckoned with.

  4. John A. League
    November 4th, 2010 at 12:42 | #4

    Rating

    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.

  5. F. Kim
    November 5th, 2010 at 08:58 | #5

    Rating

    Ever since reading Patrick O’Brian’s depiction of the battle between the USS Constitution and the HMS Java in “The Fortune of War,” I’ve wanted to learn more about the United States’s own naval history from that period. Surprisingly, though, I was unable to find many published works on the subject. Finally, Toll’s “Six Frigates” has arrived, and it’s exactly the sort of book I was looking for.

    “Six Frigates” is a comprehensive look at the founding of the American Navy, from the years shortly after the Revolutionary War. While the young nation had won its independence, the rest of the world still thought of it as a target ripe for exploitation, and the United States soon found its vulnerable merchant fleet being preyed upon, not only by the Great Powers of Europe, but even the small, piratical nations of the Barbary Coast.

    The obvious solution would seem to be the creation of an armed navy, but a surprising revelation of Toll’s book is just how much opposition to the idea existed amongst the country’s early leadership. Fans of David McCullough’s “John Adams” and “1776″ will be pleased by the appearance of figures like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, but here Toll focuses more on their political actions and philosophies than their personalities or character. The arguments over whether creating a navy only served the interests of war profiteers, or whether having one placed too much power in the central government, or might cause the government’s bankruptcy, provides a fascinating perspective on the differences between the early Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans.

    Grudgingly, and in fits and starts, the federal government allowed for the creation of the book’s eponymous six frigates. Toll gives credit to Joshua Humphreys, a Quaker who had never before designed a military vessel, for creating a new class of warships that would be more heavily armed than conventional frigates, but lighter and faster than ships of the line, a choice that would prove to be of immense value in later years, when the small American fleet found itself in conflict with the supreme might of the British Royal Navy.

    Initially, however, the U.S. Navy’s performance was at best uneven. Toll describes the early U.S. conflicts in the Quasi-War against France and in the wars against Barbary pirates, and his accounts of the various ship battles are the best feature of this work. Those who love Patrick O’Brian will be thrilled by the true life exploits recounted here, and Toll spares none of the details. America’s early captains and commodores are presented as the book’s most colorful characters–variously incompetent, unlucky, hot-headed, or charismatic–and their victories and defeats alternately were the source of great pride and humiliation for their nation.

    With the outbreak of war against Great Britain in 1812, the “little navy” finally came into its own, by defeating the Royal Navy in several ship-to-ship battles–and again, Toll’s descriptions of the numerous actions are superb. Coming at a time when His Majesty’s ships were thought to be unbeatable, especially by the British, these victories finally proved the worth of maintaining a standing navy to the Jefffersonian Republicans; even more importantly, they played a vital role in forcing the other nations of the world to realize that America was a power that had to be respected.

    While Toll is a first-time writer, the book is very well-written. So well-written, in fact, that coming across the occasional obvious typo causes mild irritation–hopefully future editions will correct these. There are color plates interspersed throughout the book that help convey the flavor of the time period, and Toll also includes a chronology of events after 1815 that probably wasn’t necessary. The bibliography and index sections appear extensive.

    Overall, this is a very enjoyable and entertaining history. I recommend it highly.

  6. R. Mansmann
    November 5th, 2010 at 21:56 | #6

    Rating

    Mr Toll’s book closes a lot of gaps in the early history of the United States. In addition to his coverage of the US Navy in its infancy, Six Frigates goes a long way in explaining the underlying roots of the US economy and its foreign policy. I would not say revisonist is quite the treatment of the Adams’ presidency, rather, Toll has taken an objective look at Adams, as well as Jefferson and Madison, without the subjective and trite explanations of the presidency’s of each.

    The economic look is interesting as well. Prior naval histories may speak about the projection of power; Toll is as much concerned with what the US can do with that power. For example, what was the cost of having the Mediterranean closed by the Barbary States, what was the impact of privateers to English shipping?

    Well done.

  7. David M. Garrett
    November 8th, 2010 at 14:39 | #7

    Rating

    In Six Frigates, Ian Toll captures both the grand design and small nuances of America’s evolution toward a naval power. I enthusiastically recommend this book as a superb distillation of a period of history frequently given modest attention.

    Well researched, exquisitely written, Toll engages attention from the first and comfortably navigates the reader through the philosphical, political, economic, technological and military convolutions that were the seed of the U.S. Navy. Toll chronicles key naval actions of the Quasi War, Barbary Coast, and War of 1812. But “conflict” is not reserved to “Old Ironsides” or her sisters. Toll sets the miltary stage with a thorough and insightful examination of the political and economic ebb and flow of the time, and how “civilian” matters shaped action at sea. Toll examines the political debate (Federalist v. Republican) on the notion of whether or not to establish a permanent navy and, if so, how it should be best funded and managed. Toll is also careful to juxtaposition the personalities, strategies and actions of the foreign powers of the time, Great Britain and France.

    The book includes enlightening biographies of key political players and their opinions. For example, Toll puzzles over Jefferson’s contradictions, writing, “…it is hardly surprising to find that Jefferson’s words and deeds on the subject of seapower are dissonant. While serving as minister to France in the 1780s, [Jefferson] had argued in favor of building frigates to patrol the Mediterranean… Fifteen years later, campaigning for president at the head of the fiercely anti-navalist Republican Party, he declared himself in favor of ‘such a naval force only as may protect our coasts and harbors’…” (Page 162). Toll is deft discussing conflicting design theories including Joshua Humphrey’s unorthodox specifications for the title ships. While giving technical highlights, overbearing detail is avoided. He also gives balanced treatment to key naval leaders in the context of personal deportment, personnel and logistical management, and combat ability. Tangents on dueling to settle matters of honor, the chivalrous correspondence between British and American captains, the yellow fever epidemic of 1797, or how Quercus virens (southern live oak) was harvested and turned into ships adds flavor, color and context to the main theme.

    Divided into three parts, each roughly 150 pages, I read Six Frigates in three days. The Notes and Bibliography are thorough and professionally rendered. My complaints are three. Numerous spelling errors are a surprising and consistent annoynance. Next is nomenclature. Toll’s position (set forth early on) leaves the layman reaching for a dictionary to translate nautical terms. (What is a xebeck, polacre and felucca? One can guess yet remain uncertain about sailors “worming, serving, splicing, hitching, bending, grafting, seizing and parceling” hemp cordage. And understanding maneuvers requires a mix of insight, intuition, extrapolation from context and outright guesswork… close reefs, bent the mizzen, close-reefed fore topsail, hauling her wind, dead to windward, swayed up her topgallant, unbent her cables.) Here margin cut-outs, footnotes or a glossary would have ensured clarity while keeping the length managable.

    Finally, and most egregiously, is the scarcity of maps. Toll provides two charts in the bookplates following pages 143 and 304. While artistically pleasing and interesting, they are period sketches woefully inadequate to placing the reader into the action or to better understand the politics, military strategy and troop and ship movements. A general ship’s diagram (e.g., in cross section) would have also been valuable.

    While perhaps a 4-star in some areas of execution, the subject matter, insight and readability easily warrant FIVE STARS and my endorsement.

  8. Jeff Peirce
    November 8th, 2010 at 16:07 | #8

    Rating

    “Six Frigates” is a first-rate book. It is fascinating, well-written, carefully researched, and very readable.

    Many know the story of the founding of the U.S. Navy, but this book will have details many will not know. It is full of wonderful detail, involving the ships and the men who sailed them, as well as the politicians who ended up finding the Navy they originally opposed very useful.

    The book details the political struggles of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, and the devious manipuilations of Hamilton and Burr. Nothing was easy in that political climate, and its a miracle any Navy survived at all.

    The big American frigates were constantly in use, against the French, the Arabs, and the British. The ships served long and well, and considerable sacrifice and heroism came from those who sailed on them. The story of the burning of the “Philadelphia,” which has always been fascinating, is retold with great skill. A remarkable time, and remarkable men who carried it out.

    Joshua Humphreys designed some fabulous warships, and Ian Toll has written a fabulous book about them. I wish there were more like this.

  9. David M. Grinberg
    November 10th, 2010 at 03:26 | #9

    Rating

    It is very unusual to find a history book that plays across the silver screen in one’s mind. Not only does Mr Toll provide a fairly comprehensive view of the core events and context from the fledgling years of the US Navy (and the US for that matter), but he weaves in tales that are often harrowing, usually exciting, and always told in such detail and with such well-crafted flow that they are easy to visualize. I bought a dozen copies which I’ll be distributing to friends and family this holiday season!

  10. Prauge Traveler
    November 11th, 2010 at 12:22 | #10

    Rating

    Six Frigates is a great read for anyone interested in naval history during the age of sail. Ian Toll does a very good job of detailing the political background and historical circumstances that led to the creation of the US Navy shortly after America’s struggle to achieve sovereignty. I found the political landscape particularly interesting, as the infighting between nascent political parties ranged from agriculture to commerce, and how this affected the naval policy (and whether there even should BE a navy at all!).

    It was very interesting to see how bureaucratic problems and commercial interests affected national policy. At time it is easy to lament about our nation’s current standing with regards to these topics, however, Six Frigates gives an interesting perspective on how the past is not nearly as pristine and rosy as we’d like to imagine.

    The chapters detailing specific naval military engagements are well written and I was never confused about the ships’ relationship to each other throughout the battles. They are also as exciting as they are interesting. As I read this book shortly after returning from Iraq and spending the summer of 2006 driving around Baghdad concerned with the prospect of a molten copper disks being blasted through me and thinking “this is such a dirty war”, I was again checked in my views on the past while reading about sailors who dealt with mind-boggling quantities of iron balls being blasted through their wooden ships. Another very interesting chapter dealt with a blockaded American port sending out mined boats in an attempt to destroy the vastly superior British naval force in what immediately brought my mind back to the game of cat/mouse with IEDs in Iraq. I guess one of the lessons I took away was: the past is not a pristine utopia & war has never been clean.

    All these personal reflections aside, the history is well researched and documented, and will definitely keep your interest throughout. My one critique is that Toll neglects some of the land campaigns that continued in the Barbary States following the Navy’s creation; although this is out of the scope of his history (and not just my Army bias), they seem so connected to the events that their inclusion would have made a great read into an excellent one.

  11. John T. Everett
    November 11th, 2010 at 23:24 | #11

    Rating

    I am only halfway through this well researched and comprehensive work by Ian Toll and I very much looking forward to his next offering. This book is not simply the tale of the origins of the US Navy, although it most certainly thoroughly accomplishes that. Mr Toll succeeds masterfully at painting a picture of this time without over-burdening the reader with excessive or unneccessary detail, as some historic military related pieces can. Snippets of remembrances, stories from Jefferson, Adams, wives, the various captains, crew members, and common folk alike, many rarely used by other historians, bring color and depth to this thoughtful and well crafted work.

    There are many unmistakable parallels to be drawn between the political infighting of these early years and later events including the Civil War and on up to today. Highly recommended.

    Anyone with an abiding appreciation for good story telling, history, biography or politics will find it all right here.

  12. GBS
    November 12th, 2010 at 09:13 | #12

    Rating

    I admit to a bit a skepticism when I read the author’s biography on the bookcover. A Wall Street guy with some political stuff on his resume is going to write an “epic history of the founding of the U.S. Navy”? This is going to be good. I was wrong…this was REALLY good. “Six Frigates” is this guy’s FIRST book? This has to be the literary equivalent of someone hitting a grand-slam in their first major league at-bat. His narrative, spanning just over two decades of the Republic’s earliest years, culminates with the War of 1812. Toll leaves the reader with a clear understanding of the political rivalries, economic challenges, and the very significant external and internal threats to the nation’s survival that existed at the time. Anyone who pays attention to current events will see some intriguing parallels. The contemporary pundits and politicians who blather about how our nation has never been so divided need to sit down with this for a few hours. Our navy now enjoys a similar position to the British at that time. However, it may not be very long before some upstart naval power challenges U.S. control of the seas…at least regionally. The Royal Navy wasn’t in the habit of losing to anyone and neither is today’s U.S. Navy. One can only imagine the shock onboard HMS GUERRIERE as it was being blown apart by USS CONSTITUTION, a ship to which the Royal Navy had no direct equivalent. The loss was but a pinprick to the Royal Navy’s line-of-battle, but the repeated success of these first purpose-built warships along with the privateers put a big dent in the aura of invincibility that surrounded the Royal Navy and all but destroyed British commercial shipping. Although controversial and unpopular while it was fought, the second war with Great Britain produced long-term world-wide respect for U.S. sovereignty. Ian Toll’s command of his subject is impressive, and his personal experience with sailing vessels provides him a critical skill; he obviously understands how these ships worked and is able to describe the battle in a way that, at times, not even O’Brian can match.

  13. Andrew Maloney
    November 14th, 2010 at 16:40 | #13

    Rating

    I read “Six Frigates” sailing south down the coast of Australia from Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday group.

    Keen to dodge a storm, we did a 48 hour dash down to the safety of Yepoon running a 3 hours on/3 hours off watch cycle. Problem was I didnt get any sleep. I was too deep inside Six Frigates. Back on deck, I’d update my watch on what I’d just read. They loved it. Sailing by instalments.

    Ian Toll’s a wonderful writer. The man is a time machine. He drops you right into the middle of the smoke-filled, blood splattered action. Patrick O’Brian fans: this is the book for you.

    Toll is also a deft hand at dropping insights that get you thinking. Like the half-parargraph mention of Madison writing to Thomas Jefferson agreeing that a war with the arab states of north africa could easily be won, and in the process stop the attacks on US merchant ships -but advises Jefferson against this course as the real issue will be the cost of then keeping the peace… Perhaps George W should have a read a little more history at college.

    You’ll taste the sweat and blood and salt on every page. Best read I’ve had in ages. And my shipmates agree!

    cheers

    Andrew Maloney

    Aboard Sonnet

  14. Ralph Capio
    November 14th, 2010 at 19:28 | #14

    Rating

    I’m a military officer, but, I must admit, I didn’t know much about the War of 1812. Having been stationed at Plattsburgh AFB, I knew of the Battle of Plattsburgh, but not its significance. As it turns out, Mr. Toll’s very readable book fills in many gaps in my knowledge, such as this one. It’s a great rendition of the very real people and grand events surrounding the founding of our nation, with the infant US Navy presenting the backdrop and the storyline. And, it reads like a novel – so much so, in fact, it is one of those rare books that, once started, becomes difficult to put down.

    The jacket cover of this book indicates Mr. Toll was a financial analyst by trade. I hope he’s given up that mundane calling, and dedicates himself to writing more exciting stories like this one. I very much look forward to his next effort.

  15. Carlene Garrick
    November 15th, 2010 at 12:44 | #15

    Rating

    I’ll admit I have a soft spot for history and for tales from the age of sail, but this is a good as it gets. Rarely have I encountered a history as well written. Toll’s mix of fact, riveting prose, and historical trivia make “Six Frigates” a real page turner – a true rarity even for those who love history. Although the Quasi War, the Barbary Coast conflicts, and the War of 1812 are the central events of the period, they’re really more of a backdrop against which the histories of these six ships are told. The Congress, the Constellation, the President, the United States, the Chesapeake, and of course, the Constitution, are the characters, and “Six Frigates” is their biography. – Joe

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