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Jefferson's War: America's First War on Terror 1801-1805 Paperback – September 21, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Joseph Wheelan, a graduate of the University of Wyoming and University of Colorado–Denver, was for 26 years an editor and reporter for the Associated Press and the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune . He and his wife Pat live in Cary, North Carolina. His next book will be Jefferson’s Trial, on the treason trial of Aaron Burr.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Trade Paper Edition edition (September 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786714042
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786714049
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #436,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I always wanted to write books and I finally got the opportunity after many years as a journalist. I have tried to make the most of it. I love to write, and primary research is pure pleasure, particularly reading the original documents and the actual handwritten letters and journals. I would recommend this to anyone who has an inquisitive mind and enjoys hanging around libraries.

When I am not writing and doing research, my wife Pat and I like to hike, bird-watch, and sample North Carolina's unique barbecue restaurants. We both enjoy reading American history from all eras.

Of special interest to me is the early national era, when everything was new and undergoing severe trials. We were fortunate to have leaders during these perilous early decades who put the American people and the nation's needs before political parties and sometimes even personal ambition. And they also happened to be terrific writers, thinkers, and warriors.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The major reason to read this book is that there simply aren't enough books that try to give a reasonably comprehensive history of the the Tripolitan War and US policy at the time. A lot of books focusing on the war are more concerned with the naval history, and "the birth of the US Navy." That is all well and good, but the politics, policy, and financial aspects of the war deserve a lot of attention in a single volume as well as the remarkable achievements of the young Navy in the Mediterranean. Important lessons can be drawn from our experience and applied today.
However, the subtitle: "America's First War on Terror" is hyperbolic. This is understandable, though, since it will augment the book's sale, and there is nothing wrong with a book out there on this topic that is accessible to us laymen. Also, the heavy use of "The Terror" in the early chapters in referring to the piracy gets a little worn. On the other hand, Roger Albin's vituperative response to the book is totally over the top, since author Wheelan barely discusses September 11 in the preface, and nowhere in the text (see the index). It is left to the reader to draw direct (or indirect) parallels. The Barbary states weren't terrorists as we understand them today. Tactics of terror were used by these mercenary states, as were "liberal" justifications of their piracy through Koranic verse, but we should be careful about blurring those vile and venal potentates with the far more sophisticated and apocalyptic terrorists of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's global political vision is far scarier, far more dangerous, and warrants a far more unrelenting and thorough destruction than the Barbary states did.
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Format: Hardcover
This book competently highlights "America's first global war on terror." It is the fascinating story of America's early interaction and conflict with the Barbary states in North Africa. It is a complex story that contains the whole range of diplomacy and war; courage and cowardice; brilliance and incompetence. A brief synopsis of the events covered can be found in the publisher's blurb above, and need not be repeated here. This review will serve mainly to highlight strengths and weakness of the work. The author tells the story very well but perhaps with a few too many tangents and largely irrelevant details and stories as well as the rather annoying habit of making somewhat forced comparisons between the situation at the start of the 1800s and today.

First the author has a lovely narrative flow that is perhaps necessarily hindered by a superabundance of names and places. This may well be the nature of the beast as there were four Barbary States, each with its own Deii, Bey, Pasha, Sultan, or Emperor let alone the other regional powers which will include many that the layman may find unfamiliar. Unless you have previously studied the Napoleonic Mediterranean, you may find it useful to keep a small cheat-sheet on your bookmark and a small map handy. However, this is not a serious hindrance to the serious reader.

More annoying is the author's tendency to "period hop." That is to say that he has decided to structure his work only in the most loose chronological format. Mostly he wants to follow people and places. At times this makes for a disjointed narrative. Additionally, and perhaps because of this, he also has a tendency to repeat himself. At times one can be grateful for the reminder, while at others it is annoying and slightly insulting.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wheelan is a journalist who has written a "popular" history of the US war against the Barbary Pirates in the early 19th century. It is a straightforward, non-Academic narrative history that provides context and describes the war against, primarily, Tripoli. He points out that after the Europeans had spent hundreds of years bribing and placating these north African Muslims, the US refused to play the game. At first, due to a lack of resources and the fact that the US was a confederation with a powerless central government, it had to pay tribute. However, after the central government was given the right to levy taxes, one of the first things it did was raise a Navy, and the primary threat was the Barbary Coast. One of Jefferson's first actions as president was to send the Navy in harms way. Although the first two Navy commanders were too timid for the mission, Preeble put teeth to the threat. Later, an overland expedition led by former Army officer William Eaton drove Tripoli to sue for peace. Of note are the similarities between the way today's Islamic terrorists behave when compared to the Islamic pirates of the time.
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed reading this book. As a break from the Aubrey/Maturin novels, it was nice to read a fast paced, straight forward non-fiction account.

Wheelan gives a fine researched account of the Barbary Wars from a Military, economic and Political point of view. However, this book reads like a novel and is very fast paced. Although my primary interest is military history, I was more intruiged with the economic and political aspects of the conflict as seen from a 200 year old perspective.

The cast of characters is very interesting(with a list in the intro)as Wheelan goes into some depth to give background information on all the major players in this war. I think the book really shines and it shows in many examples how politics can otherwise ruin the best laid military plans especially with the overland expedition to Tripoli.

As for the parallel with today's conflicts, I feel they are very evident. Wheelan hits on the psycology of the Muslim mind very well, and if one looks at today's breed of terrorist, there are many similarities-unfortunately today, they are much more vicious.

The only thing I would have wished is that he could have included more illustrations. Definaltely a must read for all naval history buffs and those who love naval fiction as well.
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