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John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy Paperback – May 10, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Evan Thomas’s John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy grounds itself on the facts of Jones’s life and accomplishments to bolster his place among the pantheon of Revolutionary heroes while also working to deflate the myths that have circulated about his name. Jones, we learn, was confronted throughout his life with controversy and was crippled by ambition. But Thomas lauds Jones for early innovations as an American self-made man who rose from Scottish servitude.

Jones, despite his too brisk manner, was a true success, if not genius, as a naval captain. Early in the Revolutionary War, he captured a shipload of winter uniforms destined for General Burgoyne’s army in Canada, which instead warmed General Washington’s troops as they swept across the Delaware to defeat British at Princeton and Trenton. Later, Jones helped formulate the Navy’s plan of psychological warfare on British citizens. And Jones’s strategy to cut off the British fleet via the French Navy was arguably the most decisive strategic decision of the War.

In the end, Thomas makes a good case for a renewed appreciated for Jones’s role in the broader revolution, citing his many connections to the Founding Fathers and his contributions to the broader war effort. While it may be that the John Paul Jones who proclaimed "I have not yet begun to fight" never existed, the real man behind the textbook legend is every bit as compelling a figure in Thomas’s hands. This temperate biography situates Jones in what will likely prove durable fashion among portraits of Adams, Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This superlative biography from Newsweek assistant managing editor Thomas (Robert Kennedy, His Life) can hold its own on the shelf with Samuel Eliot Morison's Pulitzer Prize-winning Jones bio, A Sailor's Story. It does not add much to our knowledge of the events of its subject's life (from his birth in lowland Scotland in 1747 to his lonely death in revolutionary Paris in 1792), but it adds interpretations and dimensions to practically every event that has been recorded elsewhere. Jones's reception in the rebellious colonies, for example, where he arrived as a fugitive from justice, was much helped by his Masonic affiliations. His (frequently successful) pursuit of the ladies raised eyebrows, and his conduct during the famous ship to ship engagement between Bonhomme Richard and Serapis was more stubborn than sound. The British Captain Pearson was deservedly knighted for saving his valuable convoy from Jones's attack, and Captain Landais of the frigate Alliance may have mistaken his target in poor visibility when he fired some damaging broadsides into Jones's ship, rather than being treacherous or mad as tradition would have it. Jones was clearly prickly, socially ambitious, a difficult subordinate (he alienated every American diplomat in France except Benjamin Franklin) and a martinet as a superior. Jones was also a superb practical seaman (the survival of the frigate Ariel in a hurricane is only the most gripping example), a charismatic combat leader and a man with a vision of the American naval future. Both Jones and his latest biographer can justly be praised as masters of their respective crafts.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (May 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743258045
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743258043
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #208,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Evan Thomas is one of the most respected historians and journalists writing today. He is the bestselling author of nine works of nonfiction: Being Nixon, Ike's Bluff, The War Lovers, Sea of Thunder, John Paul Jones, Robert Kennedy, The Very Best Men, The Man to See, and The Wise Men (with Walter Isaacson). Thomas was an editor, writer, and reporter at Newsweek for 24 years, where he was the author of more than a hundred cover stories.
Thomas has won numerous journalism awards, including a National Magazine Award in 1998. In 2005, his 50,000-word narrative of the 2004 election was honored when Newsweek won a National Magazine Award for the best single-topic issue.
Thomas is a fellow of the Society of American Historians and has taught writing at Princeton and Harvard. He is a graduate of Harvard and the University of Virginia Law School. He lives with his wife and two children in Washington, DC.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on April 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Author Evan Thomas's account of the life of John Paul Jones is an excellent narrative historical biography that brings to life yet another colorful personality from the American Revolution. Like his contemporary, Alexander Hamilton, Jones was a vain, contentious and controversial figure of humble origins who rubbed many of those who knew him the wrong way. He also happened to be a rare and valuable commodity in Revolutionary America in that he was a man who actually knew how to fight.
As Thomas dramatically illustrates, Jones was virtually the only captain among the Americans to have any success against the Royal Navy. Jones's raids against the British home isles and his daring defeats in two diferent battles against Royal Navy battleships made him famous world wide. Thomas's detailed accounts of the naval battles are particularly gripping. And while Jones most likely never said the famous words, "I have not yet begun to fight," that does not detract from his heroic refusal to surrender his ship in what was perhaps the bloodiest naval battle of the age of sail.
Thomas tracks Jones's entire life, from his childhood as the son of a Scottish gardner, to his time as a merchant ship captain through his Revolutionary exploits to the last, bizarre chapter in his life when he became an Admiral in the Russian fleet against the Turks. Thomas is evenhanded in his descriptions of Jones, detailing his many faults in addition to his triumphs. In the end, the picture that emerges is of an essentially noble individual whose insecurities made him his own worst enemy. At just over 300 pages of narrative, the book is a relatively quick read and also has plenty of illustrations.
Overall, an outstanding historical biography that should be enjoyed by history buffs and even by more casual readers.
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70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Maier on May 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
For Evan Thomas to remind readers that John Paul Jones was his own worst enemy, that his vanity, ego and ambition rivaled those of the preening Alexander Hamilton is unnecessary and an understatement. John Paul Jones was, as much as the knowledge pained him, a glory hound. He was also one of the bravest, most skilled and dashing officers in the services of the United States during the Revolutionary War, and Thomas brings the cantankerous, manic-depressive little bulldog to vivid life for today's historians, history buffs and armchair adventurers. The highest highs and lowest lows of Jones's life toss, exalt, thrill, and lurch the reader like an unpredictable sea, and what a wonderful voyage it is!
John Paul Jones is the latest "self-made man" to appear in a biography, following on the heels of Willard Sterne Randall's cumbersome yet well-rendered "Alexander Hamilton: A Life." From humble roots, the son of a Scottish gardener, Jones was determined to rise from under the oppression of the European class system. He gazed out across the magnificent gardens created by his father and saw the ocean, with its seemingly endless horizon -and that is how Jones decided to live the rest of his life: He would expand, grow himself and mold his image anew, as wide as the sea, as broad as the sky.
As much taken with sail and sea as they took him, John Paul Jones was a natural, a gifted sailor who always tried to improve himself, whether his nautical skills, or by reading books to absorb philosophy and seeking the company of men from whom he knew he could learn.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By P Hodges on July 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In my opinion these are the best new history books of the last year (in no specific order): Evan Thomas, JOHN PAUL JONES; Simon Winchester, KRAKATOA; James Loewen, LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME; Joel Hayward, FOR GOD AND GLORY; Anthony Beevor, THE FALL OF BERLIN. Thomas and Hayward analyse outstanding warriors (John Paul Jones and Lord Nelson, and do so with all the talents one expects of writers).
Empathetically and skilfully, Thomas has portrayed John Paul Jones with much more psychological credibility and consistency than the previous "standard" biographer, the patrician Samuel Eliot Morison. We now see a new J-P-Jones: he's a real Jones, a flawed Jones; a great Jones.
The author visited Jones's birthplace in Scotland and spent time aboard sailing ships (he's an accomplished sailor, anyway); he revisited a wealth of documentation. He tried to get inside the man's mind. The resulting portrait of a ruthlessly ambitious, social-climbing naval genius with almost no fear is essential reading for anyone wondering how America's great fleets ever came to dominate the seas.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By bixodoido on December 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It would not be easy to write a biography on a man such as this. John Paul Jones did tremendous things for the American cause, and stood by his adopted country's navy even while being repeatedly mistreated and stabbed in the back by the likes of John Hancock, Edward Bancroft, and others. There is no explanation for Jones's loyalty, except to say that he was in it for glory. In fact, this seems to have been the motivation behind most of Jones's exploits. Still, vainglorious as the man was, there is no denying that he made a tremendous contribution to the American Revolution.
Evan Thomas handles his subject well, and seems mostly fair in his treatment of Jones. Still, he cannot help indulging in what is an all-too-common practice in historical biography these days. Thomas does not hesitate to throw his own thoughts in and add a little detail which enriches the narrative but not the history. Describing at times what Jones was feeling, what he wanted to do, how the weather affected him, and other details is stretching it a bit, given there is no way anyone can know these things for sure. Despite this shortcoming, however, this book is an entertaining read, and certainly worth the time to learn of one of the great unsung heroes of the Revolutionary War. It is nothing short of tragic that Jones was driven by an ungrateful America into service with the cruel Catherine the Great. This issue, along with many others, is treated in Thomas's book.
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