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Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy Paperback – March 17, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (March 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039333032X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393330328
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (319 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It's hard to imagine a better place for listening to this shrewdly abridged, excitingly read audio version of Toll's impressive history of the founding of the United States Navy than aboard some sort of seagoing vessel. One of Patrick O'Brian's warships would be perfect, but anything from a smaller sailboat to the Staten Island Ferry would be almost as auspicious. Veteran actor Lang, his voice instantly recognizable from films and television, never lets that familiarity take over. He trusts instead to Toll's virtuoso combination of details large and small (everything from the uniquely horrible ways men died during sea battles to the greed of shipbuilders and their representatives in government) to keep listeners intrigued—changing his voice in subtle ways when he brings to life the real words of American and British naval heroes from Lord Nelson to the officers who won the war of 1812. Lang is a lucid guide through the stormy seas of politics and commercial intrigue surrounding the birth of the U.S. naval fleet, which would soon surprise the world—especially the British navy, which thought of itself as invincible.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist

Not confined to sea battles, Toll's history of the U.S. Navy's formative decades, from the mid-1790s to the War of 1812, rounds out affairs by anchoring the nascent navy to its financial supports. Navies are not inexpensive, and the costs of building and maintaining ships appear lightly but persistently in Toll's narrative. It centers on the first vessels purpose-built for the navy, the half-dozen frigates of which the USSConstitution moored in Boston today is the last survivor. Besides money, their construction involved politics; the Federalists favored the naval program (creating the Department of the Navy in 1798), while Jefferson's parsimonious Republicans were more diffident. Toll is as insightful about the essential domestic and diplomatic background as he is with his dramatizations of the naval engagements of the new navy, which produced a crop of national heroes such as Stephen Decatur. The maritime strategy and the highly developed sense of officers' honor, which influenced where particular battles occurred, emerge clearly in this fluent account. Vibrant and comprehensive, Toll makes an impressive debut. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Ian W. Toll is an independent naval historian, the author of PACIFIC CRUCIBLE: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 and SIX FRIGATES: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. SIX FRIGATES won broad critical acclaim and was selected for the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, the William E. Colby Award, and New York Times "Editor's Choice" list.

Customer Reviews

This is a very well written and researched book.
RUSSELL J. Anderson
This is THE BOOK to read on the foundations of the U.S. Navy from its early history through the war of 1812.
J. D. Sullivan
On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?
h lynn keith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

215 of 218 people found the following review helpful By A. G. Corwin on October 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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111 of 114 people found the following review helpful By F. Kim on October 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Capio on November 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David M. Garrett on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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, " 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).
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