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The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 [Kindle Edition]

Richard Zacks
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A real-life thriller--the true story of the unheralded American who brought the Barbary Pirates to their knees.

In an attempt to stop the legendary Barbary Pirates of North Africa from hijacking American ships, William Eaton set out on a secret mission to overthrow the government of Tripoli. The operation was sanctioned by President Thomas Jefferson, who at the last moment grew wary of "intermeddling" in a foreign government and sent Eaton off without proper national support. Short on supplies, given very little money and only a few men, Eaton and his mission seemed doomed from the start. He triumphed against all odds, recruited a band of European mercenaries in Alexandria, and led them on a march across the Libyan Desert. Once in Tripoli, the ragtag army defeated the local troops and successfully captured Derne, laying the groundwork for the demise of the Barbary Pirates. Now, Richard Zacks brings this important story of America's first overseas covert op to life.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author of The Pirate Hunter,which made Captain Kidd come to life, focuses here more broadly on a piracy hot spot. Resolved to stop the enslavement of American merchant sailors by North African nations, Jefferson deployed most of the infant U.S. Navy to the Mediterranean and sent a column of troops overland from Egypt to place the pasha of Tripoli's brother Hamet on the throne in 1801. The leader of that motley array of mercenaries, Muslim tribesmen, Hamet's retainers and a handful of U.S. Marines was the colorful and combative William Eaton, who led them more than 500 miles across the desert to "the shores of Tripoli." By the time he arrived, peace negotiations were underway, in the hands of one Tobias Deane, who was neither honest nor competent. Eaton had to abandon Hamet and was in turn virtually abandoned by the Jefferson administration, leaving him with a mountain of debt and a drinking problem that eventually killed him at 47. There has been a dearth of good material on the Barbary War and particularly on Eaton's trek; Zacks has researched thoroughly, writes entertainingly and shows a knack for sea stories and characterization. This is the book that Captain Eaton has long deserved. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In 1805, with the United States at war with Tripoli, a disgraced diplomat named William Eaton embarked on the young nation's first covert mission: to track down Hamet Karamanli, the brother of the Bashaw of Tripoli, and place him on the throne. The quest was ill funded and poorly managed, and had a rather feeble ally in Hamet, who repeatedly attempted to back out of the plot. Eaton was further thwarted by Tobias Lear, the American consul in the Barbary Coast, who eventually negotiated a treaty (and paid a hefty tribute to ransom prisoners and insure peace). Zacks recounts the misadventures of Eaton (and the fledgling Marine Corps) with an enthusiastic flair that at times relies too heavily on romantic conjecture. Still, the narrative is propelled by the entertaining excesses of Eaton's rhetoric, as preserved in his diary and letters.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • File Size: 1422 KB
  • Print Length: 454 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books (June 1, 2005)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FCK6DE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,350 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
143 of 160 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The gold standard for historical accounts June 14, 2005
Some people like suspense novels, some people like action adventure stories, and some people are real history buffs. This book will satisfy all three crowds. To find accurate history written in such an engaging, page-turning manner is a rare delight.

The United States became a nation at a time when the Barbary States (Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers) were enjoying a piracy trade they had been running for three centuries. This robbery took place by forcefully taking a ship on the high seas, then keeping the goods and enslaving the crew and passengers. The pirates would hold prisoners for ransom--typically for a year, while they negotiated a price--then release them when paid. No country would stand up to these pirates. In fact, other nations paid tribute to them to avert even worse problems.

This cowardly state of affairs would have continued for centuries more, had not William Eaton headed up a mission to end the reign of one of the bashaws (a bashaw is a sort of king).

This particular bashaw (Yussef) killed his oldest brother, who had been the rightful heir to the throne. Then, he took the middle brother's family hostage and sent him into exile--leaving Yussef the one occupying the throne. The middle brother, Hamet, wanted to regain his throne from his sadistic and unscrupulous younger brother. This is where William Eaton came in.

To understand the central story, you have to understand Eaton. Zacks helps us do this, by showing Eaton engaging in the failures that brought him to the point where his adventure with Hamet began. Eaton had a sound military mind, but he was lousy at politics. He was constantly shooting himself in the proverbial foot, and his enemies took pains to make him suffer.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the shores of Tripoli May 31, 2005
Long before our current war with Islamic extremists our young nation engaged in the War with the Barbary Pirates. It had almost become a footnote for history for many until the likes of journalists like Christopher Hitchens brought its events back into the spotlight.

Now Richard Zack's "The Pirate Coast" brings the events of the war of Barbary Pirates into sharper focus.

During the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson our fledgling nation faced a thorny problem. The United States and other European nations were forced to pay tribute to the nations of the North African coast to do business in the Mediterranean or would be subject to attack by the Barbary pirates. The other nations of Europe went along with this practice but the US was against it not only on principle but because of its sheer cost (at one point we paid the Barbary pirates tribute which exceeded the entire US military budget).

At the time the practice of the Barbary pirates was to commandeer foreign ships and sell their crew into slavery.

Eaton was sent by Jefferson in 1805 on a clandestine mission to aid in a revolution going on in Tripoli. Now comes the intesteting character of Eaton. Eaton was by accounts a stubborn individual who seemed to get himself in trouble in every endevour he found himself in but Eaton was a super patriot who saw this mission as a chance to redeem himself. However the revolution in Tripoli sputtered. Jefferson was more than willing to aid a people in a revolution but wanted no part in overthrowing a government now that the revolution had been foiled.

Eaton was promised a large amount of funding but at the last moment after Jefferson hearing the revolution in the area has failed Eaton is sent off virtually alone.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A forgotten tale of the early American republic July 3, 2005
A US Navy warship goes aground in the territorial waters of a hostil Muslim power, the crew is taken hostage, the President of the US dispatches a secret agent to overthrown the Mulsim leader and free the Americans ... Another Tom Clancy thriller? Not, just a history of what happened at the beginning of the nineteenth centry when the USS Philadelphia grounded in the harbor of Tripoli on the Barbary Coast, the officers and crews made prisoners, and Tom Jefferson sent former US Army Captain William Eaton to North Afric to find a brother of the ruler of Tripoli and support that brother in an attempt to gain the throne and free the Americans. It involved an incredible march across hundreds of miles of terrible desert with a small "army" of mercenaries (and eight US Marines), the successful capture of one of Tripoli's main cities, and betrayal of Eaton's mission by the politicians and diplomats. But in the process Eaton briefly became one of America's first post-Revolutionary military heroes. He was also a cantakerous, hot-tempered, hard-headed drunk, but nobody's perfect. Zacks skillfully tells the story of this remarkable adventure (one that was later immortalized by part of the US Marine Corps' hymn), although I wish he had provided few better maps so the action could be more easily traced.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic tale of adventure on land and at sea December 21, 2005
"The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805," by Richard Zacks, is an enthralling work of history. It's full of bold and colorful characters, fascinating places, and perilous situations. Zacks takes us back to the early 19th century. The nation of Tripoli (modern-day Libya), which terrorizes the Mediterranean, declares war on the United States and eventually captures a U.S. naval vessel and its crew. Zacks tells the story of the military and political effort to free the captives. It's an epic tale that involves both land warfare in North Africa and naval warfare in the Mediterranean, as well as political intrigue in the city of Washington and diplomatic maneuvering in Malta and Tripoli. Although Jefferson gets mentioned in the book's subtitle, the real hero of the book is William Eaton, who leads "America's first covert military op overseas." He's a truly larger-than-life character.

Zacks draws on a rich variety of sources from which to tell the story of Eaton's remarkable mission, and he incorporates substantial quotes from these sources in the narrative. By doing this he allows the voices of Eaton and his contemporaries to be heard. Interestingly, Zacks also points out to the reader the places where there are gaps in the historical record. In the book's acknowledgements section, Zacks describes in detail how he got access to the documents he used in writing the book. The book also includes a "Cast of Characters" guide, extensive endnotes, a thorough bibliography, and an index.

Zacks' prose is witty, lively, and engaging. As he tells the story he includes many fascinating details--the use of lime juice for secret writing, the copious amounts of alcohol consumed by the builders of the U.S.S.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've read recently, and I read a lot
An historical novel that reads with the attention to detail of Tom Clancy and the action of a thriller novel. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Rich Stevens
5.0 out of 5 stars History and excellent reading material
Part of a set of gifts to my husband
Published 15 days ago by Eva C ochran
4.0 out of 5 stars Barbary Pirates
A very long and greatly detailed read on how and why the U.S. dealt with the same problems we have today i.e. Muslim pirates. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jeff Hall
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A well written history of this time period with asides to explain the main characters. Very enlightening
Published 1 month ago by DeLois Tribulato
3.0 out of 5 stars Pending a read
This was a gift. The recipient has yet to read it.
Published 2 months ago by Dorothy Pierson-Hallam
3.0 out of 5 stars Alright
Alright but full of needless back story to lengthen the book. However amazing how much the Barbary pirates are similar to the current Islamic state.
Published 3 months ago by pete
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating reading
Once again when our true history is researched surprising events are uncovered. This is one snippet of American history that can teach the reader much about relations with other... Read more
Published 3 months ago by R. F. Delanoy
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and immensely readable
Excellent character study of William Eaton and Thomas Jefferson. It is an interesting history that reads like a novel. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Yorkieg
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very enjoyable book.
Published 3 months ago by John Brodhun
5.0 out of 5 stars Vastly Entertaining History
Richard Zacks' excellent history, The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805, was published in 2005. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Christopher Kelly
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More About the Author

Richard Zacks grew up in New York City, wandering to Times Square when it was still evil. His mother sought to refine his manners with white-glove dance lessons at the Pierre Hotel but that effort failed miserably. As a teenager, he gambled on the horses, played blackjack in illegal Manhattan card parlors and bought his first drink at age fifteen at the Plaza Hotel. He also attended elite schools such as Horace Mann ('73), University of Michigan ('79) and Columbia Journalism School ('81). He majored in Classical Greek and studied Arabic, Italian and French.
His whole life he has felt torn between the seedy and the high brow. He is a born contrarian. His books reflect that, with topics ranging from Joan of Arc's virginity tests to a vindication of Captain Kidd, from Edison's electric chair to Mark Twain's erotic writings. .
Zacks spent the decade of the 1980s as a journalist, writing a widely syndicated newspaper column, as well as freelance pieces for the likes of The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, and he brings a who, what, when, where and an occasional why to his writing of historical narrative. The N.Y. Times, commenting on his first book, "History Laid Bare", stated that Zacks "specializes in the raunchy and perverse." That was two decades ago; he has perhaps evolved since then. His second book, "An Underground Education" became a cult hit; his third book "Pirate Hunter" has sold more than 175,000 copies and TIME magazine chose it among the five best non-fiction books of the year. Zacks has also appeared in four documentaries.
Tall, bald, spry, he still plays full court basketball at age fifty-six, and does his writing in an office, overlooking Union Square Park in Manhattan.

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