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The Shining Sea: David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the U.S.S. Essex during the War of 1812 Hardcover – October 8, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First American Edition edition (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465019625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465019625
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Providence Journal
The Shining Sea is more than simply the story of one captain and one ship. Daughan describes island life in the South Pacific, shipboard diseases, battles for independence in South America, and includes digressions on mutiny and ship repair. In the end, this book is as much history and travelogue as the story of one thrilling voyage.”

Roanoke Times
“[A]n entertaining and informative biography of David Porter.... Daughan’s account of an ambitious sailor’s rise to power and the price of his hubris is at once a cautionary tale and a fascinating look into the life of a young nation – especially the relationship with England and France.”

What Would the Founders Think?
“[A] fascinating story.... Daughan tells Porter’s story in a way that takes the reader from admiration to, if not disdain, disappointment in the foibles of a man obsessed with reputation.”

Library Journal
“Daughan richly describes the Essex’s voyage, including the dangers and privations from the weather, enemy action, crew indiscipline, and the vagaries of handling a wooden ship under sail.... Readers, especially those well versed in naval history and terminology, will revel in this lively and thoroughly researched work covering a cruise on its bicentennial.”

City Book Review
“[David Porter’s] exploits are legendary, almost unbelievable, and The Shining Sea recounts them with vivid detail and high drama.... This book is the way to learn history. Focusing on David Porter, it also explains the political and cultural environment influencing his actions, and events that led up to and followed the War. The story is meticulously researched, but written with the pace and vivacity of an action thriller, heart-pounding and immersive. Excellent writing, excellent reading; an excellent book.”

Edward L. Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World
“George Daughan has spun a riveting yarn about David Porter and the extraordinary voyage of the USS Essex. With verve and historical nuance, the book captures some of the global ambitions of Americans early in our history and tells a Pacific story that would soon echo in the works of Herman Melville.”

John Ferling, author of Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation
“George Daughan has written a riveting seafaring story. With grace and style, he tells the epic and ultimately tragic tale of the South Seas voyage of the Essex, a US Navy frigate, during the War of 1812. The history of the Essex’s seventeen months at sea is captivating in itself, but Daughan succeeds in unraveling the mysteries of sailing ships, naval battles, the lonely life of a ship’s captain, and the fast-changing and often perilous fortunes of mariners. This is wonderful history so well told that it will leave readers with the feeling of running fast on a smooth blue sea.”

Robert Middlekauff, author of The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution
“George C. Daughan has in The Shining Sea written another splendid book about the efforts of early American seamen to defend their nation on the world’s oceans. This volume takes up the successes and failures of one of them, David Porter, in the War of 1812. The principal part of the book tells the story of Captain Porter’s voyage around Cape Horn and across the Pacific in an attempt to destroy British naval forces. The great naval captains—Farragut, Decatur, Preble, among others—appear at appropriate points in the story. But it is David Porter and the Essex who assume the central place in the tale: the climax comes in Valparaiso with the destruction of the Essex and all of Porter’s hopes. Daughan tells the history of the Essex’s disaster as he does all of the sensational happenings on the voyage: with honesty, great skill, and verve.”

Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Assistant Secretary of Defense
“For those concerned about military leaders who put their personal glory and ambition ahead of the interest of the nation and their subordinates, George Daughan’s analysis of Navy Captain David Porter’s seventeen-month deployment of the USS Essex is a must read. Daughan shows how Captain Porter’s outsized ambitions and hubris led to the loss of the Essex and two-thirds of his crew.”

About the Author

George C. Daughan holds a Ph.D. in American History and Government from Harvard University. Author of If By Sea and 1812: The Navy’s War, Daughan lives in Portland, Maine.

Customer Reviews

Well written and well researched.
Wolfgang Harms
Whilst this is clearly a minor error, it does raise questions about what other factual mistakes Daughan may have made.
matt b.
The Story of the voyage of the U.S.S Essex reads more like an adventure novel than a bland history book.
John E. Arehart

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By matt b. on March 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I was disappointed with this book on several counts: there is nothing here than can't be learnt through a quick search of the internet; David Porter's self-serving memoir is often taken as the only source, even though the author clearly has his doubts about Porter's reliability as a witness; no original research was carried out; no documentary sources were used (not even Midshipman Feltus' journal!); there was little effort made to look at Porter's cruise using British sources (which are voluminous and under-researched and add significant new details) aside from those widely available on the internet (War of 1812 PDFs). Captain Hillyar (Porter's nemesis) wrote over a dozen letters and reports which are available at the National Archives in London which Daughan failed to use. There are also British newspaper reports which add extra details to the stories of the whalers captured by Porter; as do the logbooks of both the Phoebe and the Cherub (Daughan only used the entries available online). Daughan also appears to have been unaware of several letters written by British officers on the Phoebe, and the court martial records of the British deserters tried after the battle for fighting against their countrymen. A final major source that Daughan failed to use is the journal of Midshipman Gardiner who took part in the entire cruise of HMS Phoebe and was present at the showdown in Valparaiso. This is now available to buy on Amazon and is entitled 'Hunting the Essex'.

Besides all these gripes, the book is tedious to read in places (quite an achievement given the nature of the content!), it is overwritten, and there are several factual errors. To name but two: on page 170 Daughan states that HMS Phoebe spent 'several weeks' in the Galapagos searching for the Essex as from October 23rd.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on July 13, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
George Daughan connects all the dots and adds quite a few about Captain David Porter during the War of 1812. If you're a Patrick O'Brian fan (Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin) you will particularly enjoy this book about the real life adventures of US Navy Captain Porter. The facts of Porter's voyage to the Pacific dovetail nicely with O'Brian's novel THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD. You can ignore that Daughan is not an exceptionally accomplished writer in the vein of O'Brian - he lays enough history in the pages to make this a very interesting read.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Don_the_commando on January 28, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Fairly tedious reading. Quite a bit of repetition. Gives the impression that the editing process was not well done. It is an interesting historical account, but it could have been told in two-thirds as many pages. A few more maps would help. I probably would not buy it again.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Fisher on August 10, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wonderful story, well told. One of those, "who knew" stories in American history. What was of great interest to me was the impact that the Captain had on future Admiral David Farragut. Facinating insight into how he was developed as a leader. I have the kindle edition and the audible one. Whispersync worked flawlessly.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By SteveM on October 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Well written but ultimately unsatisfying. To be epic would have required Porter to successfuly return to the US with the Essex intact. As it was, Essex was lost to Porter's incredible ego, not to the British. Fitting out the Essex was also a critical mistake leaving her at the mercy of any British warship with long guns.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert Leonzio on July 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Easy to read thorough historical analysis of the naval life of David Porter, especially focusing on his voyages and experiences aboard the US Frigate Essex. Particularly enjoyed the depth and breadth of the author's analysis and perspectives.
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