Book Review - Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

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Sarah gave me this book for our fifth wedding anniversary, and I was very excited to read it. It looks like just the sort of thing that would capture my attention.

I actually polished this book off in one day! There is a new generation of history books that is really unlike histories of the past. Books like Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, the Killing series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, and others provide a window view into the people that are part of the story. You can read about what worries them, how the world looks to them, and how it all fits into the historical activity going on at the moment. History is brought to life! For any larger scope this narrative style would evolve into a massive book that probably would lack important details, but for a specific historic topic it provides powerful insight and imagery.

The premise of this tale, then, is that a fledgling United States, with a depleted treasury due to the Revolution and several years under the Articles of Confederation, needs to trade abroad in order to build up the economy. The difficulty is that four Muslim nations, absolved by their religion to attack whom they please on the high seas, are capturing merchant vessels, keeping the ships and cargoes, and enslaving the crews.

Large powers such as Britain and France have been paying off these pirate nations for years, ensuring a relatively uninterrupted set of ocean trade routes; but the pirates’ demands are so heinous that the United States government cannot reliably pay. The only other solution is war.

Thomas Jefferson had argued for a naval power capable of dealing with threats to merchant shipping, and with the outrages visited upon the United States by the pirates, he was able to persuade Congress to raise funds for warships. 

Eventually, through a combination of bold naval maneuvering and political wrangling, peace is won in the region; but only for a time.

This book dives into the real-life characters who were a part little-known part of American history; it reads like a swashbuckling adventure, made all the more exciting by the fact the events are real. Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger present a readable and engaging slice of history. I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in US or naval history.

In my reading pile is George Washington’s Secret Six, by the same authors. I am now even more excited to dive into that story.