four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
By: 
Ian W. Toll
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The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy

A-Six FrigatesThe world that most Americans knew in the decade after the Revolution relied on the sea. Enter the United States Navy, charged with protecting the country from threats from Europe and North Africa with a fleet of six frigates authorized by Congress in 1794. Six Frigates chronicles the navy’s first three decades—from its humble beginnings to its coming-of-age in the War of 1812, which culminated in a challenge to the "sacred spell of invincibility" cloaking the British Navy. Ian Toll’s history examines both the technical and logistical aspects of such a daunting undertaking and, importantly, the human element that ensured the success of what would become, in time, the world’s most formidable floating force.
Norton. 592 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0393058475

Houston Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Sweeping in scope, full of vivid descriptions of naval battles and solidly grounded in the diplomatic landscape from the American Revolution through the War of 1812, Ian W. Toll’s Six Frigates is a masterly work. … Every naval aficionado will want it." Chris Patsilelis

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Toll details the process of designing, building, launching, manning and sailing these wooden-hulled ships, explaining such nuances as the superiority of timbers hewn from native North American live oak trees and how the British practice of forceably conscripting seaman from U.S. vessels led inexorably to renewed hostilities in 1812. … [Toll] draws on the rich resources of official documents, records, logbooks, journals and letters compiled and published over the last 80 years by the Navy." Nicholas A. Basbanes

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] fluent, intelligent history of American military policy from the early 1790s, when Congress commissioned six frigates to fight the Barbary pirates, through the War of 1812. But the book’s real value, and the pleasures it provides, lies in Toll’s grasp of the human dimension of his subject, often obscured in the dry tomes of naval historians." Evan Thomas

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"[Toll] pens not only a scholarly effort, but also an exceptionally readable one. … Toll’s work is a masterful, well-written and easily read addition to the history of the important early years of U.S. naval history." Brother Edward Sheehy

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The great pleasure here is in the splendid writing about ships at sea for which Toll, who has sailed Solings and J-24s and cruised the New England coast, has an instinctive feel. … With such an admirable book, it is most unfortunate that the publisher did not supply diagrams of the major engagements." Michael Kenney

Critical Summary

First-time author Ian Toll, sailing enthusiast and erstwhile Wall Street and Federal Reserve analyst and political speechwriter, hits his marks in this compelling history of the origins of the U.S. Navy. The word epic in a subtitle often suggests an author’s delusions of grandeur, particularly in history tomes, but Toll lives up to the task. Meticulous research, a good ear, and a novelist’s sense of pacing make for a fascinating story. Critical response to the book has been positive across the board: reviewers have compared it to the fiction of high-seas sage Patrick O’Brian (one of the author’s literary influences) and the popular histories of David McCullough.