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The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines & the Secret Mission of 1805

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  1,157 ratings  ·  143 reviews
A real-life thriller, now in paperback--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 a ...more
Paperback, 454 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Hachette Books (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,196)
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Jason Koivu
An ambitious U.S. general/diplomat turns guerilla warlord and takes a troop of the newly-minted U.S. Marines with Arab mercenaries into North Africa to wage a private war with the local tribal rulers in an effort to rescue captured American sailors in a very Lawrence of Arabia way.

The U.S. government's spy-game secretive backing and simultaneous denying of this mission is intriguing to see in its CIA-esque infancy. The cover-ups and casting adrift of the ambiguously valiant hero, William Eaton,
...more
Sarah (Warning: Potentially Off-Topic)
“From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli,
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea.”

--The Marines’ Hymn

The Pirate Coast tackles the story of the fledgling United States’ first foreign war, a conflict with the country formerly known as Tripoli (now Libya). By the early days of the United States, the Barbary pirates had a long history of making a nice living from piracy. Operating out of Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers, they were the scourge of the Mediterranean, capturin
...more
jankreidler
Nov 04, 2007 jankreidler rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, anyone interested in a ripping yarn
What a hoot! William Eaton was a bulldog who got on the wrong side of T Jeff or we'd be singing songs and visiting monuments about him....history is fickle. Although this is non-fiction, I laughed out loud at this guy's audacity and gumption! His fatal flaw was believing in honor above all else...not too politic! The senario mirrors today's world politics eerily, including a regime change in the Middle East!
Mrelia
"The Pirate Coast" chronicles America's first attempt at regime change. Results, as always, were mixed. Despite the obscurity of this mission, readers will find many of the circumstances and events to be quite familiar. Let's just say that history does tend to repeat itself.

Mr. Zacks style is, as always, engaging and readable. He makes no obvious effort at comedy, yet the absurdity of several situations are nearly laugh-out-loud.

For me, the most interesting lesson in this book is on the importan
...more
Gary Foss
One of the tragic aspects of any forgotten war is that in being forgotten the lessons of that conflict are inevitably lost. That loss represents a serious failure of civilization, for there is truth in the now cliche words of George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The United States has repeated the errors of the First Barbary War many times in the centuries since. Indeed, it would not be outrageous to suggest that this early conflict set the tone for A ...more
Judy
The story of how, in an effort to stop the Barbary Pirates from hijacking American ships along the coast of North Africa and imprisoning U.S. sailors, William Eaton was sanctioned by President Thomas Jefferson in 1805 to lead a secret mission to Africa to free U.S. hostages being held in Tripoli. Denied official support, because of the covert nature of the mission, Eaton recruited a small band of men including European mercenaries, Arab cavalry, and Bedouin fights to join his core group of men ( ...more
David
This was a fascinating book about the first "regime change" attempt by the U.S. gov't in the early 1800s by Thomas Jefferson's administration. Plagued by Barbary pirates, we attempted to replace the Tripoli shah with his older exiled brother. William Eaton, former rev. war vet, sales to Egypt, finds the brother, marches across 500 miles of Libyan desert, takes Durnya, and then is hung out to dry by Tobias Lear and T.J.

Interesting notes from my recent readings!

Lear shows up in Geo. Washington's
...more
Jason
My expectations for unabridged audio books are that they keep me engaged as I drive through the midwest. Those of you who have ever driven through the midwest will understand that doing so can be a bit tedious to say the least, so the prospect of having a dude or dude-ette read me a ripping good yarn goes a long way toward maintaining sanity behind the wheel. I lean toward historical non-fiction because it's always been my cup of tea, though I'm equally happy with John Grisham/Stephen King/J.K R ...more
Josh
Dec 12, 2013 Josh added it
Shelves: nonfiction
There are two things that should be said about this book to start. First, it is horribly mistitled. The publishers were clearly trying to cash in on the success of Zacks's other book Pirate Hunter. This book has very little to do with pirates and mostly deals with the United States as a fledgling nation and its foreign relations. Second, this book is must-read history and far better than Pirate Hunter.

The book focuses on the First Barbary War--the United States' first war (excepting the undeclar
...more
Shan
Well, it took over a year to read this book. It started very slowly, but about half way the pace picked up and I found it to be a satisfying read. Be warned, you need to be a history lover to really enjoy the detail and nuance of this book.

The book centers on William Eaton, a former Army Captain that leads a covert operation to topple the government of the Barbary Pirates. Along the way you get a good glance at how the government of the day, headed by President Jefferson, operated in both the do
...more
Joe
Richard Zack's writing style succeeds in vividly portraying the story of a stubbornly persistent American patriot called William Eaton. Zack brings us along while William Eaton forges ahead through a road-blocked filled adventure to save the fate of Captain Bainbridge and his crew of the USS Philadelphia who were forced as prisoners-of-war into slave labor by Barbary pirates within the walls of Tripoli. Eaton's bull-headed, never-take-no-for-an-answer attitude drives him and his army through a d ...more
A.J. Smith
An absolutely wonderful read by Richard Zacks (author of The Pirate Hunter, another great read). Zacks tells the story of Captain William Eaton and the first authorized black operation of the United States government in 1805 against the Bashir of Tripoli and the Barbary pirates. Once again Zacks never ceases to impress me with his research, insight, and storytelling ability. This book is a must read for anyone in the USMC, as it sheds light on the early history of the Corps. A great read from st ...more
Steve Cran

In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s European shipping and that of the nation called the USA were being harassed by pirates in the Mediterranean Seas. There bases of operation were located in the Northern Coast of Africa nominally under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Tripoli, Tunis and Algeria were the main pirate ports. In the late 1700’s the Pirates attacked the island of Sardinia and made everyone who they captured into slave. Of course in the Ottoman Empire if you were a Muslim would auto
...more
Matt
This was a decent read. Overall was a pretty interesting story on foreign affairs for the fledgeling American empire.

This story gives a pretty good play by play on how The US handled a hostage situation during the dawn of the 1800s. It also gives a feel for the Arab culture which clearly still exisits today.

What is also interesting to me was the ability of men and leaders to wash their past and go through a rebirth if given a chance.

If you like stories of the early 1800s and how they got thro
...more
Burt
What an eye opener. As a retired officer of Marines, I can truly say that I was completely surprised by the apparent inaccuracy of the legend and lore that exists today of U.S. Marine Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon with regard to his acquisition of the "Mamaluke" sword. I'll say no more on that as it would be a spoiler for other Marines who will yet read this book. The fact of that matter does not detract in the least from the outstanding and courageous performance and behavior of the U.S. Marines ...more
Henry Demond
If you gave my podcast a listen a-ways back, I mentioned something about a recent book about Pirates (Ladies: that’s Pirates, not Pilates) that I thought was going to be really cool, but it was such a rattling combination of dry academia, Poast-Modernizm bias and mis-appropriated details that I had to put the book down. I won’t reveal the name (or publisher) so as to not create unwarranted consternation among industry chums.

But I will say that the owner of Blackland Prairie Books and Collectible
...more
Fredrick Danysh
A good account of the first war with the Barbary pirates. It explores the actions of the Americans involved in leadership roles. It also details the struggles of William Eaton who commanded eight US Marines and a mercenary force of the kingdom of Tripoli in 1805. The character of Eaton and the politicans involved are discussed and explains why the US and Tripoli went to war again after the War of 1812.
W. Lawrence
Richard Zacks is one of those authors that infuriates you because there is so much time between his books. The reason of course is clear when you start reading them: he does a lot of research.

I could go on and on about his style, but let's get to the book.

We've all hummed along to the Marine Corp tune "From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli..." Well, here is where shores of Tripoli are met by our first Marines. Meet William Eaton, a tough as nails, singularly focused individual wh
...more
Paul
The first thing to say about this book is that the title is extremely misleading. This has little or nothing to do with pirates (the only thing close to pirates in the book is some state-sponsored privateer types out of Tripoli), Thomas Jefferson barely plays a role and the marines described are from a pre-modern version of the USMC that is nothing like the one we'd expect today. It's like writing a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition and calling it, "Cajun Country: Thomas Jefferson, Louis ...more
Tom Long
I purposely did not refresh my knowledge of this incident in history. I wanted to first see it through the author's eyes. Had I done even a modicum of research, I might have declined to invest so heavily in a tale of Eaton. Although history did not quite work out in the way I had hoped (no fault of the author of course), the writing was well-paced and descriptive. I feel that I was fed a knowledge of North African culture and history, well beyond anything picked up in school, by means of an engr ...more
Ethan
The Pirate Coast is an excellent book to expand your knowledge of both the waning years of the Barbary Coast and the young United States. Unfortunately, it is not as good a source of history for the young Marine Corps, something the book seems to tout in its description and in its detail and emphasis on the few Marines in who marched across the desert into Tripoli.

That said, this is an excellent book. It reads well and is a story pieced together from the numerous amounts of facts which Richard Z
...more
David
This took a bit of patience getting into, but the story took off. I was always a bit confused trying to follow who was who exactly among the various captains and commanders who dealt with Eaton. Still, the Eaton character is why this book is important. I believe after reading the story that this man was likely as close to a 19th century version of TE Lawrence in his WWI experience as you might find. Maybe the only one in US history. This might be a stretch, but the similarities are certainly the ...more
Tony Grayson
The Pirate Coast is a masterfully-written novel. It is historical fiction at its best! Richard Zacks frames U.S. Ambassador Eaton as a principled man who dares to put his beliefs in front President Jefferson's strategic goals. The details in this book are presented so well that it is difficult for the reader to spot the fiction that is necessary to present the facts in a thrilling read. Even thought the setting is in the year 1800, The Pirate Coast is relevant in today's America. I recommend thi ...more
John
William Eaton....one of my Heroes
Larry
Richard Zacks has done an excellent job of describing the little known events and problems faced by the newly formed United States of America in the faraway Mediterranean. For hundreds of years, these waters were beset with state sanctioned piracy and most if not all European countries paid tribute (protection money) to Tripoli (now Libya) to prevent their ships from begin targeted. Modern Presidents and Secretaries of State would do well to study this book before embarking on diplomatic mission ...more
Tom
This review is for the Audio CD edition.

Despite his name appearing in the title, Thomas Jefferson is a fairly minor figure in this work of history. He and James Madison make a decision to send off the first covert American operation, and then at the end he butts heads with the man who led that self-same operation while never really acknowledging any wrongs he might have done to this man or his mission. The real focus of Zacks' excellent narrative is a largely forgotten figure in American history
...more
Scott Taylor
A well-written history focusing on the time period and cast of characters surrounding the first Barbary war. This war started with an American ship running aground near Tripoli, followed by the capture and enslavement of the crew by the ruler of Tripoli, and then after many political and military maneuvers, the signing of a treaty in 1805. This all took place during Thomas Jefferson's presidency, and was an early test of the resolve and fortitude of both the administration and the fledgling US g ...more
***Dave Hill
Jan 09, 2012 ***Dave Hill rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: American history buffs, naval history buffs, Marine Corp supporters
(Original review of 27 Feb 2006 - http://hill-kleerup.org/blog/2006/02/...)

State-sponsored terrorists! Kidnappers! Extortion! Human rights violations! Wishy-washy US and European response! US covert military intervention to enact a regime change! Meddling by self-aggrandizing diplomats! Peace treaties that solve nothing! Betrayed allies! Disgruntled war heroes! Vengeful, dissent-crushing presidents!

If the above sounds like one of those “ripped from the headlines” tales, well, one could certainly
...more
John Nevola
This book is an impressive work of scholarship. Gleaned mostly from primary sources, the author has done an incredible job of research in a chapter in American History that is not often written about and therefore not well known.

William Eaton, a diplomat, is charged by President Jefferson to go to Egypt, recruit an army and dethrone the current pasha of Tripoli by force if necessary. Eaton was to enlist the aid of the Pasha's brother, Hamet. At the same time, Jefferson sent Tobias Lear, another
...more
Josh
The Pirate Coast is an exciting non-fiction tale about a virtually unknown American hero, William Eaton, dispatched by President Jefferson on a Lawrence of Arabia-like quest through the Mediterranean and North Africa. His mission, to combat a Barbary Pirate state defiantly imprisoning over 300 of the country’s sailors, defines his life and changes history, becoming America’s first military incursion in the Middle East. The first two thirds of the book read as an adventure story. The events of Ea ...more
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Richard Zacks (1955-?) was born in Savannah, Georgia but grew up in New York City. He was a Classical Greek major at the University of Michigan and studied Arabic in Cairo, Italian in Perugia, and French in the vineyards of France.. After completing Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, he wrote a syndicated column for four years carried by the NY Daily News, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News ...more
More about Richard Zacks...
The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd An Underground Education: The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew About Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human Knowledge Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-loving New York History Laid Bare: Love, Sex & Perversity from the Ancient Etruscans to Warren G. Harding Pirate Coast

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