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Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy
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Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy

4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  2,262 ratings  ·  194 reviews
Before the ink was dry on the U.S. Constitution, the establishment of a permanent military became the most divisive issue facing the new government. The founders—particularly Jefferson, Madison, and Adams—debated fiercely. Would a standing army be the thin end of dictatorship? Would a navy protect from pirates or drain the treasury and provoke hostility? Britain alone had ...more
ebook, 592 pages
Published March 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published October 2nd 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mike
Magnificent! Reading this vivid, riveting 5 Star account of the US Navy’s birth was often like having a movie playing in my head. The battle scenes are just perfectly done. Even the 3 day escape of the Constitution from a squadron of British warships was tense and spellbinding, although no significant battle occurred. While the main focus is the US Navy, the performance of the British Navy is recounted in detail in the final third of the book, making this a very good reference for historians of ...more
Gary Brecht
Scholarly, yet written in an expressive style, Ian Toll’s narrative of the nascent U.S. Navy focuses on the construction and history of the six frigates authorized by Congress in 1794. The political division over the need for warships is thoroughly examined; Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and the Federalists were pro-navy while Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the Republicans were opposed to both a navy and a standing army.

In his build up to the looming War of 1812 Toll praises the efficienc
...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jan 20, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Naval Buffs
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Ultimate Reading List - History
The subtitle, "The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy" is a misnomer. The Continental Navy established during the American Revolution gets short shrift. Toll in a few lines disposes of sad tale of 13 frigates, 11 of which were destroyed or captured by the British in the course of the Revolutionary War. American Revolutionary naval hero John Paul Jones ("I have not yet begun to fight!") gets 19 lines--British Napoleonic War admiral Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar gets much m ...more
Jason
Six Frigates is an engaging narrative of the early years of the United States Navy. For a popular history, it is richly detailed, with descriptions of the military & political actors of the era, and the extricates of the naval warfare at the height of the age of sail, in the early 19th century.

Ian Toll, a popular historian with a background in financial services has written a broad history, split into three parts: preparation and early US Navy planning, the fight against the Barbary pirates
...more
Don Weidinger
Nelson’s band of brothers, bumping hulls fierce, rate of fire 3 to 2, neutrality boom for shipping, 11 ships in Rev, Algiers money and fear vs Jefferson justice honor respect, live oak challenge, France was issue that differed Adams from Jefferson/Madison, 36th ballot to elect Jefferson 1800 after Hamilton, Constitution’s 3 days escape from 5 British ships, United States over Macedonia, Philadelphia ran aground captured and destroyed by friendly converted Intrepid, relationships demand attention ...more
Bruce
Imagine if you will the US Navy at the height of the Reagan Administration. The US Navy rules the world's oceans with 600 ships-of-war. There are no serious challengers either in numbers or expertise.

Now further imagine another nation that shares the same language, same culture and similar values challenging the supremacy of the US Navy by declaring war. This nation has 14 ships of war. This nation's pip squeak navy bests the US Navy in six consecutive ship-to-ship encounters.

It changes nothing
...more
Mark Roth
This book covers the early days of the U.S. Navy, from its founding to its actions in the War of 1812. The story begins with the bill that Congress passed to construct six frigates to deal with the Barbary pirates, and the book follows the ships' design, construction, and notable actions throughout their careers, which included the Quasi-War with France, the war against the Barbary pirates, and the War of 1812. The book also covers related historical events to provide interesting context, such a ...more
Simon
It occasionally gets a bit repetitive, but only a bit, and the ending is just too abrupt. That being said, Six Frigates is a fascinating look at the early naval history of the United States as filtered through these ships (though mainly the Constitution, President and Constellation). The pro/anti-naval positions of the Republicans and Whigs are clearly explained. Perhaps the best part of the book is the extensive coverage of the Barbary Wars, including a spectacular account of a spectacular fea ...more
Marian Willeke
Sitting in the waiting area to board the Constitution in Boston, I overheard a man comment that he read Ian Toll's "Six Frigates" and found it extremely insightful as to how the US Navy began and impacted the early development of the United States. Knowing little to nothing about the early Navy, the Barbary Wars, or why the War of 1812 even occurred, let alone what happened during the war, I took this indirect recommendation to heart and purchased it in the harbor's bookstore. While it took a lo ...more
Jeff
Few people realize how close the United States came to not having a Navy at all — Jefferson, for one, insisted that the equivalent of the Coast Guard would be perfectly adequate. In the end, George Washington’s administration decided to build six large frigates more powerful than comparable ships in other navies — one of these six being the still-surviving USS Constitution now on view here in Boston.

Out of the careers of these ships and their officers Ian Toll spins a fascinating and rip-roarin
...more
Bob Pearson
Ian Toll has given us a superb account of the rise of the American navy. He takes us from 1775 to the end of the War of 1812 but concentrates on the twenty years between 1794 and 1815. Americans fiercely debated whether we should have a navy. A navy would be a force for federal subjugation of the states, would invite international war and run counter to America's wish to live peaceably with other countries, would benefit coastal merchants (and New England especially) to the detriment of inland s ...more
Jack Tyler
Mar 27, 2014 Jack Tyler rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians, readers of high adventure
Recommended to Jack by: Gift from daughter
United States... President... Congress... Constitution... Constellation... Chesapeake. Names so intertwined with the formation of America as a free and proud nation that they still clang when you touch them. Every schoolchild learns of the triumphs of "Old Ironsides," the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem of the same name which saved her from the being turned into firewood in 1830, and the fact that she remains a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy to this day. But what do they know of the hi ...more
J.
After the Revolutionary War the small Continental Navy was disbanded in an effort by the fragile republic to remain free from standing armies. However, with the predations of pirates and privateers upon the merchant vessels and shipping interests, it soon became clear that a navy was essential. At the urging of John Adams, President George Washington authorized the building of six frigates - United States, President, Congress, Constitution, Constellation, and Chesapeake (Washington simply chose ...more
Eric Tolladay
A nice bit of history covering the first few years of our country's founding, leading up to and including the war of 1812. Toll is exhaustive, and careful, balancing ideas and opinions effortlessly without beating you over the head with his own thoughts; in short, an excellent scholar. He tells a good tale, but one with too much detail for me. I think the book would have been just as fun at half the size, but I suspect had I read such a book I would have been equally disappointed at its brevity. ...more
Bruce Hesselbach
This is a well written, exciting and illuminating story of six frigates and their amazing role in the beginnings of the United States navy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about heroic captains not well known, politicians who had vision and those who lacked it, and the many diverse personalities involved in our early naval history. The frigates themselves are the superheroes of this book. One learns to root for them as if they were actual characters, and one develops the same affection for them th ...more
Brent Jensen
Reads like a novel; a fascinating and utterly compelling account of the (re)founding of the U.S. Navy in the post-Revolutionary War era through the wars with the Barbary pirates, and culminating with the War of 1812. I'm a great fan of the Age of Sail, the Horatio Hornblower and Bloody Jack books (Captain Aubrey is still waiting in port-- I'll set sail with him someday soon), but knew very little of the era from the U.S. perspective, other than the general knowledge of the famed battles of the U ...more
Jack
Well written and a grand story of the beginnings of the United States Navy. Focusing on the first six frigates, the author discusses the Barbary War and the War of 1812. I have read many books on the US Navy, but I found this one very entertaining since the focus is exclusively on the first frigates. I also found interesting how the frigates were designed to challenge the then invincible Royal Navy.

I only found one point of dissatisfaction and that is only a minor point. I thought a bit more wo
...more
Mick
On the 21st of October, 1805, two great fleets met at Cape Trafalgar off Cadiz. In one of the great decisive battles of history Lord Nelson achieved a stunning victory, capturing or destroying 22 Franco-Spanish ships without losing any of his own. Though Nelson himself was mortally wounded by a French sniper during the encounter, the Battle of Trafalgar put an end to any doubts that still remained as to British superiority at sea. Despite intensive shipbuilding over the next decade, Bonaparte's ...more
brian dean
As am armchair admiral, I have learned that amateurs discuss tactics, while the professionals discuss logistics. This book has both. We learn how various sea battles were fought but also the events that lead up to them.
My emotions and feelings pendulummed while reading the book.

As Toll explained the founding of the navy, I cheered for the Americans.

When he got into the causes of the War of 1812, I, as a Canadian and Commonwealth citizen, felt upset at how the Brits behaved. Briefly, a key reason
...more
Richard
Ian Toll describes the first foreign challenges of the United States government which prompted the construction of a group of ships that would constitute the beginning of the United States Navy. The book contains a wealth of details of sailing-era ship construction and the excitement of early American-history sea battles. Toll adeptly describes the nation's early political picture, and clarifies which forces were for building a navy and which opposed it. Many interesting personal stories are tol ...more
Edward
Fascinating book about the founding of the US Navy, particularly from about 1800 through 1815. I didn't realize that the small US Navy disbanded after the revolutionary war. Nor did I understand that many of our founding father resisted the idea of a standing Navy as an unnecessary expense. However, a combination of conflicts with the Barbary Pirates as well as threats from the British Navy and the French Navy helped establish the need for a permanant Navy to protect our merchant vessels and to ...more
Steven Peterson
United States, President, Chesapeake, Congress, Contellation, Constitution. The six frigates, construction having begun under President George Washington's watch, were the core of the first American navy. There were few enough of these ships (compared with the hundreds of British warships), but they had been excellently designed by Joshua Humphreys.

This book tells the story of these frigates through the conflict with the Barbary states, the "Cold War" between those days and the War of 1812 (as
...more
William
"Six Frigates" by Ian Toll is more than your average book on The War of 1812. Usually such books are packed with many good chapters describing frigate actions and the exploits of various sloops and brigs, all exciting stuff. But Toll takes a detour here, placing early naval history within the context of the early American republic.

Here the president and congress debate the most fundamental question: do we need a navy, and what is it for? That political debate is framed by events, as Americans t
...more
D
Spellbinding - couldn't wait to read more!

The history I learned was much better than any jr. high class. The political maneuvering required to build and maintain these ships was intriguing. The book described an all-too human side of the fledgling US gov't and the personalities involved: Washington, Adams, Jefferson (no fan of Adams until the end), Madison. We also get to meet the commanders of the frigates and root for our favorites. Egos, intellects, moods; everyone's got 'em.

We span the dev
...more
Brian
This book tries to seeks to cover three areas of American naval history in its earliest period. It covers the very beginning which includes the debates on whether or not to build vessels and what type they should be. This book seeks to tell an overview of the three parts of the story without going into exhausting detail on anyone part. The debates between the federalists and the republicans are legendary and while not captured fully here enough of the story is told. The second section is dedicat ...more
Mirrani
If ever a reader wanted to be thrown into the depths of history, Six Frigates is the book that will do it. This is a wonderful, in-depth look at the founding of the American Navy as well as the historical tale of the various adversaries that first crossed the path of the original ships, their Captains, and their crews.

Readers should ignore the book's size and dive right in because there is no worry for being lost in drab facts and recitations here. It is all too easy to be pulled in to the vario
...more
Rob
Toll tells this story thoroughly and well: America didn't want a navy, and remained dubious even when necessity forced her hand. For a while she acquiesced in the extortion demanded by the barbary states, but then stood up to them--resulting in the loss of a brand new frigate, lots and lots of money, and other humiliations. Other nations thought she was crazy.

And she was, to a great extent. Her new design of frigates had no precedent and freaked out everyone charged with building them. The buil
...more
Tripp
In Six Frigates, author Ian Toll ably presents the story of the creation of the American Navy. The book balances narratives of naval action with the political battles that decided where, how and if a Navy would be built.

Building the six initial frigates was an challenging endeavor. Joshua Humphreys designed the ships to be both more powerful and more sturdy than their European counterparts. Toll describes the difficult process of building and arming the ships, including the harvesting of live oa
...more
Zach
A reader might be forgiven for thinking that "Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy" was either the story of the founding of the U.S. Navy, or the story of the navy's first six frigates. A reader who starts with that impression is going to be somewhat disappointed.

The first 20% of the book certainly focuses on the political and social fight over whether the new nation should even have a navy, and Toll presents some great information on the design and construction of the
...more
Billy
Thoroughly enjoyed Toll's rendering of American's early naval history. The Epilogue should not be idly looked at as it brings out some intriguing insight into the British views on the War of 1812, and how they would eventually influence one Teddy Roosevelt, 100 years later, to finance the largest naval buildup in peacetime history.

Throughout the length of the book I was looking forward to the momentous sacking of the British fleet in the Great Lakes, but hardly a paragraph was devoted to it.

The
...more
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21986
Ian W. Toll, author of Six Frigates, has been a Wall Street analyst, a Federal Reserve financial analyst, and a political aide and speechwriter. He lives in San Francisco, California.
More about Ian W. Toll...
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