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

4.28  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,272 Ratings  ·  268 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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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
Jun 28, 2012 Gary Brecht rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jan 20, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it liked it  ·  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
Jun 24, 2012 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
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
Dec 30, 2011 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Don Weidinger
Jan 19, 2013 Don Weidinger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 12, 2015 Max rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Six Frigates shows us how the interplay of politics and wars led to the establishment of a permanent US Navy. Toll, often in graphic detail, describes the Quasi-War against the French, the war against the Barbary Pirates and the War of 1812. Beyond these battles Toll also takes us to those between the Federalists and the Republicans, between Adams and Jefferson, and between a seafaring internationally focused New England and an agrarian locally focused South. The political arguments sound famili ...more
Mark Roth
Jan 06, 2013 Mark Roth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Marian Willeke
Dec 28, 2010 Marian Willeke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
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
Dec 31, 2015 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had recently finished reading Mr. Toll's two excellent books on the war in the Pacific during World War II, Pacific Crucible War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W. Toll and The Conquering Tide War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 by Ian W. Toll, and decided to read this book as it was his first. Though Mr. Toll does make some narrative mistakes here that he mostly avoided in his more recent books, I am happy to say that the quality of this book is equal to his others. Covering the Early Republic era of American history (1789-1815), Mr. Toll details the history of the founding of the U.S. Navy, starting with the title's ...more
Jan 03, 2015 Simon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ruchama Staples
Feb 03, 2016 Ruchama Staples rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this highly readable condensed history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. I know next to nothing about Naval History but was inspired to read this book after perusing a number of excellent reviews. The scholarship is impeccable, and the smart writing made this an exciting read. I give this book five stars because it put me there, in the midst of nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat action and intrigue. It was like watching Master and Commander in my head (yet, I can not, for the li ...more
Mar 20, 2009 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 12, 2010 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reviews revolutionary war history through the prism of the Navy, in an era when the fledgling United States led the way in the grand experiment that is democracy. That’s the trite bromide you’d expect to read here, and if you’re like me it conjures a pastel middle school history classroom, more boring even than English Lit.

This book however, transported me there so that for the first time, I felt the edgy fear of democracy. Would America find itself to be too radical, exploding itself
Jul 15, 2013 Glynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally absorbing account of America's early navy.

If you thought this subject would make hard going you'd be totally wrong, certainly when dealt with, with such verve. This book was obviously a labour of love. Toll goes into great detail but at no time did I feel bored. The detail brings the era to life.

The battles at sea are so vividly described you almost feel as though you are on the gun deck, which really isn't a place many of us would like to be. Toll also captures the early eighteenth cent
Robert Sparrenberger
This is an excellent look at the founding of the U.S. Navy. The revolution and the war of 1812 are explored in detail. Well written with not too much nautical detail which can bog books like this down.

Would also recommend " ships of oak, guns of iron" for another look at the war of 1812.

Mar 23, 2016 Alexander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pretty detailed piece for a relatively short history book. It's exactly what the title says, the beginning of the US, starting at the Revolution to shortly after the War of 1812. The author does a great job of pulling together all the relevant historical threads, politics, historical figure sketches, descriptions of battles at sea and among the politicians.

If you're a fan of Jack Aubrey, Sharpe, Hornblower, and those kinds of novels you'll feel right at home with the terminology of 18th-19th
Jul 12, 2015 Smick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bob Pearson
Aug 03, 2014 Bob Pearson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 it was amazing  ·  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
Mar 11, 2014 J.S. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 16, 2014 Eric Tolladay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jay Schutt
Mar 12, 2016 Jay Schutt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
What an excellent read! I knew this book was 5 star worthy right from the start. Well-written and well-researched account of the founding of the U. S. Navy by the founding fathers after the American Revolution. One of the best things they ever did. It made the U. S. a world power now for over 200 years. The descriptiveness of the author made you feel as though you were at each naval engagement and event.
Jul 27, 2015 Matthew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2015
I meant to read this when I was uniform but never got around to it. Better late than never.

As a text, it's fine but as a history, it's stuck between popular nonfiction and classic academia; neither of which this book excels in but both it tries to emulate. The author does a decent job about trying to get the layperson excited about the tenuous early U.S. Navy, but the text still assumes too much of the reader. You'd almost certainly have to be either from a seafaring New England family or a form
Bruce Hesselbach
Nov 01, 2014 Bruce Hesselbach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 18, 2016 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A history of the beginnings of the U.S. Navy beginning with the first 6 frigates: Constitution, Constellation, President, United States, Chesapeake, & Congress. The period covered by this book includes the "Quasi War" with France during John Adams' administration, the wars with the Barbary states in North Africa, and the War of 1812. There's a chronology at the end of the book that summarizes key events between 1815 and 2005.

The author has an engaging style. You learn a lot about ship buildi
Richard Ash
Jun 03, 2016 Richard Ash rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military
Very interesting read on the founding of the US Navy. I had two favorite parts of the book. First, the overall story. It's fascinating how this story fits within the larger story of the American Revolution & War of 1812. The story provides insight into the politics of the era and the ideas/ideologies that divided the country. Second, I thoroughly enjoyed Toll's retelling of the initial battles. The account is riveting and Toll does a phenomenal job of not sparring the reader any details rega ...more
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Ian W. Toll, is the author of Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 and Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, winner of the Samuel Eliot Morison Award and the William E. Colby Award. He lives in San Francisco and New York.
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“Stoddert named Joshua Humphreys Chief Naval Constructor of the United States, and authorized him to oversee naval shipbuilding operations throughout the country. But Humphreys’s efforts to impose his authority on shipwrights in other cities met with strong resistance. Different techniques, styles, and designs prevailed in the various seaports, and much of the terminology had evolved into regional dialects that outsiders found unintelligible. To ask a master builder to take direction from another master builder, in another region, was contrary to every tradition of the profession. Humphreys now proposed to bring openness and transparency to an enterprise that had always been shrouded in the medieval secrecy of the craftsmen’s guild. Shipbuilding is a “noble art,” he told a colleague. “I consider it my duty to convey to my brother builders every information in my power.” 0 likes
“The french Captain tells me, I have caused a War with France,” Truxtun wrote Stoddert. “If so I am glad of it, for I detest Things being done by Halves.” The” 0 likes
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