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

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  5,197 ratings  ·  414 reviews
Before the ink was dry on the Constitution of the United States, the establishment of a permanent military had become the most divisive issue facing the young republic. Would a standing army be the thin end of dictatorship? Would a navy protect American commerce from the vicious depredations of the Barbary pirates, or would it drain the treasury and provoke hostilities wit ...more
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Published October 3rd 2006 by Simon Schuster Audio (first published October 2nd 2006)
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Start your review of Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy
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
Sep 06, 2015 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
Jun 24, 2012 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
Rick Riordan
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I devoured Ian Toll’s first two books about the naval war in the Pacific during World War II, so I thought I’d try his earlier book about the earliest days of the United States Navy. I don’t know if you have any interest in early American history or in naval warfare, but if you do, this is a great read. Toll is one of those historians who can bring history to life like a good novel, and that is no easy task. He covers the era made famous by the musical Hamilton, but adds some layers to the story ...more
David Eppenstein
Excellent history of the origins of the U.S. Navy. It also gives a glimpse of the political friction between the Washington/Adams Federalists and Jefferson's Democrats.
Gary Brecht
Jun 28, 2012 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)
Dec 23, 2012 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
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In giving Ian Toll’s Six Frigates 4 stars I am rounding up. Compared with his excellent Two volumes covering the Naval War in the Pacific, Frigates is cluttered. This is a well-researched book, particularly good at relating the politics that had to happen before military action; it is almost conventional in relating the elsewhere told stories of ship to ship action in the American Revolution through the War of 1812.

Ian Toll covers too many topics. The strictly military ones are covered well, bu
Dec 30, 2011 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 and
Jan 19, 2013 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
John Boyne
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Ian Toll provides us with an easily readable history of the founding and early history of the U.S. Navy. I immensely enjoyed this work and I have discovered a love of naval history. Toll dives deep into the politics and economics of the beginning of the U.S. debate around the formation of the navy. How the need to defend the merchant fleet to assist in the economic development of the nation became paramount for such a little isolated nation that the U.S. was at its founding. I particularly enjoy ...more
Marian Willeke
Aug 29, 2008 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
Dave Dentel
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Summary: Toll's history offers a detailed and comprehensive look at how the early American navy embodied the U.S. Constitution's defense of common rights.

In the campaign to ratify the U.S. Constitution, one argument advanced by proponents of the document is that it would create a stronger federal government better equipped to defend the nascent republic from foreign belligerents.

The prescience of this thesis is borne out in Ian W. Toll’s book, Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Foundation of
Thoroughly entertaining narrative of the founding of the U.S. Navy and its early adventures leading up to and through the War of 1812. The book uses the six frigates built by the nascent U.S. Navy as its touchstone, and develops all the personalities and politics involved in the day around that central theme. You'll hear from Washington, Madison, Adams (both), Monroe, Jefferson, Hamilton, and others. Very interesting.

So what kept it from that last star...two things. First the writing and the ta
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 ti ...more
Mark Roth
Jan 06, 2013 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
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very readable and well-written history of the founding of the US Navy and its involvement in the quasi-war with France, the Barbary Wars, and the War of 1812. Much of the story will be familiar to those who have read up on these conflicts: the opposition by Jefferson and Republicans to a powerful navy, the construction of the frigates by Joshua Humphreys, and all of the relevant political and technological developments.

Inevitably, Toll includes much age-of-sail nautical terminology that you ma
Michael Burnam-Fink
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, history, war

There is something in all of us that thrills to the sea. The vast oceans cover 70% of Earth's surface, eternal and everchanging. They are the highways of the world's commerce, the source of a great power's strength and prosperity, and a site where desperate battles fought, and heroic deeds done. In a swift and deeply sourced history, Toll brings alive the character of the period, and the role of the American Navy at the dawn of this country.

The Navy is specified in the constitution, but a naval
Mar 19, 2009 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
Joe Rodeck
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
*Six Frigates* is the story of the building of the US Navy starting from scratch to the controversial War of 1812. Correspondingly, it is the story of how the United States became a first world country. Presidencies covered: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison. This is fairly heavy--politics, economics, shipbuilding--but it uncovers lots of lesser history: Caribbean actions against France, the Barbary Coast War ("To the shores of Tripoli"). The battle scenes are exciting and Toll doesn' ...more
Apr 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books
The early history of the US navy's frigates, and their successes against the French, the British and especially the Barbary pirates were a staple of history classes when I was in public schools.

This is an unabashedly US-centric view of those events. It's a history, though, not a celebration and makes no bones about how mixed the record was in the end. The most interesting parts to me were not the battles (which I generally remembered) but the logistics--the political, financial and engineering
I give this one 3.75 stars. An engaging early history of the US Navy, great for those who enjoy battles fought by sailing ships in the 18th and 19th centuries (fans of Patrick O’Brian will enjoy references to O’Brian’s accurate portrayal of the battle of the USS Constitution v HMS Java). Over a few hundred lively pages, we see the US Navy evolve from a minuscule laughingstock in the 1790s to the badass fighting force that won more naval battles than it lost against the greatest naval power in th ...more
4.5 stars (I could probably be talked into 5)

This book was awesome. It wasn't just a book about 6 ships; it was American history thru that lens. It is exciting and kept me engaged the whole time. Well written and researched. The only deduction (if there is one) is something Toll explains in the beginning. He can't spend the whole book describing nautical terms so he doesn't unless it's really important. So a lot of the time I didn't quite know what he was talking about. I still don't know what a
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to someone interested in the subject and for those with only a passing fancy. It more than serves, thanks to Ian W. Toll's expertise being devoted to making sure his readers have a frame of reference to really grok this thing. Because Six Frigates doesn't just chronicle the history of the U.S. navy's first warships, it recounts the political, fiscal, economical, technological, diplomatic, military, and institutional context of that history. From the fiscal fi ...more
Wes Robertson
A fantastic read. I really felt the agony and urgency our newborn country was going through during this time to establish itself as a legitimate trade partner around the world and its need to get itself from under the British shadow.
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
Disappointed that I encountered the abridged. Can't wait to read the full version!
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sarah Miller
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an important book for me to read, and the attention with which I did does not do the book justice, but I simply had to get through it after attempting Six Frigates six times. The second half is far more interesting than the first--I love a good naval battle.
Disco Earl
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An awesome book -- and so great to read it right after Hamilton. The battle scenes are intense. Suspenseful and very violent. My favorite battle, however, was when the Constitution stumbled into four British men of war and then spent three windless days evading them and ultimately escaped unharmed. Good, also, to learn more about the War of 1812. Have to visit the Constitution again!
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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. ...more

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