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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,982 ratings  ·  204 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 June 1st 2005)
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3.84  · 
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 ·  1,982 ratings  ·  204 reviews

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Jason Koivu
Nov 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction, war
What a relatively unknown and quite fascinating real-life adventure!

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-up
Sarah (Presto agitato)
“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
Nov 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
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!
Jul 14, 2008 rated it liked 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
Jason , etc.
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 10, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jun 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"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
A.J. Smith
May 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, ebook
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
Tom Long
Jun 05, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Fredrick Danysh
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have read several books before this one about the topic of the Barbary Pirates and the US intervention to squash their practice of raiding towns, capturing ships, and taking prisoners for ransom or eventually as slaves. Contrary to some recent claims about the contributions of Muslims to early American history, these contributions seem to be primarily plundering American trading vessels and taking Christians as slaves, not so different from today! This did prompt America to build up strong nav ...more
Pat Cummings
Mar 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
From the halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli,
We will fight our country's battles
On the land and on the sea...
—U.S. Marine Corps Hymn

Richard Zack's thrilling novel, The Pirate Coast , provides insight into the reason for the second line of this chorus, "to the shores of Tripoli."

In 1785, the Moslem regent of Tripoly, Yussef Karamanli, declared war on an infant nation, the United States of America, sending out Barbary pirate vessels to harass, sink or capture American shipping. The go
Stephanie G
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it
First off, I really love learning about America in its early years. I think it is fascinating that this idea of representative republicanism manifested itself into what we live and breathe today. I think learning about early history can give us some perspective about the things we think are a big deal which really might not be. Piracy was a real issue. Paying tributes to those pirate nations was a real thing. Slavery was real. Sailors being taken into slavery was real. We were just figuring out ...more
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Duplicity by our national politicians seems to be a disease whose sources go all the way back to Jefferson. Sending William Eaton off to make war on the Barbary pirates was quickly modified after he got under way, but by then it was a bit late - ah well. Having never given it a great deal of thought previously, I was bemused by the Marines getting their start as, "shores of Tripoli" notwithstanding, basically, the Shore Patrol for a navy that was still quite willing to dish out floggings as puni ...more
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-history, pirates
Actual Rating: 4.5/5 stars
This was a really well done book, and I highly enjoyed it. Why? I LOVE pirates, and this was one heck of a pirates’ tale. I would have given this a full 5 out of 5 stars, except for one little fluke I mentioned in one of my updates. Pages 91 and 103 were both titled “Chapter 7: Yussef,” while there was only one insert for Chapter 7 in the Table of Contents. Other than that, it was a really well done book and I recommend it as a read.
Henry Demond
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mike Curtis
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it

This tells the true story of U.S. covert operations to overthrow the government of what is now present day Libya. The first time. No, no, the very first time back in 1805. To set the stage, the coast of North Africa at the time was ruled by various Barbary pirates, who true to their name openly raided merchant ships and seaside towns for plunder and slaves. Countries had to pay tribute in order to avoid having their ships attacked. This, of course, did not sit well with the newly formed United S
Steve Cran
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing

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
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Richard Zacks delivers a great rendition of the events that led up to the Babary Pirates defeat by the American navy in 1805 by focusing on the 1803 mission fo William Eaton. Eaton who was a hard drinking solider of the revolution that spent time as a diplomat in the Barbary states following the war led a group of marines (then a very underpaid and underappreciated service) to try and rescue US Navy sailors from the clutches of Barbary Pirates. Part spy story, part diplomatic negotiation this bo ...more
In the late 1790s and early 1800s merchant ships in the Mediterranean were harassed mercilessly by the Barbary corsairs (pirates). Based in the nations on the northern coast of Africa, they extorted huge amounts of tribute payments from European nations, and sought to do the same with the fledgling United States of America. After losing the USS Philadelphia and over 200 officers and sailors as slaves to Tripoli, Jefferson decided to stand up to the pirates and end their tyranny. He sent William ...more
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 29, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Sep 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jason Born
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. Provides a terrific insight into the First Barbary War - filled with so many firsts for the U.S. Our first foreign war. The first war declared on the U.S. The first time a U.S. flag was hoisted over foreign soil. The first covert military operation by the U.S. Our first war against what today would be called Islamist terrorism.

Many tragic heroes. Many villains. I have deep sympathy for the firebrand General Eaton and all the demons he failed to slaughter after his time in the des
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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