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

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  4,525 ratings  ·  361 reviews
How "a handful of bastards and outlaws fighting under a piece of striped bunting" humbled the omnipotent British Navy.

Before the ink was dry on the U.S. Constitution, the establishment of a permanent military had become the most divisive issue facing the new government. Would a standing army be the thin end of dictatorship? Would a navy protect American commerce against th
Hardcover, 560 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton Company (first published October 2nd 2006)
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4.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,525 ratings  ·  361 reviews

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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
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Gary Brecht
Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Sep 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Peter Tillman
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Good book. I don't have much to add to the many real reviews here. Starting point is the original six frigates of the United States Navy, -- but Toll branches out with all sorts of cool historical tidbits, and is a very good writer too. Great account of the War of 1812, which the US started more-or-less by mistake, decided somehow to punish the Brits by invading Canada (which may remind you of invading Iraq), and came pretty close to bankrupting and break ...more
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Mark Roth
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
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
*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
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Disappointed that I encountered the abridged. Can't wait to read the full version!
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book regarding the initial launching of the US Navy and the six frigates that were commissioned to do so. If you read nothing else in this book the telling of the story of how the USS Constitution defeated the HMS Guerriere and the HMS Java is worth it. It's a magnificent retelling of several events and how the US Navy was central to the development of the US in it's infancy. From the early debates among several founding fathers (Jefferson, Adam, al) to how the na ...more
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-war
This is a very good, very interesting study of the early years of the U.S. Navy and the constant battle during those first 15 - 20 years to keep a Naval force afloat. Pretty good description of some of the early political shenanigans that the Democratic-Republicans and Federalists engaged in as well.
Jul 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 23, 2010 added it
Shelves: u-s-history
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
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
I originally thought this was a book just about the stories of the original 6 frigates built for the fledgling US Navy, but it's much more than just a gripping sea tale with plenty of swash in its buckle. It also traces the development of the Navy as a whole, along with the political battles over whether or not there should be a navy at all and, if so, how was it to be organized and equipped. But fear not, the narrative devotes plenty of space to those famous ship-to-ship duels the early US Navy ...more
Ruchama Staples
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorited
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
May 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating history of how the US Navy started.....and it is of course a very American story in that our Navy started from small and humble origins and achieved great things. This history leads up to and through the War of 1812 and does a very good job of detailing not only the naval but also the land component of the war. Mr. Toll is a very good historian and an excellent writer. This was my second time through this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it....again!
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
A fascinating history of the American Navy from the start of the Republic through the War of 1812. I did not know that six frigates - Constitution, United States, Constellation, Chesapeake, Congress, and the President - would establish a national identity for the new country and win the reluctant respect of England and her unrivaled navy.
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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.
“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.” 2 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” 1 likes
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