Often-overlooked yet significant and prophetic event in U.S. history, the Barbary War was America's first battle against an Arab despot and President Thomas Jefferson's first major challenge to U.S. foreign policy. As described by A.B.C. Whipple, it is a great yarn as well as first-rate history. The author skillfully combines vivid accounts of derring-do with shrewd appraisals of contemporary politics and diplomacy. Because the Continental Navy had been disbanded, there was an urgent need to develop a new Navy and Marine Corps. Faced with the choice of trading arms for hostages or meeting force with force, Jefferson sent a squadron of warships to the Mediterranean while Congress was in recess, prompting the first major debate on the war-making powers of a U.S. president. The war included a blockade of Tripoli, sustained bombardment by the Navy's new frigates, and finally a ground war fought by a U.S. Army captain, eight Marines, and a rabble of Christians and Arabs sent to free the hostages.
Whipple's rousing narrative is filled with fascinating personalities. In addition to Jefferson, there is Commodore Edward Preble, the quarter-deck tyrant who commanded the first naval forces into battle; the bold junior officer Stephen Decatur; the tyrannical bashaw, Yusuf Karamanli; William Eaton, an early-day Lawrence of Arabia; Marine lieutenant Presley O'Bannon; and a host of others.