Saturday, February 17, 2007

John Paul Jones

Evan Thomas's John Paul Jones is a good character study of America's first naval leader. Incredibly ambitious, Jones worked his way into the American Navy where, on the Ranger and Bon Homme Richard, he brought the war of indepedence to Britain and gave the US its first naval victory.

The book is a biography, so it isn't just naval action. Thomas portrays Jones as one of those who excels in one field, ship to ship combat, while failing miserably at others, like court politics. Jones alienated many of those around him, and his humble origins probably didn't help him at the French court. After the Revolution, Jones hoped to be the first Admiral of the US Navy, but Congress had little interest in a Navy at that point. So Jones went to Russia, where he won victories for Catherine, but made enemies at court and was ejected.

The battle scenes are excellent, with handy maps to explain the fight between Serapis and Bon Homme Richard. One sign of good popular military historian is the ability to describe the overall action without getting lost in detail. Evans presents these scenes in a clear manner and notes the debates about really happened at certain places. He is kind enough to name his sources in these debate. Moving from one of the smallest of military engagements, Thomas's current book is Sea of Thunder, which concerns the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history.

No comments: