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The Pirate Coast, by Richard Zacks

W. J. Rayment / -- In 1805 Thomas Jefferson sent the U.S. Navy and Marines along with a "secret agent" named William Eaton to the Barbary Coast. The story of this episode in American History is engagingly told in "The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805", by Richard Zacks (who also wrote "The Pirate Hunter").

The irony of the title of this book is that it leaves out the star of the story, William Eaton and touts Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is a well-known historical figure and so, like a marquee idol, he gets top billing. Jefferson, though, does play a major role. Although a "dove" in the modern sense of the word, he found it necessary to send a force to deal with the Barbary Pirates.

The book handles the secret mission with verve and an application of Zack's dry wit. We find portrayals of the major characters vivid and deep. William Eaton is shown as the flawed patriot, a man driven by love of country, love of honor, love of fame and a driving need for money (to deal with his many debts). He is put in charge of the secret (well not so secret really, as half the Mediteranean seems aware of it before it is ever launched) mission. Eaton pushes himself and his men to Cairo in Egypt where they contact a rival to the Bashaw of Tripoli (who they are attempting to overthrow). They then suffer innumerable trials to attack the Bashaw at his weakest point.

This is an instructive history that reads like a novel, with loads of intrigue, personality clashes, and the seeming repeated appearance of deus ex machina at the last minute to save or doom the mission. There are navy and land battles to thrill the military history buff and there are enough villains and fools to keep the reader constantly on edge. This is more than a fun read though. The book relates a time in history that is not unlike our own and the lessons it has to teach about dealing with pirates and terrorist states should be learned by a populus exposed to the politics of terrorism in the news everyday.

Highly recommended.


Read a brief history of the Tripoli War.


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