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Book Review - The Pirate Coast, Thomas Jefferson, the first Marines and the Secret Mission of 1805 by Richard Zacks

The Pirate Coast, Thomas Jefferson, the first Marines and the Secret Mission of 1805
by Richard Zacks 

List Price: $25.95  Hardback: 448 Pages
Publish Date: June 1, 2005

Review by Brian Williams  

The Pirate Coast, Thomas Jefferson, the first Marines and the Secret Mission of 1805 is an amazing true story of the secret dealings of the young United States, a forty-year old diplomat-turned general, the first American Marines (8 of them), and the civil war of Tripoli.  I will say right off that whenever I picked up this book, I found it difficult to put it down.

Richard Zacks has recreated for us the events between the years of 1803 and 1805 where the young United States found itself caught in an awkward Mediterranean war against the Barbary Pirates.  Through his research on the subject, we get a unique insider's view of Jeffersonian politics and early naval operations and politics.  The details provided by Zacks is amazing.  We also get into the motives and politic-dealings of everyone from Thomas Jefferson, the Bashaw Yussef of Tripoli, General Eaton, Hamet, and the various admirals and officers.

William Eaton is the main character in the book and we follow him from diplomat to General to civilian.  Zacks does a wonderful job of getting us inside this man's mind through the numerous correspondence written between all the various characters involved.

The book also gives Western readers a unique insight into the harsh and rugged mindset of the Arab world.  Christian slaves were routinely captured on raids (such as from Sicily) and traded.  According to Islamic Law, non-Muslims were legitimate slaves.  Also, as the USS Philadelphia found, even prisoners of war were considered as legitimate slaves.

But, overall, what I found most interesting about the book were the inside government dealings and politickings in which Eaton found himself.  Of course, such politicking goes on in each war, but it was wonderful to get an insider's view of the dealings.  One cannot help to feel sorry for Eaton, who was caught in the middle, but his situation really wakes up the reader to the reality of real-world politics.  Also, I found the candid and harsh view of the Arab world refreshing.  It enlightens readers to a culture that before this book, I had not known existed.

Readers will be pleasantly rewarded by this book.  It takes us to a very little-known period in American History and brings out details and insights into our early history that are amazing.  This is a fabulous addition to your military-history library collection.

Review by Brian Williams (

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