Review: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, Brian Kilmeade

Rating: 1/2/3 out of 5

I am quite officially in very two different minds about this book. I read this and the numerous comments other people have thrown at this book wasn’t something I even noticed. This probably comes about from me trying to discover as much about the naval adventure herein as possible — the open American patriotism and hostile comments towards others meant very little to me. But, in what is perhaps the best way for me to describe it, this book isn’t written like a narrative history – it is a newsreel-style series of chapters which are designed to shock and horrorify the (American) reader. There is very little of “good” historiography in this, and if someone was actually looking to read more about the Barbary Wars I would recommend them to look for a better title. 

If one was to think that the above criticisms are all I have to level at this, however going to have to disappoint that reader. Not to mention the level of historiography exhibited by the author, the actual level of historical accuracy is also in question. This is not a period I know well so I will leave the intrepid reader of reviews to discover for themselves the episodes Mr Kilmeade has adjusted, edited, and modified; which mostly seems to have been done in order to make this book into a more shocking and more horrifying narrative.

But, at the same time, I have to give this book some due – after all, it is not very easy to find a narrative about the First Barbary War and Mr Stephen Decatur in the generic bookshop (Osprey’s Raid series excepted) – and the topic of this series is absolutely thrilling. So, perhaps, all is not as bad as it could be. Yet, I would be hesitant to recommend this book as the motive of the author (which I rarely normally consider in the rating of a title) is to create more hate and disorder by the divisive nature of the comments included herein. Perhaps, indeed, it would be more to our advantage if we were to find a more balanced writer and a more balanced book to describe this war and these adventures to everyone.

As a final note, the few exceptional historical inaccuracies which I saw in the book and especially did not like was the way the European powers were always brought up as incompetents and somehow unable to realise how the Barbary states could be “contained”. The second was the inability of the author to concede that the United States of America was itself a slave society in the early 18th century. In retrospect, these omissions might have been already a good introduction into what the author wanted to say with his carefully chosen words…

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