Six Frigates is the story of the creation of the U.S. Navy and it’s a great read. I picked up a copy when I was in Mystic Seaport. It took some time for me to get around to reading it, but once I did, I was fascinated.
The Navy was created to defend the young United States from threatening foreign powers. This had been a definite weakness during the Revolutionary War.
Unlike a biography, which you can find for many of the major players in Six Frigates, this is a history of the Navy rather than the people who created it. I thought that this would be a big drawback to the book, but author Ian W. Toll does a good job of balancing personal details with history. You read about political motivations and economic considerations to creating a national fleet.
Six Frigates refers to the first six ships that formed the basis of the Navy. Built by a man who had never designed a warship before, the book begins by addressing the problems the United States faced in actually building the ships.
The story then moves to the sailors and their rocky performance. The book gets really interesting with the tales of the Barbary pirates and the Navy’s battles against them.
It is almost like a coming-of-age story with the Navy playing the part of a teenager. The War of 1812 shows the Navy with its ships built and sailors trained as they set about to defend the country.
This was Toll’s first book. He has since written two more books that are centered around the Navy during WWII. I haven’t read them, though given how much I enjoyed Six Frigates, I will probably buy them at some point.