Synopses & Reviews
John Paul Jones, at sea and in the heat of battle, was the great American hero of the Age of Sail. He was to history what Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower are to fiction. Ruthless, indomitable, clever; he vowed to sail, as he put it, "in harm's way." He never flinched or turned back. Evan Thomas's minute-by-minute re-creation of the bloodbath between Jones's Bonhomme Richard
and the British man-of-war Serapis
off the coast of England on an autumn night in 1779 is as gripping a sea battle as can be found in any novel.
Thomas draws on Jones's wide-ranging correspondence with some of the most significant figures of the American Revolution -- John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson -- to paint a compelling portrait of a tortured warrior who was that most interesting and essential of American figures, the entirely self-made man.
The son of a Scottish gardener (or possibly the bastard son of the lord of the manor), Jones fought his way up from secondmate on a slave ship to become a mythic figure, hailed as the father of the navy, buried in a crypt (modeled after Napoleon's Tomb) beneath the chapel of the U.S. Naval Academy. Along the way he was an accused murderer (forced to flee to America under an assumed name); a notorious rake in Parisian society; and an admiral in the navy of Catherine the Great, fighting against the Turks in the Black Sea. He was a singularly successful naval officer during the American Revolution because he was both bold and visionary.
John Paul Jones is more than a great sea story. Jones is a character for the ages. John Adams called him the "most ambitious and intriguing officer in the American Navy." The renewed interest in the Founding Fathers reminds us of the great men who made this country, but John Paul Jones teaches us that it took fighters as well as thinkers, men driven by dreams of personal glory as well as high-minded principle to break free of the past and start a new world. Jones's spirit was classically American. Evan Thomas brings his skills as a biographer to this complex, protean figure whose life and rise are both thrilling as a tale of dauntless courage and revealing about the birth of a nation.
"This superlative biography from Newsweek assistant managing editor Thomas (Robert Kennedy, His Life) can hold its own on the shelf with Samuel Eliot Morison's Pulitzer Prize-winning Jones bio, A Sailor's Story....Both Jones and his latest biographer can justly be praised as masters of their respective crafts." Publishers Weekly
"With the skill appropriate to a polished journalist, Thomas chronicles the short, but glorious, life of a brilliant, but frustratingly difficult, man, who was the first American naval hero....This is a fine account of the life of an admirable, but deeply flawed, man." Jay Freeman, Booklist
"As Mr. Thomas tracks the man born John Paul (he added the Jones to escape punishment for a deadly fight) from the Atlantic to France and the British Isles, he displays ardent interest in sail appeal. Mr. Thomas knows that futtocks are ribbing in a ship's frame, and that Jones fought in 'the dumpy Bonhomme Richard, with her antiquated high poop deck.' And he ably captures the slow, mounting terror of battle at sea." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"In this insightful biography, Evan Thomas...ably demonstrates that Jones both succeeded and failed. He rose to a grander position than he could ever have imagined, winning the plaudits of several European monarchs while enjoying the confidence of Jefferson, Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Even so, Jones's all-consuming ambition was thwarted. He failed to attain the rank of admiral in the American navy and the devotion of the American public. Indeed, he died young and feeling forgotten in Paris in 1792, and his feats continued to be neglected until Theodore Roosevelt resurrected Jones's reputation in order to provide the country with a naval hero." John Ferling, The Washington Post
"In the first good, balanced biography in several years for both lay readers and scholars, Thomas masterfully narrates the life of a clever, bold, social-climbing hero." Charles L. Lumpkins, Library Journal
"Thomas's account of these events and whether Jones ever really said 'I have not yet begun to fight' is skillfully rendered, and his blend of period detail and modern psychobiography just right for the job. Fine slice of American military and revolutionary history good for commodores in the making, too." Kirkus Reviews
For fans of Patrick O'Brien's novels and other sea stories of the Age of Sail, here is the true story of the father of the American Navy!
Includes bibliographical references (p. 361-368) and index.
About the Author
is the author of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (with Walter Isaacson); The Man to See: The Life of Edward Bennett Williams; The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared; the Early Years of the CIA;
and Robert Kennedy: His Life.
He is the assistant managing editor of Newsweek
magazine and lives with his wife and two daughters in Washington, D.C.
Table of Contents
"My desire for fame is infinite" -- "You meet a gentleman" -- "That great misfortune" -- "Proof of madness" -- "Determined at all hazards" -- "Delicate notions of honor" -- "A rash thing" -- "Officer of fine feelings" -- "Lay it in ashes" -- "We've got her now!" -- "No sooner seen than lost" -- "Caressed by all the world" -- "The gale still increasing" -- "Cover him with kisses" -- "Conquer or die" -- "The ghost of himself" -- "Envy of the world."