Review: Victory in Tripoli

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Victory in Tripoli: How America’s War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation
by Joshua E. London

Having read several historical novels of late, it occurs to me that one thing they most all lack is a proper story arc. For example, in a typical pirate biography Pirate A was born, raised, raids this city, raids that ship, yaddy-yaddy-yadda, and then dies. Real life rarely offers the proper format of dramatic elements that make for traditional storytelling, which can make for historical novels that are sometimes a bit winding and seemingly aimless.

No such danger with Victory in Tripoli – we have both a protagonist and an antagonist, a beginning, middle, and even an exciting conclusion. And we of course have pirates – it’s all here!

Long before the United Stated won its independence, the Barbary Nations had established a unique relationship with the major European powers – namely that of terror, extortion, and downright piracy. Not that the likes of Tripoli and Algiers could stand long against a full-on assault from any major navy, but apparently it had been determined that a war with the Muslims would be more costly than it was worth, and so the politics of pacification won out – resulting in countless annual bribes, gifts, and “tribute” given from across Europe to the various Muslim leaders.

Following the United States’ birth, it was originally determined most expedient to follow suit. But as the Barbary Nations’ demands increased, some American leaders began to consider the possibility that it might be cheaper (and more honorable) to simply build a navy and squelch the miscreants. It would likely have gone rather well from the get-go, except for all the politics, hand-wringing, and at times, straight-up incompetence which stalled out the war effort nearly each time it began to bear fruit.

“Victory in Tripoli” is a fascinating account of one of America’s most important – and most forgotten – early conflicts. Author Joshua London paints a vivid picture of the issues of the day and the personalities that ultimately shaped this piece of history. The material is aided by the fact that it feels so relevant – a war of mixed popularity with a Muslim nation aggravated by back-biting politicians is hardly unfamiliar territory – but London carefully leaves the reader to draw their own comparisons, thus keeping this book remarkably clear of the taint of current political temperaments.

A fun, timely, and deeply informative read.

Comment (1)

  1. Rusty Shackleford

    While I haven’t read this book, author Richard Zacks put out the fantastic “The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805” a month or two before this book came out. If you’re interested in a little history I urge you to check it out. Be sure to try his other great book, “The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd”. I can’t recommend both of these books enough!

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