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THE SHINING SEA by George C. Daughan


David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the U.S.S. Essex During the War of 1812

by George C. Daughan

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-465-01962-5
Publisher: Basic

A technical term–packed mini-history of the War of 1812 and biography of Capt. David Porter (1780 –1843).

Daughan (If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy—From the Revolution to the War of 1812, 2008, etc.) stuffs the book so full of nautical terms that many readers will require a dictionary to search for words not included in the glossary. Porter began his career as a merchantman when he was 16, and he eventually joined the new U.S. Navy under President John Adams. He fought in the Quasi-War with France in 1798 and spent nearly 20 months in a prison in Tripoli after fighting the Barbary pirates. The War of 1812 gave Porter his chance to advance his career. President James Madison didn’t plan on much help from the Navy until Porter’s Essex took eight prizes and then a ship of the Royal Navy. Madison sent him out again to harass British shipping in the South Atlantic, and eventually, he “doubled the horn” (sailed around) into the Pacific, where he successfully harassed British whalers. While in the Marquesas to resupply the ship, however, Porter overdid it by claiming the islands for the United States, a decision that had lasting effects for only a month after he pulled out. Mostly, he was looking for a fight with the British, who were searching the seas for him. After so many successful encounters, his arrogance would prove his undoing.

The escapades of Porter illustrate how the men who made the U.S. Navy great succeeded against great odds and across vast oceans. Daughan is obviously well-versed in and passionate about his subject, but landlubbers will find the technical terms off-putting.