The story of nearly a century of active duty of the U.S. Navy's frigate Constitution is worth telling and quite well done here. The ship was launched in 1797 and retired as ""Old Ironsides"" on her hundredth birthday (although she had retired from the Navy 14 years earlier). Today she is moored in Charlestown Navy Yard near Boston. The ship was about to be taken out of commission about sixty years before her centenary, but an elegiacal young poet named Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote such a moving poem about her upcoming dismantlement that public outcry saved her. The Constitution was built to protect American vessels from French and English ships--and especially from the Barbary pirates. Her most famous exploits were as flagship of a fleet in the Mediterranean, during which the United States Marines made their first, rather celebrated amphibious landing on the shores of Tripoli. (Actually, there were only eight marines and they were leading some Arab land troops.) The story of ""Old Ironsides"" is both that of its successive commanders and of the States' role on the high seas. There are moments of high action through the rigging, but the Constitution had to do a lot of lackeying, too, as a courier and a cruiser. jennings does not romanticize, which lends hardiness to his narrative.