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John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography

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This book vividly portrays the illustrious career of John Paul Jones, from his early training at sea in the British West Indian merchant trade to his exploits in the newly independent American navy and his appointment as an admiral in the Russian navy and command of a squadron in the Black Sea. With compelling detail and remarkable insight, the dramatic narrative captures This book vividly portrays the illustrious career of John Paul Jones, from his early training at sea in the British West Indian merchant trade to his exploits in the newly independent American navy and his appointment as an admiral in the Russian navy and command of a squadron in the Black Sea. With compelling detail and remarkable insight, the dramatic narrative captures Jones's tenacity and fierce dedication and loyalty to his men and country, despite ill treatment and only begrudged recognition from his superiors. Jones's incredible victories at sea form an important part of the book. Morison's description of the battle between Jones's Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis is considered one of the most vivid accounts of a naval battle in the English language.


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This book vividly portrays the illustrious career of John Paul Jones, from his early training at sea in the British West Indian merchant trade to his exploits in the newly independent American navy and his appointment as an admiral in the Russian navy and command of a squadron in the Black Sea. With compelling detail and remarkable insight, the dramatic narrative captures This book vividly portrays the illustrious career of John Paul Jones, from his early training at sea in the British West Indian merchant trade to his exploits in the newly independent American navy and his appointment as an admiral in the Russian navy and command of a squadron in the Black Sea. With compelling detail and remarkable insight, the dramatic narrative captures Jones's tenacity and fierce dedication and loyalty to his men and country, despite ill treatment and only begrudged recognition from his superiors. Jones's incredible victories at sea form an important part of the book. Morison's description of the battle between Jones's Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis is considered one of the most vivid accounts of a naval battle in the English language.

56 review for John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Samuel Eliot Morison was one of the great historians of the 20th century, and the finest to write about the United States Navy. His won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a biography of Christopher Columbus, and another for this one of John Paul Jones. He also wrote the standard history of the U.S. Navy in World War II, fifteen volumes long and still cited today. He was known for his extensive research and ability to clearly describe complicated situations. His biography of Jones is interesting, insig Samuel Eliot Morison was one of the great historians of the 20th century, and the finest to write about the United States Navy. His won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a biography of Christopher Columbus, and another for this one of John Paul Jones. He also wrote the standard history of the U.S. Navy in World War II, fifteen volumes long and still cited today. He was known for his extensive research and ability to clearly describe complicated situations. His biography of Jones is interesting, insightful, and well worth reading. John Paul started from humble beginnings (‘Jones’ was added apparently in an attempt to conceal his identity after he killed a member of one of his crews – probably in self defense, but he did not stick around to see if he would be exonerated). His father was a gardener for the local minor lord, and Jones went to sea as a young man, quickly proving his abilities and rising to command merchant vessels. He settled in the colonies just as the ferment for revolution came to a boil, and offered his services to the fledgling government. His talents could not be denied, but he was regularly passed over for command of ships by men with less ability but better social and political connections. It did not help that he was a hard man to get along with, endlessly offering good but unwanted advice, and forever complaining about slights, real or imagined. He demanded perfection from his crew, which is not unreasonable in time of war, but often failed to give them credit for their efforts. Part of the problem was that his crews, when he could find sailors at all, were accustomed to the more relaxed discipline of merchant ships. Good sailors could always find work on privateers, which paid better wages than the Continental Congress could offer, as well as larger shares of the proceeds from captured ships. They were also paid as soon as the prizes were sold, but sailors in the Continental Navy might have to wait months or years to get their money. The American crews constantly complained about their discipline and living conditions under Jones, and he regularly had to deal with mutinous sailors. He had much better luck with foreign born crews. He was an excellent strategic thinker, and came up with plans that might have made a big impact on the war effort if they had been adopted. He realized that privateers could never be more than an annoyance, and the Continental Navy was too small to make much of a difference against the Royal Navy. His plan was to attack Britain not only in her home waters, but to land troops ashore for raids and destruction of ships and waterfront infrastructure. His attack on Whitehaven resulted in little damage (mutinous crewman tried to abandon him ashore but were stopped by a French officer who was guarding their boat), but caused a sensation in Britain, with cities throughout the islands demanding that the government provide soldiers and Royal Navy ships to defend them. His daring also caught the public’s attention and he became what would be known today as a media sensation, the subject of ballads and poetry from fans, and angry letters and editorials in British newspapers. Following the attack on Whitehaven, he landed a raiding party near where he had grown up, intending to kidnap the local lord to ransom him for captured American sailors. The lord was not there, but his crew demanded loot so he allowed them to steal the silverware. They did not do any other looting, and were polite to the lady of the house. Later Jones bought back the silver with his own money and returned it. More than anything Jones wanted a fast, well armed ship, but what he got was a runaround. The Continentals were broke, so they were largely dependent on the good graces of the French, who had other priorities. Ben Franklin was the American diplomatic liaison in Paris, and he recognized Jones’s abilities and helped him as much as possible, but there were endless delays and petty backstabbing by American rivals. Jones himself spent much of his time away from his crew courting ladies in Paris, sometimes to the detriment of his mission to get back to sea and fight. He finally got the Bon Homme Richard and put to sea with a small force of ships, including one captained by a Frenchman named Landais who was apparently a genuine madman. The battle with HMS Serapis was the highlight of Jones’s career, an amazing piece of tactical maneuvering fought at night under an almost full moon. Serapis was faster and much more heavily armed than Bon Homme Richard, so Jones knew his only chance was to grapple alongside and fight hand to hand. His French marines up in the rigging used muskets and grenades to clear the British off the main deck, but down below their heavy cannons continued to pour broadsides in his ship, reducing it to a wreck. They were so close together the British gunners had to reach inside the American ship to swab down their guns. A lesser man would have struck his colors but Jones, of course, had not yet begun to fight, and held on till Serapis surrendered. During this time Captain Landais had taken no part in the action other than to sail around the fighting, occasionally firing his guns, mostly at Bon Homme Richard. After that Jones was a hero in France and America, honored and feted wherever he went. His fame did not help him get a better ship and back to sea, and he again spent months in port trying to get back into the fight. He returned to the United States and was given command of the largest ship in the Continental Navy, then still under construction, but after the Battle of Yorktown it was taken from him and given to the French Navy as a show of gratitude for their help in the war (it was so poorly built the French scrapped it after only three years). Jones went back to Europe and eventually found brief employment as an admiral in the Russian Navy of Catherine the Great fighting the Turks, but it was another case of under utilization of his talents. Surrounded by scheming incompetents, he accomplished little and soon lost Catherine’s support. His final years were in Paris, a has-been hero living in rented rooms. He was only forty-five when he died, and it was not until decades later that the United States brought his body home to be enshrined in honor in Annapolis. Jones was a hard man to get along with, egotistical, thin skinned and easily offended, often critical even of the friends who were trying to help him. However, it has long been observed that the kind of men who win wars are not necessarily the kind who function well in peacetime society. Jones was a warrior, and one of the best ever. He accomplished great things, and could have done much more if he had been given the support that his talents and drive clearly warranted.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    For anyone looking for a thorough, detailed and unvarnished biography of the man known today as the father of the U.S. Navy this must be the quintessential volume. Born in poverty to a Scottish estate gardener in 1747 and christened John Paul, he later added Jones as a surname to facilitate his legal entry into America after an unfortunate adventure in the Caribbean. An avid patriot and supporter of the American revolution he became a mythical figure as a naval strategist. He was hated by the Br For anyone looking for a thorough, detailed and unvarnished biography of the man known today as the father of the U.S. Navy this must be the quintessential volume. Born in poverty to a Scottish estate gardener in 1747 and christened John Paul, he later added Jones as a surname to facilitate his legal entry into America after an unfortunate adventure in the Caribbean. An avid patriot and supporter of the American revolution he became a mythical figure as a naval strategist. He was hated by the British for his arrogant raids on British soil and his embarrassing defeat of the much larger and better armed HMS Seripas at the battle of Flamborough Head, near the English coast. A proud and egotistical man he made as many enemies in Congress as patrons and therefore seldom achieved the recognition or appreciation that he felt he was due. Congress never granted him flag rank in the continental navy and as the war drew to a close he sought what he thought would be appropriate respect from France and then ultimately was made a rear admiral in an ill fated exploit with the Russian navy under Catherine the Great. He referred to himself as a “citizen of the world” and his reputation in the court of Louis XVI as a lover and courageous naval hero only angered his enemies more. Although famous for his quote: “I have not yet begun to fight” his battle ended in France at age forty five; deserted by his friends, forgotten by his country and basically penniless, John Paul died alone and broken. A sad end for an American hero but a fascinating story.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    John Paul Jones, "the father of the U.S. Navy" could also be known as the first social media celebrity--through the medium of the day, ballads, and with his rousing quote "I have not yet begun to fight." The author has a clear and engaging style and I particularly enjoyed the first part of the book which made colonial America, with the broad acceptance of slavery, the importance of connections in getting ahead and references to many of the founding fathers and people new to me such as Phillis Wh John Paul Jones, "the father of the U.S. Navy" could also be known as the first social media celebrity--through the medium of the day, ballads, and with his rousing quote "I have not yet begun to fight." The author has a clear and engaging style and I particularly enjoyed the first part of the book which made colonial America, with the broad acceptance of slavery, the importance of connections in getting ahead and references to many of the founding fathers and people new to me such as Phillis Wheatley, come to life. I skimmed through a lot of the second half which was more about sea battles and less about people.

  4. 4 out of 5

    James Henderson

    John Paul Jones is a name that is part of American mythology. As an officer in the Continental Navy, he became the new country's greatest naval hero. Yet he often complained, was impatient with supervisors, and was haughty toward his peers and a tyrant among his crews. He prided himself on defending "the violated rights of mankind", yet after the American Revolution he went on a venture battling the Turks in the service of the Russian Tsar. He was in many ways a paradox and his idiosyncrasies ma John Paul Jones is a name that is part of American mythology. As an officer in the Continental Navy, he became the new country's greatest naval hero. Yet he often complained, was impatient with supervisors, and was haughty toward his peers and a tyrant among his crews. He prided himself on defending "the violated rights of mankind", yet after the American Revolution he went on a venture battling the Turks in the service of the Russian Tsar. He was in many ways a paradox and his idiosyncrasies made him one of the most fascinating figures in all American history. Samuel Eliot Morison demonstrates his mastery of American history with this biography of the heroic sailor of the eighteenth century. Morison loved the sea, and this biography is a tribute to that love. The author goes beyond a narrow naval context to establish Jones as a key player in the American Revolution, something not done by previous biographers, and explains what drove him to his achievements. At the same time, Admiral Joseph Callo fully examines Jones's dramatic military achievements—including his improbable victory off Flamborough Head in the Continental ship Bonhomme Richard—but in the context of the times rather than as stand-alone events. The book also looks at some interesting but lesser-known aspects of Jones's naval career, including his relationships with such civilian leaders as Benjamin Franklin. This is a great biography from one of America's finest historians.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rex Cluff

    This is an excellent biography that does not glamorize the life of his subject not of those around him. I find his human descriptions very reasonable and realistic. He calls out the many fables that have been told about John Paul Jones. I learned much about JPJ that made me feel sorry for him but also understand that he was the author of his own fate in many ways. It is a shame that he was a one shot wonder and that his abilities were never given their full potential. It is also a shame that so This is an excellent biography that does not glamorize the life of his subject not of those around him. I find his human descriptions very reasonable and realistic. He calls out the many fables that have been told about John Paul Jones. I learned much about JPJ that made me feel sorry for him but also understand that he was the author of his own fate in many ways. It is a shame that he was a one shot wonder and that his abilities were never given their full potential. It is also a shame that so many jealous competitors and contemporaries connived and schemed to undue his real worth. If he were a bit more personable, humble, perhaps he could have avoided some of his ill fate. We will never know. I was made aware of the many machinations on the part of government and professional parties all promoting their own interests instead of the good of the nation. It truly is a miracle that the USA ever came about what with the flawed characters involved and the many roadblocks they put in their own way. JPJ belonged to the class of men of action that included Washington and Adams. However, JPJ also liked the rich life enjoyed by Franklin and Jefferson. He couldn't have it both ways. I believe this is an accurate portrayal of history. I liked it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    The Book Report: Rear Admiral Morison, USNR, was also a professor of American History at Harvard back when that meant something. His reconsideration of the life of Scottish naval hero John Paul Jones did much to strip away false and misleading stories accreted around the American Revolution's most famous navy man, and issuer of the famously defiant "I have not yet begun to fight," which has ensured his place in the American Pantheon of Heroes. What emerges is not quite a modern warts-and-all dim The Book Report: Rear Admiral Morison, USNR, was also a professor of American History at Harvard back when that meant something. His reconsideration of the life of Scottish naval hero John Paul Jones did much to strip away false and misleading stories accreted around the American Revolution's most famous navy man, and issuer of the famously defiant "I have not yet begun to fight," which has ensured his place in the American Pantheon of Heroes. What emerges is not quite a modern warts-and-all diminishment of Jones, but a close cousin to it. Jones's many character flaws are not shied away from, nor are they "glorified" in any way. They're merely reported, and even commented upon, as the inevitable consequence of heroes being humans first. My Review: Informative. Precise. Very well handled in its absence of hero worship or iconoclasm. Breathakingly boring. The literary equivalent of Xanax. Would not be any more effective at inducing heavy-eyed torpor if one were to be struck repeatedly with it about the head and shoulders. To be avoided unless one is passionate about American Revolutionary figures, and is unfamiliar with Jones's legend. If already familiar with legend, stick to that as there is NOTHING INTERESTING ABOUT THIS MAN.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Father turned me on to Samuel Eliot Morison during high school, he having read the author himself in college and having served with the Signal Corps shipboard in both theatres covered by the historian in his series on naval actions during the war. John Paul Jones I'd heard about much earlier, he being a saint of the American secular religion inculcated into us during elementary school. This biography is both fun and an easy read. Morison seamlessly gives such background information as on the hist Father turned me on to Samuel Eliot Morison during high school, he having read the author himself in college and having served with the Signal Corps shipboard in both theatres covered by the historian in his series on naval actions during the war. John Paul Jones I'd heard about much earlier, he being a saint of the American secular religion inculcated into us during elementary school. This biography is both fun and an easy read. Morison seamlessly gives such background information as on the history of the formation of the U.S. Navy and as regards the payment of crews and commanders as is required to understand the subject of the biography. In discussing Jones, Morison adduces countless tales, many of a personal nature, that I'd never encountered previously. For instance, not only did he raid British shores, but in one case, while his crew was politely robbing the country estate of a Lord, he fell in love with the Lady of the house with whom he and his officers had tea. Buying back the silver from his crew while undergoing repairs in France, Jones returned the pelth with a love letter. More followed.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vance

    i make it a point to re-read this classic at least once per year. in my opinion, this is the best book on this US Navy Hero.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Little

    The author of this book did an excellent job doing thorough research and making it very clear when descriptions of events, motivations, etc. were clearly documented and when they were conjecture or assumption. But RADM. Morison is an excellent writer that presents all of the pertinent information in an efficient and engaging way. You learn a great deal not just of John Paul Jones, but of the time in which he lived. One of the best pieces of information gained from this book is how much politics The author of this book did an excellent job doing thorough research and making it very clear when descriptions of events, motivations, etc. were clearly documented and when they were conjecture or assumption. But RADM. Morison is an excellent writer that presents all of the pertinent information in an efficient and engaging way. You learn a great deal not just of John Paul Jones, but of the time in which he lived. One of the best pieces of information gained from this book is how much politics and politicians, nepotism and more affected wars and smaller events back in the 18th century just as they do now. John Paul Jones may not have been a particularly likable person, but it's interesting to see how it was politics more than anything else that prevented him from better applying his tactical and strategic abilities in the American War of Independence and in other conflicts later. These problems are not new. Overall, a great read. Do not let ignorance of sailing stop you from reading this biography. I know very little of sailing, but still gained a great deal from reading this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Over 46 years this author has produced a number of highly regarded histories including the 13 volume History of US Naval Operations in WWII; the Gold standard. This terrific book, the biography of John Paul Jones, sets a similar high standard. In addition to providing a thorough, well documented history of J. P. J.'s life it is also a primer on the life of a tall ship master in peacetime commerce and in battle. The book provides a factual record of this somewhat flawed man, in some way his own w Over 46 years this author has produced a number of highly regarded histories including the 13 volume History of US Naval Operations in WWII; the Gold standard. This terrific book, the biography of John Paul Jones, sets a similar high standard. In addition to providing a thorough, well documented history of J. P. J.'s life it is also a primer on the life of a tall ship master in peacetime commerce and in battle. The book provides a factual record of this somewhat flawed man, in some way his own worst enemy, and it is presented with honesty, with humor and with a perspective on more recent naval history. It's a very good and entertaining read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mr. Kovach

    An interesting biography about the American naval hero who is nonetheless obscure to our times, except for one thing he famously said in battle (though even that is practically debunked here). Written in a clear and understated style, this book has been around for a long time which speaks to its value.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Korin White

    What a sad story!! Poor John Paul Jones! He has some amazing adventures, but what more he could have done! This biography was well written and kept my attention. I could have done without the ship specifications, but a seafaring person may have appreciated it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    Excellent biography of this iconic figure. Any Navy out there? Read about this guy. History buffs will also enjoy. Outstandingly researched and presented in readable style. I liked it and recommend to any & all interested in Western history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kim Zinkowski

    B+

  15. 5 out of 5

    Donald

    A well written and extremely well researched book on a American hero .A great book on all counts.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Beaver

    Good read

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jwt Jan50

    Pulitzer bio/auto bio 1960. Once I'd finished Morison's History of US Naval Ops WW2, and having extended in the squadron, and the base library having a surfeit of naval biography; I started with Jones and worked my way forward to Nimitz. Much as I love O'Brian, Forester, etc, there's nothing like the real thing. Pulitzer bio/auto bio 1960. Once I'd finished Morison's History of US Naval Ops WW2, and having extended in the squadron, and the base library having a surfeit of naval biography; I started with Jones and worked my way forward to Nimitz. Much as I love O'Brian, Forester, etc, there's nothing like the real thing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Heman

    A biography that is based for a good part on hearsay, conjecture and rumor (accompanied with a good dose of ballads) is not much of a biography. Morison seems to have erred on siding too much with Jones here and summarily dismisses, as jealousy and spite, many of the disparaging tales told about Jones. These are mostly told or written by his own crew. But even Morrison can't do much for a man whose naval career includes such lows as marching to his own homestead in Scotland and stealing the Baro A biography that is based for a good part on hearsay, conjecture and rumor (accompanied with a good dose of ballads) is not much of a biography. Morison seems to have erred on siding too much with Jones here and summarily dismisses, as jealousy and spite, many of the disparaging tales told about Jones. These are mostly told or written by his own crew. But even Morrison can't do much for a man whose naval career includes such lows as marching to his own homestead in Scotland and stealing the Baron's silverware and losing command of his ship to a madman because he was gallivanting with ladies hundreds of miles away in Paris. Maybe Jones was a brilliant captain, but he had very little chance to be tested. His fame seems to be more inflated and self-promoted than much else.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Walter

    John Paul Jones: a literate biography with blemishes and all By Walter H. Pierce on March 14, 2002 A hero of my youth, this book appears to tell the full story. This is a scholarly work which reads easily. I only wish I would have read this book in my twenties. There are some wonderful life lessons in this biography. If you read it you will learn his flaws, his good and fine attributes, and some mysteries. This is first-rate biography and detective work by the author. I recommend it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Russ Bingaman

    Mr. Morison gives a very detailed account of this great sea warrior who sailed during the American Revolutionary War. Even though this was an easy read there was evidence that Mr. Morison spent a considerable amount of time in researching John Paul Jones's life, both as a human being and as a naval commander. Highly recommend. Mr. Morison gives a very detailed account of this great sea warrior who sailed during the American Revolutionary War. Even though this was an easy read there was evidence that Mr. Morison spent a considerable amount of time in researching John Paul Jones's life, both as a human being and as a naval commander. Highly recommend.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tom Leland

    Found in front of a house in Toronto. Although this book won the Pulitzer, unless you're a huge fan, or VERY into naval history, this book doesn't offer much beyond financial doings, some mild political intrigue and a lot of minutia. Jones only ever fought in one exciting battle -- and as always, I find myself questioning many of the suppositions made by any historian. Found in front of a house in Toronto. Although this book won the Pulitzer, unless you're a huge fan, or VERY into naval history, this book doesn't offer much beyond financial doings, some mild political intrigue and a lot of minutia. Jones only ever fought in one exciting battle -- and as always, I find myself questioning many of the suppositions made by any historian.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dominee

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Francisco

  24. 5 out of 5

    Randy

  25. 4 out of 5

    lbert buro

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey David

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jkiwala

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liongaming

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dick

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alan

  31. 4 out of 5

    Alan

  32. 4 out of 5

    John

  33. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  34. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  35. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  36. 4 out of 5

    Glenn

  37. 5 out of 5

    David

  38. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

  39. 5 out of 5

    Nitzerian

  40. 4 out of 5

    GraceH

  41. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Beebe

  42. 4 out of 5

    Kim

  43. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  44. 4 out of 5

    Conrad Heibel

  45. 4 out of 5

    Harry

  46. 5 out of 5

    Colin

  47. 4 out of 5

    Samneff

  48. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  49. 5 out of 5

    David

  50. 5 out of 5

    Rob Roy

  51. 5 out of 5

    Chris Brown

  52. 4 out of 5

    David

  53. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth S

  54. 4 out of 5

    Don

  55. 5 out of 5

    Nathaniel

  56. 4 out of 5

    Erin

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