Monday, June 23, 2014

Who Doesn't Love Seamen?!

John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American NavyJohn Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy by Evan Thomas
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poor ol' John. If only the US Navy at the time of Jones' life was the size of the man's ambition and ego, it would've been unstoppable!

If he'd lived just a few years longer, he would've been the ideal sea captain to head up Thomas Jefferson's hesitant-yet-ambitious expansion of the U.S. navy. But we do what we can with the time we're allotted and Jones did just about everything he could.

JOHN PAUL JONES: Journeyman Seaman

What an easy biography to write! The man's life reads like a legend. C.S. Forester couldn't have improved on it! Though the details are often more colorful and entertaining, here are some of the high-and low-lights of his tumultuous career:

* Rose to first mate on British slave ships, then threw away his enviable position out of disgust for the human trafficking trade.
* Saved an un-captained vessel from destruction after it was struck with the Yellow Jack fever.
* At a time when harsh punishment was not uncommon, was imprisoned and had his reputation forever damaged when a flogged man died on one of his cruises.
* Slew a mutineer with a sword over wages and fled to America, adding the name Jones to avoid persecution and leaving behind his fortune to join the American Colonies in their fight against England.
* Took the fight to the British Isles during the American Revolution, terrorizing the people who considered him a pirate, and in a valiant battle with the British navy coined the popular phrase, "I have not yet begun to fight!"

Jones was sometimes gallant and sometimes petty, but always daring, and boy did he like to let people know about it! But those were the times and tooting one's own horn was what one had to do to get ahead, so it's hard to fault the man for that.

What he can be faulted for is his pride. He often felt unduly slighted and he complained about it loudly to the people who he thought were slighting him. Unfortunately, those people were his bosses. When you bitch at your boss you're not likely to get promoted, and Jones did not. Promised appointment after appointment "fell through" for Jones, often leaving him high and dry. Yet his valor was undeniable and, against all odds, he did rise in rank over his short life.

He may have been rash, but you must give the ex-pat Scotsman credit for putting his neck on the line at a time when his own adopted country wasn't so willing to stretch their own out on his behalf.

Thomas' bio does an admirable job of painting Jones' larger than life personality. Prior to reading this the name John Paul Jones to me was associated with the bass player from Led Zeppelin.

The Other John Paul Jones:
(This Jones also dressed in frilly shirts and gave "No Quarter"(sorry), so you can see how the two might be confused!)

But now that quiet, retiring musician has been elbowed to the back of a two-man line. Thomas' almost swashbuckling-level adventure of a biography puts the sailor John Paul Jones right at the forefront!

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