Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates Audio Book Review

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History

Authored by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager, Narrated by Brian Kilmeade

Audiobook, 4 hours and 52 minutes

Published by Penguin Audio, November 2015

Language: English

ISBN:  9780698411890

Muslim slave traders had long raided coastal areas along the Mediterranean, going as far back as 710.  Settlements were looted, and captives could be sold into slavery or ransomed for profit.  The Ottoman slave trade increased as shipbuilding skills improved, with the raiders venturing as far as Ireland.  Between 1580 and 1780 an estimated 1.25 Million Europeans had been taken by slavers, and many parts of the northern Mediterranean coast were abandoned.  By the end of the 18th century the most active raiders were from the states of Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco along the Barbary Coast.  Their tactics had evolved to privateering, seizing shipping and ransoming the ships and crews.  Those sailors who were not ransomed were enslaved.  Many European nations found it easier to pay tribute to the pirate states in exchange for safe passage than to oppose them militarily.

Before the American Revolution, American shipping was protected by Great Britain, and during the Revolution by French allies.  After independence from Britain the American were on their own, and paid tribute for safe passage like many European nations.  Still there were seizures, with American sailors enslaved or ransomed.  The Barbary leaders demanded ever-increasing tributes.  Jefferson had had enough, and responded that, “they shall have their payment in iron!”  Congress authorized the construction of warships, which were dispatched in several expeditions to blockade the Barbary ports.

This book details the diplomatic as well as military maneuvers of what were to become known as the Barbary Wars.  There were several interrelated efforts between 1801 and 1804, some better conducted than others, with a much more decisively resolved crisis in 1815.  As a result of standing up against the Barbary pirates, the new American nation gained in prestige with many historical firsts for the USN and USMC.  The audiobook suffers a bit from Kilmeade’s awkward cadence and odd pronunciation of “Gilbralta”.  This story is often overlooked, but was a vital precedent in American history which set the tone for the country going forward.  Recommended.

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