Book Review: Hero of the High Seas

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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Many people know John Paul Jones as the naval captain who uttered the famous line "I have not yet begun to fight." But few people know more about him than that. Michael L. Cooper, in his highly informative and well-written book Hero of the High Seas, aims to change that.

Jones was so much more than the man who is credited with that famous utterance. The author goes out of his way to debunk that story, leaving the reader to be satisfied with learning more details about Jones's life. And details will the reader learn, many and exciting all the way through.

For starts, John Paul Jones was one of the first officers of the U.S. Navy. Created at the height of crisis, the dark early weeks of the Revolutionaty War, the Navy needed good sailors and soldiers. Jones was both, as he had proved in his earlier days at sea. He was commissioned a lieutenant and went right work, recruiting more seamen and helping launch the American Navy.

It wouldn't take him long to make a name for himself. The famous battle, during which he might or might not have said "I have not yet begun to fight," was the largest naval engagement of the war. A badly outnumbered and outgunned Jones somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and cemented his reputation as a daring and very successful Navy man.

Jones knew when not to fight as well, as he proved early in the war when he had to contend with smaller yet faster ships that couldn't outfight but could outrun the heavier British warships. Given this experience, one would think that he would have run from the engagement with the Serapis, but the Bonhomme Richard was a might fine ship indeed and Jones didn't aim to give her up.

Jones was also good at capturing enemy ships. Many were his conquests, and many of those were either dismantled or turned into assets for the American Navy.

One fascinating detail of that famous naval battle is that it took place not off the coast of America but off the coast of England. Jones went looking for a fight and for help. He sailed to France and was instrumental in soliciting French ships and money for the American cause. He then sailed around the British Isles, taking part in a series of memorable battles along the way.

The words are the star of the show in this book. This is much more on the order of a historical novel, except that it's nonfiction. The illustrations are few but memorable. One outstanding illustration shows the movements and positions of the Serapis and the Bonhomme Richard during that famous battle.

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