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Decatur's Wake


Daniel Wattenberg

This is a well-executed example of a genre I have come to love: the short history. This book covers a bit of US history that I suspect most Americans have forgotten (if they ever learned it): the Barbary Wars of the early 1800s. It frames this history within the context of the rise of the US Navy and a rivalry between two of the leading naval officers of the day, Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge. It is a fast-paced and well-written book, which cites historical evidence to back its points. My only quibble is that it is very much an American history. The motivations and opinions of the Barbary states (Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli) are not explored at all, and even the activities of the European powers are mentioned only when they intersect with the American story. This is perhaps a necessary trade-off made to allow the story to remain novella-length, and while it leaves me wanting to read a history of the time period from the point of view of the Barbary States, it does not detract from the fact that this book is an entertaining read that left me knowing more history than I did when I started it.

Favorite Thing: 
The introduction to a period of US history I knew little about
Decatur's Wake book cover
Book Length: 
Part of Series: 
Not part of a series
Stand Alone: 
Received free copy