This book raises the question, "Who was the Father of the American Navy?" It also tells us something about the American Navy and its development in turbulent times. The biography makes a strong case for the proposition that Commodore John Barry was indeed "The Father of the American Navy."
The strength of this book is its extensive detail of the life of a little known hero of the American Revolution. The book also offers great detail on the ships of wood, the men of iron who manned them, and the tin men who often decided their fates based on political favoritism.
The reader follows Barry from the time that he left Wexford, Ireland as a cabin boy and worked his way up to captain of a merchant ship owned by Robert Morris, a Philadelphia businessman who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. During the Revolution, Barry not only commanded fighting ships, but also he was responsible for rigging many of the merchant ships that were being converted to combat vessels. At one point, Barry even fought on the ground, with Washington's army at Princeton. After the Revolution, Barry divided his time between a commercial venture to China, and continued efforts to promote a full-time American Navy. In this latter effort, Barry trained and selected for promotion a number of young naval officers, who later became the admirals who were the core of the full-time navy.
The reader cannot help but learn a great deal about the history of naval operations during the American Revolution, the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and the intricacies of commerce with China. On the other hand, one gets the sense that the author tries too hard to paint John Paul Jones as a self-promoter. There is no question but that Jones was enamored of his own exploits, but there is no need to keep repeating that fact. It becomes distracting. Also somewhat distracting were some over-reaching descriptions of some of the buildings in 18th Century Philadelphia as "palatial." Moreover, as one who knows a bit about Philadelphia, I was confused about some of the locations described in the book. For example, Barry's house was said to be at 186 Chestnut Street, but reference was often made to it being at "10th & Chestnut Streets." Those locations are different. They are eight blocks apart.
It is an excellent book - and the author makes his point; John Barry is the Father of the American Navy.