Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

Written by Brian Kilmeade

Thomas Jefferson


A while back, I read Kilmeade’s book on George Washington’s spy network during the Revolutionary War, and I was fascinated by the view of a forgotten (or overlooked) piece of history.  I heard that Kilmeade wrote another book, and knew I had to read it.

What It’s About

Between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the United States found herself embroiled in military conflict with pirates off the Barbary coast.  We didn’t learn about it in History class, but if you might recognize the line about the “shores of Tripoli” from the Marine Corps hymn.  This book explores a moment in history that helped establish the US Navy and Marine Corps as forces to reckoned with, and it also explores early tensions between the United States and Muslim states in Africa.

The Good

Once again, Kilmeade finds a fascinating pocket of history and relates it in an accessible way.  I kept finding tidbits throughout the book that made me think, “Huh!  That’s where that came from”, or “Huh!  I didn’t know that.”  Kilmeade also manages to link events from the early 19th century to the state of the modern world without beating the reader over the head.

I always appreciate an author who can describe historical figures without sentimentality.  Those who deserved accolades received them, and those who didn’t perform well didn’t have their actions sugar coated.  Kilmeade was empathetic in his descriptions of the men involved, trying to find the human side of the hapless men instead of making them out to be ridiculous or villains.  He saw people as people for all their flaws and all their strengths.

The Not-So-Good

Maybe Kilmeade’s role as a morning anchor on Fox News makes him feel like he needs to work extra hard to be taken seriously as a historian, but I felt like this story lacked a little bit of soul.  He tries to be impartial and impart details and facts, but he keeps veering into a more narrative style. I get the sense that he truly has a narrative voice that he’s tamping down in favor of a style that reads like a textbook.  It lends this book a schizophrenic feel.  Every time you think you’re about to hit a Spielberg-esque action scene, he pulls his punch.  I wish he would just let fly with a narrative storytelling story and make it really exciting and real.

Final Thoughts

Brian Kilmeade delivers once again on his promise.  This book is easy to read, and it tells a story that many of us didn’t even know.  Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates explores a time when a young country was finding its culture and its place in the world.  It is a remarkable story, told well.  You won’t regret reading it.