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The Shining Sea

The Shining Sea

David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the U.S.S. Essex during the War of 1812

A few months after the outbreak of the War of 1812, Captain David Porter set out in the USS Essex on an epic, seventeen-month cruise to the South Seas. Porter was pursuing fame and riches, and by most accounts his odyssey was a stunning success: it brought glory to the fledgling American navy, cemented Porter’s reputation as a daring and talented commander, and has long been celebrated as one of the greatest maritime adventures in U.S. history. Less well known, however, is the terrible price that the crew of the Essex paid for their captain’s outsized ambitions.

In The Shining Sea, award-winning historian George C. Daughan tells the full story of Porter’s thrilling, action-packed voyage, revealing the heights of Porter’s hubris and the true depths of his failure on this fateful cruise. Intent on achieving personal glory, Porter made the treacherous journey around Cape Horn and into the Pacific Ocean, where he planned to capture a British man-of-war. From Valparaiso to the Galapagos to the Marquesas, the Essex roamed the South Seas, seizing British whaling and merchant ships, wreaking havoc on British commerce, and earning Porter and his men wealth and acclaim. Flush with his victories, Porter welcomed the news that a British frigate-the HMS Phoebe-was on his tail, and he resolved to capture her. But Porter could not overcome the Phoebe’s superior firepower. Over the course of a desperate, bloody battle, he lost the Essex and over two-thirds of her crew-a shocking end to a daring journey.

A swashbuckling tale of risk and ruin on the high seas, The Shining Sea brings to life the monomaniacal quest of one of the most misunderstood commanders of the War of 1812. Porter’s singular voyage, Daughan shows, stands as a cautionary tale for any leader who would put personal glory and ambition ahead of cause and countrymen.

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Genre: Nonfiction / History / United States / 19th Century

On Sale: October 8th 2013

Price: $20.99

Page Count: 376

ISBN-13: 9780465069941

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Praise

"George Daughan has written a riveting seafaring story. With grace and style, he tells the epic and ultimately tragic tale of the South Seas voyage of the Essex, a US Navy frigate, during the War of 1812. The history of the Essex's seventeen months at sea is captivating in itself, but Daughan succeeds in unraveling the mysteries of sailing ships, naval battles, the lonely life of a ship's captain, and the fast-changing and often perilous fortunes of mariners. This is wonderful history so well told that it will leave readers with the feeling of running fast on a smooth blue sea."—John Ferling, author of Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation
"The Shining Sea is more than simply the story of one captain and one ship. Daughan describes island life in the South Pacific, shipboard diseases, battles for independence in South America, and includes digressions on mutiny and ship repair. In the end, this book is as much history and travelogue as the story of one thrilling voyage."—Providence Journal
"[A]n entertaining and informative biography of David Porter.... Daughan's account of an ambitious sailor's rise to power and the price of his hubris is at once a cautionary tale and a fascinating look into the life of a young nation--especially the relationship with England and France."—Roanoke Times
"[A] fascinating story.... Daughan tells Porter's story in a way that takes the reader from admiration to, if not disdain, disappointment in the foibles of a man obsessed with reputation."—What Would the Founders Think?
"Daughan richly describes the Essex's voyage, including the dangers and privations from the weather, enemy action, crew indiscipline, and the vagaries of handling a wooden ship under sail.... Readers, especially those well versed in naval history and terminology, will revel in this lively and thoroughly researched work covering a cruise on its bicentennial."—Library Journal
"[David Porter's] exploits are legendary, almost unbelievable, and The Shining Sea recounts them with vivid detail and high drama.... This book is the way to learn history. Focusing on David Porter, it also explains the political and cultural environment influencing his actions, and events that led up to and followed the War. The story is meticulously researched, but written with the pace and vivacity of an action thriller, heart-pounding and immersive. Excellent writing, excellent reading; an excellent book."—City Book Review
"George Daughan has spun a riveting yarn about David Porter and the extraordinary voyage of the USS Essex. With verve and historical nuance, the book captures some of the global ambitions of Americans early in our history and tells a Pacific story that would soon echo in the works of Herman Melville."—Edward L. Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World
"George C. Daughan has in The Shining Sea written another splendid book about the efforts of early American seamen to defend their nation on the world's oceans. This volume takes up the successes and failures of one of them, David Porter, in the War of 1812. The principal part of the book tells the story of Captain Porter's voyage around Cape Horn and across the Pacific in an attempt to destroy British naval forces. The great naval captains--Farragut, Decatur, Preble, among others--appear at appropriate points in the story. But it is David Porter and the Essex who assume the central place in the tale: the climax comes in Valparaiso with the destruction of the Essex and all of Porter's hopes. Daughan tells the history of the Essex's disaster as he does all of the sensational happenings on the voyage: with honesty, great skill, and verve."—Robert Middlekauff, author of The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution