Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Rage for Glory, by James Tertius DeKay

This audiobook was 8 hours and 56 minutes long, and was narrated by John McDonough.

This is the heroic, yet tragic, story of Stephen Decatur, America's forgotten naval hero.

This story begins with the report of Decatur's mortal wound and painful death from a duel in 1820, when he was only 41 years old and at the zenith of his career. So famous and highly regarded was he that it is entirely possible that he would have been President instead of Andrew Jackson, a less celebrated entity.

The author, having told us the end, goes back to the beginning and tells Decatur's life story. He was born in the middle of the American Revolution, in 1779, while his father served as an American privateer: a sea captain who ran blockades for profit.

Young Stephen goes to sea with his father and learns about sailing as well as the old man's obsession with honor. Of course, they were in good company. The times were such that honor was frequently defended with deadly force. Stephen Decatur grew up in a dueling culture, which was only an extension of a similar worldview that valued fame and glory above mere wealth.

These values both make and break the men of those time. As a young naval officer, Decatur steals into the harbor of Tripoli and boards a heavily guarded ship that had been captured by the Barbary Pirates. He and his small band put all the guards to the sword, so they die quietly, set the ship ablaze, and barely escape to sea under musket and cannon fire. This exhilarating deed deprives America's enemies of their most potent weapon, a retrieves the honor lost by the captain who surrendered the ship. This famous deed earns him the rank of captain at the age of 25, ahead of others on the list for promotion. It is only the beginning of a life of both military and diplomatic success that makes him a household word for the next 16 years.

But the undoing of Stephen Decatur is under way from soon thereafter. An early captain he served under, James Barron, is court marshaled for something unrelated to Decatur, other than the fact that the younger officer had to serve on the board of inquiry, even though he tried to get out of it. Barron was barred from military service for 5 years, and went overseas to captain ships privately, though he made little from it.

This resentment festered for years. Barron frequently wrote Decatur to attempt to provoke him into a duel. Decatur resisted as long as he could, but finally decided to get it over with. He actually confessed to a friend that he knew he might die because, although he was a crack shot, he did not want to shoot Barron. He apparently hoped that they would both do what many duelists did to save face, and their lives: fire into the ground or overhead. But Barron set the deadliest terms possible; that they present, aim, and then fire with a count of three. Decatur only insisted that he be close to his home in case he should need a doctor.

There was also an author interview at the end, which easily made this a 4 star book.

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