Robert Elias Cahill,
New England's Naughty Navy
(Chandler-Smith, 1987)

I'm a big fan of truth in advertising.

Robert Ellis Cahill's New England's Naughty Navy fails the honesty test.

Sure, extra points for alliteration. But this book obviously was titled solely with the notion of attracting the eye of New England tourists in gift shops, who would pick up the slim volume in hopes of alluring anecdotes of salacious seamen. (See, I can alliterate, too!) And hey, it worked, since it succeeded in getting me to buy a copy during a visit to Massachusetts.

But it doesn't deliver on the promise of its title, or even of chapter headings such as "Washington's Wet & Wild Warriors" -- which might lead one to assume the soldiers competed against the British in wet T-shirt contests or something.

The book could use a proofreader. Cahill also is a little careless with facts. On p. 14, for instance, he describes an encounter between the British sloop Falcon and a small flotilla of Dartmouth sailboats as "the first naval action of the Revolution." Further down on the same page, he refers to a clash between the U.S. sloop Unity and the British schooner Margaretta as "the first naval engagement of the Revolutionary War." (Since one took place on May 12, 1775, and the other on June 12, 1775, it shouldn't have been too hard, even without the help of a calendar, to determine which came first.)

For the most part, however, this book is a perfectly serviceable text on the formation of the first American navy during the Revolutionary War. It's intestesting enough stuff, too -- it's a fascinating period of history, and those upstart Colonials were pretty plucky to take on the mighty British navy in their whaleboats and converted merchant vessels.

And yet, they did. And it helped them to win the war. It doesn't require a misleading title to make it interesting.

Although the text is dense and rarely broken up by anything visual, this book is a short but educational read. The title, however, sucks.

book review by
Tom Knapp

27 December 2014

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