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Book Review, Scott Martelle, The Admiral and the Ambassador

February 27, 2016

Journalist Scott Martelle’s The Admiral and the Ambassador (published May 1, 2014) is the story of how the American Ambassador to France, Horace Porter, successfully located the body of Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones in Paris and brought it back to the United States. It is an interesting story, particularly as the search for the body proved far more complicated than anyone anticipated, involving searches through multiple French archives, the paying off of property owners, digging tunnels under buildings in search of lead coffins, and forensic analysis of the body.

While the story of how Jones’ body was lost and found is compelling, Martelle unfortunately makes one of the more common mistakes when writing history: he presents us with all of his research in the main body of his narrative. (We’ve all done it—just ask my dissertation advisor…) As readers, we are given almost complete biographies of both Jones and Porter, as well as capsule histories of the naval battles of the American Revolution, the Spanish-American War, and William McKinley’s assassination, among other events. While these do provide context, I would argue that we do not need this much context. Porter, for example, does not even begin to search for Jones’ body until halfway through the book (at almost 50% in my ARC, and not in earnest until 64%).

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in either Jones or Porter, but be aware that you will be doing a lot of skimming to get to the interesting parts.

Source: ARC from NetGalley

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