Latham’s books almost invariably succeeded with young readers, principally because of the author’s skill in helping them to identify with the heroes, and this book is no exception. For example, many young people will understand Farragut’s anxiety when he learns from his neighbors that his father is a “foreigner.” They can likewise sympathize with his longing to emulate his father’s somewhat mysterious, but adventurous, past—in this case with his romantic longing for the sea and ships. Many young readers would like to have drifted down the Mississippi River on a flatboat or to have been excited by the promise that they might someday go to sea. Farragut was also confronted with hazings and bullies on shipboard as a fledgling, ten-year-old midshipman, and he was grateful for the protection and guidance of men such as friendly bosun’s mate William Kingsbury, midshipman Matthews, and Captain Porter. Readers will also identify with Farragut’s attempts to learn the ropes of complex sailing ships, as well as with his initially hesitant but soon competent ability not only to take orders but also to give them crisply and clearly. Likewise, Glasgow’s tim-orous and then bolder courtships of his two wives will evoke familiar stirrings.
More than a mere narrator, Latham manages to invest her story with considerable suspense. Because Navy life was often boring and Farragut was an adventurous soul, he had to weather a number of disappointments while...
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Although a statue of Admiral Farragut adorns the grounds of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, it was doubtful even when this work was published in 1968 that the overwhelming majority of young readers had even heard of Farragut. As unlikely a subject as he seems, Latham has nevertheless woven an interesting tale around him. Indeed, the author’s charm is that she is more interested in spinning a good yarn than she is in historical re-creation replete with an overt message about character development. Thus, she has successfully avoided the pitfalls of many biographies for young readers, even those with subjects who are household names.
For readers with no special affection for ships and sailors, a biography of Farragut might hold no interest at all, as his life was long and uneventful except for a few days of preparations for and actual engagement in battles. Latham’s skillful selectivity, however, has minimized the years of monotonous routine common both to shipboard and shore duties and instead has invested them with a plausible suspense. She has even made it seem that Farragut experienced these lackluster years of uncertainty, personal discomfort, anonymity, outmoded equipment, and interminable waits for promotion as suspenseful. Latham has made a fine tale of what otherwise might have been the dull life of a professional naval officer.