In John Paul Jones, Fighting Sailor, Sperry combines history and fiction to create an American hero of mythic proportions. The biography is appropriate for younger readers because of the simplistic manner in which the subject is handled. The book begins with one chapter about a twelve-year-old Paul learning Scottish history from his uncle. The next chapter jumps to the Caribbean Sea, where Captain Paul fears injustice from the English. The following five chapters, constituting three-fourths of the book, shifts to Jones’s heroic service in the Continental navy. Finally, in only three pages, the last thirteen years of Jones’s life story is told.
The purpose of the first chapter is encapsulated in a rhetorical statement offered by Sperry: “Many have wondered how such a man, born a subject of the English king, could have turned his back on his native land to adopt the cause of the rebellious Colonials across the sea.” Sperry answers this query by pointing to Scottish history and the Battle of Culloden in 1746. While it is true that the history of Scotland was filled with frequent war with England, the event cited by Sperry as being a major catalyst in Paul’s life was probably not. According to Sperry, Paul was twelve when he learned of Culloden. Had the battle been as important as Sperry intimates, however, Paul would certainly have learned of Culloden long before 1759. Indeed, given that Paul was from the southwestern Scottish lowlands, an area that was neither pro-Stewart nor pro-Highland, it is very difficult to imagine that Culloden was significant to Paul at all. This literary license is the very foundation of mythmaking; Sperry needed a reason for Paul’s hatred of the English and therefore seems...
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