Skip to main content

Editors’ Bookshelf

June 2024
1min read

“Intrepid, unprincipled, reckless, predatory, with boundless ambition, civilized in externals but a savage at heart,” wrote Herman Melville, “America is, or may yet be, the Paul Jones of nations.” In his engrossing new biography John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages, $26.95), Evan Thomas makes very clear just what it was about the man that struck such a chord with Melville. Vain and jealous, vexed and vexing, Jones never got a command worthy of his talents, yet what he did with what he had made his name one of the half-dozen greatest in all the age of fighting sail. With a verve worthy of his subject, Thomas retrieves a career that included flight to avoid a. murder charge, a stint at the head of Catherine the Great’s navy, and one of the most extraordinary single-ship actions in history, the four-hour battle in which Jones’s decrepit Bonhomme Richard took the newer, more heavily gunned British Serapis . Jones “was one of the few members of the Revolutionary generation who really knew how to fight,” writes Thomas. “He does not belong in a pantheon alongside Washington and Adams, Jefferson and Madison. But he was a very powerful guardian at the temple’s gate.”

This summer, that most American of enterprises, Harley-Davidson, is celebrating its hundredth anniversary. Our colleagues at Forbes Custom Communications Partners were chosen to produce the official publication to mark the occasion; it’s here now, and the choice was clearly a wise one. With all the energy and spirit that the subject demands, Harley-Davidson: Celebrating the Great American Motorcycle charts the rise of the company from the first motorcycle built (on a bicycle frame) by 21-year-old William Harley and his 20-year-old pal Arthur Davidson in the letter’s back yard to the fuel-injected 115horsepower V-Rod that is propelling it very quickly into its second century. Other features explore biker culture, Harley collectibles, women motorcyclists, and the like, while Gary McKechnie, who seems to have taken his Electra-Glide over every mile of paved road in America, chooses 10 of the most ravishing motorcycle rides the country has to offer. ($9.95 on newsstands, or call 800-429-0106.)

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.