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The Perfect Wreck - Old Ironsides and HMS Java: A Story of 1812 [Paperback]

Steven E. Maffeo
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 1 2011
December 29, 1812 - The date of one of the most dramatic sea battles in naval history. HMS Java and the USS Constitution (the famous "Old Ironsides") face off in the War of 1812's most spectacular blue-water frigate action. Their separate stories begin in August 1812-one in England and the other in New England. Then, the tension and suspense rise, week-by-week, as the ships cruise the Atlantic, slowly and inevitably coming together for the final life-and-death climax. The Perfect Wreck is not only the first full-length book ever written about the battle between the USS Constitution and HMS Java, it is a gem of Creative Nonfiction. It has the exhaustive research of a scholarly history book; but it is beautifully presented in the form of a novel. "A highly recommended must-read for every naval enthusiast-indeed, for every American!" - Stephen Coonts - NY Times best-selling author

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5.0 out of 5 stars Be an eyewitness to U. S. Naval History! Nov. 4 2011
I truly enjoyed the voyage that Steve Maffeo sent me on. "The Perfect Wreck" is an excellent book and a great look into the "age of fighting sail" at its peak. Maffeo's methodology in creating the different aspects in telling the story of each ship and crew fitting out--to the actual voyages leading to their ultimate destiny and climactic battle--was perfect. The reader couldn't ask for a better story.

There were many aspects of preparation for sea that I was not aware of, especially the painstaking work in getting the masts and rigging seaworthy for each ship. Sailing and engaging another ship in battle was very complex, much more so than in the modern navy, and Maffeo brings out that complexity very well.

I've read many accounts of sea battles, but not to the point where I felt I was on board both ships as an observer. The reader gets to see the perspective of both sides as well as the attitudes and philosophies of both ships' captains.

We all feel that we would like to go back in time to witness a particular event, and Maffeo's book does that for me. Many accounts of 19th-century sea battles are just that, accounts. He has taken the genre and placed the reader on deck--making them an actual eyewitness! Bravo-Zulu!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  48 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wooden Ships and Iron Men Sept. 28 2011
By bikesnguns - Published on
I recently read Captain Maffeo's latest book, " A Perfect Wreck." As a History major I really enjoyed the book because Capt Maffeo took great pains to bridge the gap between novels, popular history, and academic history. Capt Maffeo made the book a very gripping read while using primary and secondary sources and adding just enough semi-fiction or artistic liberties to make the story flow and not read like a history textbook. Nevertheless, the book is well footnoted and is completely scholarly. I would not hesitate to cite from this book on a paper on this subject.
This book does not just give names, dates,and actions, although the book does give a great deal of this information. Capt Maffeo also gives the reader a good lesson in tall ship seamanship and the rigors and dangers of life at sea in early 19th century navies. As a former U.S Navy sailor, I was shocked at the amount of work and danger there was in keeping a sailing ship of war underway.
The other aspect of this book that I really liked was the fact that Capt Maffeo equally covered the English officers, crews and ships as well as the American side. While reading, I grew to admire and even like the British captain and officers as much if not more than the U.S officers. Maffeo exposes the major participants attributes as well as their flaws.
I would recommend this book to any History scholar or anyone who enjoys naval or war history or just a good sea adventure.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fact that can be read as fiction Jan. 5 2012
By A. J. Bond - Published on
The outcome of the meeting between Constitution and Java is well known, and there is a danger with any story which has a forgone conclusion that tension or excitement can be either missing, or contrived. This is definitely not the case with The Perfect Wreck; from the start, with Constitution active and potent at sea, and Java working up at Portsmouth after her capture from the French, the story pulls the reader forward with a pace that is quite compelling. Maffeo adds poignance by fleshing out the historical characters, making them real, three dimensional, and totally believable while the wealth of detail that is present throughout the book, gives a fascinating background to the story, without slowing the plot or becoming in any way instructional.

In short we have a well researched and excellently written book; one that reads as easily as any novel, and yet carries the accuracy and credibility of a good reference work. A difficult trick, but one that Maffeo has pulled off perfectly.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect Wreck. July 27 2011
By tfinnegan - Published on
The Perfect Wreck by Steven Maffeo serves an invaluable purpose for the student of the Age of Sail in seeing merit in a fictional account of a non-fiction event. The considerable inter-character dialogue connects a myriad of factual data that provides the reader with a definitive understanding of one of the most important naval battles that took place in 1812. The absence of footnotes might suggest the author has taken license in rewriting history to suite his tastes; however, it appears that strict adherence to the historical record has been maintained. Moreover, this work gives a naval enthusiast an ability to fully immerse into the story and better understand the reason for naval warfare's transcendence as the predominant force of the era. I highly recommend this book - especially as we get ready for the upcoming bicentennial honoring one of the greatest ships in history - the U.S.S. Constitution.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine narrative, rich in historic detail Dec 20 2011
By Kindle Customer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"On board Old Ironsides, it suddenly occurred to Lieutenant Parker that thus far this battle had not been, and was not going to be, a mere pounding match. It was more a complex combination of skillful maneuver and artillery duel. He realized the two ships were much like fencers or boxers, with a succession of evolutions which resembled those kinds of changes of position - parries, lunges, ripostes, retreats, and advances - all accompanied by a continual play of the great guns, answering to the thrusts and blows of each individual movement..." -- from The Perfect Wreck -- Old Ironsides and HMS Java: A Story of 1812.

Steven Maffeo writes with the authority that comes from years of research and familiarity with naval life. Maintaining historical integrity Maffeo chronicles the events leading up to a fateful sea battle off the coast of Brazil in 1812. He links facts with probabilites without indulging in too much fictional intrusion into the private thoughts of real historical figures, beyond what evidence they provided in logs and letters. I loved the telling details: The commands given by the officers, the lists of provisions, the weather and sea state, the casualties and damage to the ships are all authentic and brought to life on the page. As Steve says in his afterword, "I've tried extremely hard to deliver to you solid historical truth, but at the same time bring the era to life and pull you into its time and place."

Aye, Capt. Maffeo, you have!

For those who like naval history, the War of 1812, and for all age-of-sail enthusiasts. The trade paperback version has illustrations and diagrams not included in the electronic version, though these are available on the author's website
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vibrant U.S. Navy history Nov. 29 2011
By Don Fletcher - Published on
There are so many novels about the Brtish Royal Navy in the war years with Napoleon but there is one United States ship that took two British frigates in individual actions in 1812. I had read very little about these actions before reading Captain Maffeo's "The Perfect Wreck." I have visited the USS Constitution and her museum (what a great visit) in Boston and read a bit about the engagement with HMS Java there. I had also been to the museum at the US Naval Academy and saw the stirring painting of her battle with the HMS Guerriere and thought that was the Constitution's most stirring and proud action on the high seas. I was wrong. Captain Maffeo's ability to enlist help from a descendent of Lieutenant Henry Chads brings the log of HMS Java into this story (for the first time in the public domain?)in a way that allowed me to truly appreciate the challenges that this 24-year old lieutenant and his honored 28-year old captain (Henry Lambert) faced. I would have been honored to have known them. I am not sure that I can say the same about Commodore Bainbridge of the Constitution. But the performance of the Constitutions off the coast of Brazil 199 years ago makes me proud as an American to reflect on the earliest days of our Navy. Captain Maffeo has brought that time to life for me and I appreciate that sincerely. The 60 pages describing the three and a half hour battle itself left me with a profound appreciation of the brave actions of both crews and left me looking for wood splinters in my hands and rubbing the smoke from my eyes as I turned those pages. I now understand the cherished place the USS Constitution continues to have in this nation's history. I had the pleasure to have Captain Maffeo sign my copy of "The Perfect Wreck" in Colorado Springs and the learned passion that he has for this topic is infectious. Thank you for a great historical read.
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