Category Archives: Reviews and Reaction


The other day I received a nice note from Jack Horst, a volunteer at the Chautauqua County Historical Society’s McClurg Museum in Westfield, NY. Will Cushing, of course, spent much of his life in Fredonia, which is a town in Chautauqua County.

“Your book , Commander Will Cushing, which I just finished, really captures the spirit of  that young man and his brother, Alonzo,” wrote Jack. “We often refer to him as the original or prototype Navy SEAL when we tell visitors to the Museum about him and show them the Cushing artifacts that we have on display. I hope your book does well.  Well done.”

Thanks for the note, Jack–much appreciated.



Newly discovered, anyway–from Kevin O’Mara of San Francisco, writing in Model Ship World

“The memory of William Barker Cushing exerts a powerful influence over the United States Navy, as evidenced by the naming of five warships in his honor (its first torpedo boat and four destroyers). His brief, colorful, and action-packed naval career from 1861 to 1874 led many to view him as the epitome of a dashing and heroic officer: “a man who comes next to Farragut on the hero roll of American naval history,” in the words of “.
This reputation for daredevilry has attracted biographers over the years. Perhaps it is the sesquicentennial of the Civil War that has led to the publication of four books about Cushing’s career in a ten-year period, of which this is the most recent—the publisher’s assertions that Cushing is little-know is surprising in light of the recent studies by Schneller (2004), Stempel (2011), and McQuiston (2013).
“What, then, does Jamie Malanowski bring to the table that the other recent authors do not? Most obviously, this biography is the most comprehensive; all of the others recount his life story, but Stempel and Schneller concentrate their attention on his Civil War exploits, while McQuiston’s focus is Cushing’s post-war career. Malanowski’s book is very good in describing and analyzing Cushing’s rambunctious life before the Civil War (which led to his dismissal from the Naval Academy). It also does fine work in detailing his later naval career and untimely death. Highlights of the author’s coverage of these periods are his skillful incorporation of the reactions of Cushing’s contemporaries and the inclusion of many quotations from his own letters and remarks.
“Nevertheless, like all his biographers, Malanowski is drawn magnetically to Cushing’s Civil War exploits. About two-thirds of the book recounts this part of his career from his re-appointment by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to his skullduggery in the attack on Fort Anderson below Wilmington. Malanowski is thorough and incorporates many interesting snippets into his exciting presentation of this part of Cushing’s career.
“This new biography of Cushing does not break new ground. Nevertheless, it shines because of the breadth of its coverage and the author’s superb writing. Specialists and general readers alike will find it both informative and enjoyable.”
 Thanks, Kevin! I’m glad you enjoyed it.


Commander Will Cushing has received three new reviews, and they are all quite positive.  “Jamie Malanowski, who’s written for both The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, offers up the first scholarly biography of Cushing in years,” says Ben Steelman at  “Not surprisingly, it turns out to be a ripping yarn.”  Writing for the Drum and Bugle Call, a publication of the Mahoning Valley, Ohio, Civil War Roundtable, Carol Babyak calls the book “a good read,”  adding “I am surprised that a movie hasn’t been made about Will Cushing, though many would regard it as fiction about a super hero.”  Finally, in Cannonball, a publication of the York, PA, Civil War Roundtable, Scott Mingus says `Jamie Malanowski presents his vivid prose in a series of 55 short, but effective chapters. As a result of this structure, the book is fast-flowing and easy to read. He brings Commander Cushing to life, covering all of the important events in his life in satisfying detail while nicely capturing the essence of the man, his exploits, and his career. . . .Malanowski’s work rectifies a void in recent literature and is a must read for anyone interested in U.S. naval personalities from the Civil War era. It also, quite frankly, is an engaging and stand alone read for anyone who enjoys an adventure tale well told.”

Thanks to Ben and Carol and Scott for their positive reviews.


Thanks to Patrick E. Purcell, who gave Commander Will Cushing a terrific review in Civil War News. “With a skillful account of the Cushing brothers’ careers,” says Purcell, “Jamie Malanowski has created a well-written and often thrilling story that is as engaging as an action novel. His book is highly recommended.” Thanks, too, to Rea Andrew Redd, a professor at Waynesburg University. Writing on his blog Civil War Librarian,  Redd calls the book “a retelling of an exciting story about a remarkable individual ” that “is accessible and enjoyable for readers of nearly all ages.” And in his blog Cannonball, York PA-based critic Scott Mingus offers, among other compliments, this recommendation: “Malanowski’s work rectifies a void in recent literature and is a must read for anyone interested in U.S. naval personalities from the Civil War era. It also, quite frankly, is an engaging and stand alone read for anyone who enjoys an adventure tale well told.” Thanks to all  reviewers.


Thanks to Kara Snead of KTRS radio in St. Louis and to Charles Heller of Liberty Watch radio in Tuscon AZ for having me on to talk about Will and Alonzo Cushing. Charles gave the topic an entire hour. The broadcast can be heard at

I have also received some very encouraging notes. Thanks to my good friend Paul Lindstrom; the estimable Harold Holzer; my friend at the Civil War Forum Paul Windells; Professor Chris Fonvielle, who is an expert on Civil War operations in North Carolina and who is working on his own biography of Will Cushing; to Andrew Swanson, the Curator of Collections for the Waukesha County Museum in Wisconsin; my always supportive kinsman David Powell; the enthusiastic Ron Rigdon; and the complimentary Nick Andruzzi. As a British friend once said to me, “I am seriously chuffed.’’



The Washington Independent Review of Books likes Commander Will Cushing!

“In this witty, well-written biography,” writes reviewer  Grayson Clary, “an unknown Union sailor finally gets his due.”

“Historians, Southern-sympathizing or otherwise, have long marshaled heroic profiles to defend the honor of the Confederate states: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, P.G.T. Beauregard, J.E.B. Stuart, the Grey Ghost, etc. Northern hagiography is, by comparison, underdeveloped. Jamie Malanowski’s new biography, Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War, is a strong contribution to a regrettably thin genre. . .

Commander Will Cushing restores a share of glory to the man, offering a sharply sketched adventure tale in the process. Where Cushing struggles to bear the weight of the narrative, his relatively thin résumé is to blame. Malanowski has done what he can to build up the pantheon of Union heroes. That’s good work — and worth reading.”

You can read the entire review <a href=””>here</a>.


I’ve admired Senator John McCain for quite a long time, most notably since reading his stirring, touching, candid  and often quite fun memoir Faith of My Fathers.  Thus it is particularly gratifying to have received this blurb:

“Like many war stories, the tale of the young and rebellious Commander Will Cushing was tucked away into the dusty archives of history. Jamie Malanowski skillfully resurrects Cushing’s courageous adventures on the high seas during the Civil War in this action-packed page-turner. Beginning with Cushing’s youthful pranks at the U.S. Naval Academy and culminating with his triumphant sinking of the Confederate CSS Albermarle, Commander Will Cushing is a must-read about a daring young soldier whose extraordinary achievements have earned him a place alongside America’s most celebrated naval heroes.”

Thanks, Senator McCain.


Publishers Weekly has given Commander Will Cushing a starred review:

“Most Americans know the major figures of the Civil War–Lincoln, Lee, Grant–while it seems only the hardcore Civil War buffs know about the naval action during that war. Fortunately journalist Malanowski (And the War Came) remedies that with this gripping, accessible biography of Union naval officer Lt. Cmdr. William Barker Cushing. Reckless and fearless at the most opportune moments, Cushing possessed traits that enabled him to rise from class clown at the Naval Academy to famed lieutenant commander by the end of his short life. He became a national hero known for his dangerous exploits, perhaps the most famous of which was taking down the seemingly invincible Confederate ironclad Albemarle, surviving the battle by crawling through a swamp and reappearing after everyone thought he was dead. Malanowski’s nimble prose serves the action sequences perfectly, and gives Cushing’s battles the weight and presentation they deserve. At these points, the book no longer feels like the typical historical read, but has the page-turning excitement of a thriller.  Malanowski ends with a brief reflection on what this hero could have become had lived beyond his 32 years. Readers will admire both Cushing’s daring and genius as well as the author’s talent for capturing the full scope of them.”



I am very lucky to share an agent with S.C. Gwynne, a journalist and historian, whose Empire of the Summer Moon, about the Commanche in the southwest was one of the most eye-opening histories I’ve read in the last several years. Our agent, David McCormick, as Gwynne to take a look at my new book; he returned this wonderful blurb: “Commander Will Cushing is a happy combination of one of the Civil War’s best tales and a writer those taut, smart prose is up to the task of writing it. So much Civil War writing loses its luster in a an ocean of sheer data. In Malanowski’s hands the narrative just drives forward, carrying you with it. A superbly entertaining book on a subject that, somehow, everyone else overlooked.”