This book is excellent: Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates

Plus, the author’s blurb on the back cover begins: “David Cordingly is the world’s foremost expert on pirates.” And really, who wouldn’t want that said about them?

This read comes courtesy of Mark, who recommended it with lavish praise last month (prior to blogging about it). And really, Mark lavishly praises few things.

The book does a good job of debunking the “romance” part of pirate life. There wasn’t any, really. Their lives were hard, violent, and often quite short. Life aboard ship was rather more dangerous than the pirate-hunting Governors of any of the colonies like Jamaica or the Bahamas. And occasionally you hit the motherload, but more often you attacked small merchant vessels and even fishing boats. Not exactly glamorous.

The lines between being a pirate and a privateer tended to get pretty blurry, too.

The book could be three times as long (and as good) if it covered the African pirates (Barbary Coast, Guinea coast, etc.) and Asian pirates (at one time there was a consortium of sorts numbering 40,000 — and led by a woman). But it largely focuses on those in the Atlantic, sailing amongst the coasts of Europe, America, Africa, and the West Indies.

As it is, it’s engaging, interesting, and realistic, and the tales jibe with other books I’ve read on specific pirates (Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Sir Henry Morgan, etc.), the history of the time (the book largely focuses on the “Golden Age” of piracy, from the 1650s to 1725), and the history of the colonies where pirates most frequently plied their trade.

Plus, any book that uses words like “piratical” (or, even better, the archaic spelling: pyratical) automatically gets my vote. 🙂

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