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Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Pirates: Predators of the Seas

Pirates: Predators of the Seas: An Illustrated HistoryPirates: Predators of the Seas: An Illustrated History by Angus Konstam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

by Angus Konstam is an excellent survey of piracy from the earliest historical records to modern times. Konstam is faithful to the historical sources without editorializing. This is a good read that provides an excellent historical survey from classical to modern times. The usual suspects are addressed but in a way that provides new details to old retellings by other authors.

His summaries are succinct, though their are times when I wanted him to provide more detail. I realize providing too much detail would run counter to the intention of a writing a survey work. Overall, I think Konstam's book will encourage others to delve deeper into pirate lore.

The book is amply illustrated with gorgeous color art. The illustrations are not only pertinent to the work, but also help to amplfy the written material with yet another layer of relevant information.

I would recommend this book to teenagers though adults, who want to learn more about the problem of piracy.

Pirates: Predators of the Seas: An Illustrated History

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Elevating Piracy, not a good idea

Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden AgeVillains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age by Marcus Rediker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

  Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates of the Golden Age
by Marcus Rediker  as a maritime history is something of a slightly slanted romantic historical portrayal of pirates as noble, albeit flawed, heroes of the proletariat.

The book begins with the July 12, 1726 hanging of pirate William Fly in Boston, for which the infamous Reverend Cotton Mather served as attending clergyman. Rediker attempts to elevate Fly by making him out to be a folk hero fighting a noble but doomed battle against the corrupt establishment as personified by Cotton Mather.

In Mather, a controversial and even hated clergyman, who would later defend the verdicts in the infamous Salem witchcraft trials,  Rediker makes Mather out to be the religious voice of a repressive Puritan establishment determined to wield its own terror against the piratical reign of terror during the "Golden Age of Piracy."

Rediker makes good use of Fly's and Mather's remarks to portray pirates as honest men horribly oppressed and driven to desperation by greedy merchants and cruel ship masters. He says of the men like Fly, "They were poor and in low circumstances, but they expressed high ideals."

I very much agree with Rediker about merchant avarice and brutal ship's officers. Until the 20th century, sailors were routinely abused. Indeed, this is still an on-going problem in many parts of the world, particularly in the Pacific.  However, defections to pirate crews were not the norm, in spite of the avarice and brutality.

Rediker ends his book with the remarks, "These outlaws led audacious, rebellious lives, and we should remember them as long as there are powerful people and oppressive circumstances to be resisted."

In reading this book, I did find some interesting research which attempted to describe relationships between pirate crews and even quantified the number of pirates during they early 1700s. A chart showing affiliations among some of the well-known pirates was particularly interesting.

However, I did find the glossing over of many of the atrocities committed  by "Golden Age" pirates to be very disturbing.  Indeed in elevating the likes of Fly to revolutionary heroic stature, Rediker seems to ignore the real men who brought Fly to justice, the sailors Fly impressed from captured vessels.  Of these men who rose up and captured Fly, I'd like to re-purpose Rediker's own rhetoric.  They were poor sailors and in low circumstances, but they expressed high ideas by being willing to risk their lives to end Fly's reign of terror.

Overall, this is a good read, but be mindful of the writer's agenda.

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Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: Pirate Hunting by Benerson Little

Pirate Hunting: The Fight Against Pirates, Privateers, and Sea Raiders from Antiquity to the PresentPirate Hunting: The Fight Against Pirates, Privateers, and Sea Raiders from Antiquity to the Present by Benerson Little

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


  Pirate Hunting: The Fight Against Pirates, Privateers, and Sea Raiders from Antiquity to the Present
by Benerson Little is an excellent historical survey from present day.  LIttle presents a scholarly yet readable history of piracy from the earliest records to the action off Somalia. His footnotes at the end of the book attest to a great attention to detail. LIttle does not quote the same commonly cited sources such as Johnson and Exquemelin, so the fresh sources help build a better picture of piracy's character throughout the ages.

Little brings a wealth of practical experience to the table. First as a former Navy SEAL, he is well acquainted with small boat actions, which have for centuries been the preferred way to board and take a vessel.  He is also a fencing instructor, who has great experience with close quarters combat. Benerson Little is to pirate history what Sam Willis is to the Age of Sail naval history.

I would recommend Little's books to anyone who has more than a passing interest in the problem of piracy.  He does not have a political agenda coloring his work, but presents an intelligent, yet gritty view of pirates as they actually were and still are.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: The Illustrated Pirate Diaries

The Illustrated Pirate Diaries: A Remarkable Eyewitness Account of Captain Morgan and the BuccaneersThe Illustrated Pirate Diaries: A Remarkable Eyewitness Account of Captain Morgan and the Buccaneers by Alexander O. Exquemelin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This profusely illustrated coffee-table style book does attempt to reproduce Alexander O. Exquemelin's experiences among 17th Century Caribbean pirates as a ship's surgeon. For those who do not know, Exquemelin's original book was written in Dutch, but was subsequently translated into French, Spanish and English. Each edition featured new material, usually slanted according to national politics of the day.

This edition attempts to present what Exquemelin actually experienced. As an eyewitness to Henry Morgan's audacious raid on the city of Panama,  Exquemelin's account has an authentic ring with a good many details that a ship surgeon would know about the pirates he tended.

I do wish the type size was much bigger.  I find it difficult to read the text when surrounded by the large colorful illustrations. Though not an annotated text as such, the illustrations, cut lines and sidebars provide readers with a good deal of useful background information.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: Pirate Hunter

Pirate HunterPirate Hunter by Tom Morrisey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pirate Hunter by Tom Morrisey is a parallel tale of two young men and the love/hate relationship they have with their fathers.  This is a common theme found in Morrisey's work, one which I think he handles well in his stories. The tales do intersect in an interesting way which I am not going to reveal our of respect for the story teller.

Both tales are set in the Caribbean with the stories separated by about 400 years, give or take. The parallel tales are told in alternating sections. The first story involving a young African man sold into slavery in Africa.  Surviving the harrowing passage, he is taken by pirates and given the chance to join the crew.  The second story involves a young marine archaeologist given the dream job of working active wreck sites with a firm based out of Key West, but seems bent on self-destruction.

Morrisey's technical background as a diver and diving magazine editor serves him well for the modern story. He manages to present the pirates in a slightly different light than modern readers might expect.  Good story-telling tension is maintained throughout the parallel tales and you can easily find yourself rooting for both sets of heroes.  There is plenty of derring-do to go around.

I would recommend this story to anyone who has a love of the sea and an interest in things "piratey."  It's a good read with a good message.

Morrisey's work does not get the attention is deserves, given that the Christian market is heavily slanted to romance readers. This I find to be something of a mystery as many women are fans of a certain Captain Jack. I would rate him as every bit an equal to ABA writer Clive Cussler, who by the way is a personal favorite of mine. Do take the time to seek out Pirate Hunter.

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