Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pirate Primer

Oh, better far to live and die,
Under the brave black flag I fly,
Than play a sanctimonious part,
With a pirate head and a pirate heart.
Away to the cheating world go you,
Where pirates all are well-to-do;
But I’ll be true to the song I sing,
And live and die a Pirate King.

Ahoy me hardys, and all that. Yar, I've got pirates on the brain. I took it into me head that I didn't know enough about the history of pirates and I needed a primer on the subject. I read David Cordingly's Under the Black Flag a few years ago and found it to be very good, an excellent place to begin any serious self-directed education on the subject. Nevertheless I felt like a little more background would be nice, so I picked up a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pirates.

I've read a couple of these Idiot's Guides before and found them to be useful. They deliver the goods painlessly with a bit of fun. Yes, sometimes they over-explain or point out the obvious, but the reader can't complain. He did, after all, see the title of the book. This guide to pirates turns out to be pretty good. It starts out rather weakly with an overview of piracy before the seventeenth century, touching on the classical world and the Vikings. The writers take pains to tell us that slavery existed, and it was bad. I've never been too keen on historians who tell me how I should feel about the actions of the long dead. Just tell me what they did and let me draw my own conclusions. After all, I'm not a complete idiot. Um . . .

This section could either have been expanded, reduced, or eliminated altogether. As it was it felt inadequate. It's when we get into the period often called The Golden Age of Piracy that the book starts to get interesting. There's lots of useful details of the life of the average seaman in general and pirates in particular. We get background on the political and social milieu in which they lived and that shaped their lives, and we get a number of brief sketches of individual pirates.

If you're trying to learn the basics about pirate history, this is a good place to start. But if you're going to read only one book about pirates, skip this one and pick up Under the Black Flag.

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