David Cordingly appears to live and breathe life on the high seas and it shows in his writing. Formerly head of exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum and time spent in Jamaica, the 18th century hot bed of a key Carribean pirate island, he brings an authoritative and thoroughly entertaining romp.
"Life among the pirates" is an exhilarating dip into the history of the seas' highwaymen, and highwaywomen, adroitly separating the fiction from the fact and as the subtitle says, the romance from the reality. Cordingly lays bare the skulduggery, the malice, the terror and the opportunism, in unearthing the true pirates.
There is a lot of history and seafaring wherefores to cover. The war with Spain, and France, the fight to claim the American continent, the privateers, buccaneers and corsairs, the difference between sloops, schooners, snows, ships and Royal Navy rated vessels. And whilst Cordingly often skips and races through passages of big history, there's enough to place his story in context. It leaves one enticed and signposted to search for the bigger picture elsewhere.
"Life among the pirates" delights in attacking Hollywood, a la twinkle eyed Errol Flynn, for upping the ante on the romance at the neglect of the depravity and forelorn short lived life of the renegades they ape to depict.
The latest movie incarnation in "Pirates of the Carribean", proves it was a little more well researched with a half glance to Cordingly's account yet it is still mixed with a heady dose of the loveable rogues. So he might be a little more forgiving of this latest blockbuster as there are elements brought to life from the book such as the pirates' island bases, the battle with the British Navy, the executions, and yes that inevitable enviable charm. It can certainly do no harm in promoting this book and the real life behind the screen.
Writers such as Daniel Defoe, Robert Louis Stevenson and J M Barrie are covered too, as is the contemporary art some of which is illustrated. All told, Cordingly has written an incisive and readable account.
Beware the romance, there are some shocking passages of torture and battle to make even those stern of heart, wince. And lest not forget that pirates are still operating in the seas albeit without the eye patches, wooden legs and shouldered parrots.