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4.6 out of 5 stars
A Pirate Of Exquisite Mind: The Life Of William  Dampier
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2010
Every time I started a new chapter in this book there was something to delight, inform, entertain or shock me. Delight in the descriptions of the remote places Dampier visited. Information on the history, politics, morals, religion and practices of the time: I learned a lot. Entertainment in the enormous adventure of his life and his interaction with the people he met and worked with. Horror at the hardships and living conditions of life on board ship and in the fragility of life in the early European colonies - imagine having to extract a two foot long worm from your leg as Dampier did.
What I was left with was a great admiration for Dampier. Even though he was an extremely tough man he displayed a sensitivity in his interaction with the native people he encountered, and made an intelligent and systematic analysis of the physical world and the environments in which he found himself.
This book combines the best of serious history with the best of biography. My only small reservation is that while the maps illustrated in the book are reproductions of maps made by Dampier himself, it would have been nice to have an immediate comparison with current geographical knowledge - I had to constantly refer to a modern atlas.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 29 January 2009
For a pirate to retain a written account of his travels was a risky way of life, a fact which is apparent when Dampier needed to be careful with the content of his diary. That he survived so many adventures and returned to England to publish his story made him a very rare sailor indeed. He ranks with Pigafetta, who was Magellan's diarist and one of the few survivors of that expedition. If you are a sailor, you will be fascinated with his methods for getting about the oceans, at a time when measurement of longitude was not available to most seafarers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommnend it to all readers with an interest in adventure, sailing or history of the Carribean.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2005
Well written, especially in the earlier sections where there is perhaps more material from Dampier himself to rely upon.
I picked this up by chance needing something to keep me occupied while travelling. It is worth far more than just some airport novel. The book provides a fascinating view of the blurred reality between 17th century piracy, privateering, and defence of the realm. Moreover, it does so from the point of view of the (extra)ordinary seaman.
If your taste is for history or biography excluding footballers then this should not disappoint.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2012
I have a fascination with books on the Age of Discovery and sea travel before the 19th century. So it didn't surprise me that I would enjoy reading this book on William Dampier, a truly remarkable character. Dampier was, on the one hand a pirate, or a buccaneer to be more exact. Yet, he had an ability to observe, record, and understand the world around him like few have ever done. It is a wonder his name has been largely lost to history. I suppose this is because his observations were not officially sponsored, but rather made on his journeys as a pirate. How unfortunate he did not put his great mind to work in a more conventional setting. Perhaps he would be remembered with the likes of Cook and Darwin and we would be studying his thoughts and observations today. Instead, his greatest ambition was to seize a Spanish treasure ship (which never even gave him the riches he sought after) and the world lost a great explorer. Well worth a read as an introduction to a largely forgotten, but potentially important man.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 4 November 2010
At different times in the late 17th Century William Dampier was both a Pirate (freelance criminal) and a Privateer (sponsored and semi-legal robber). His exploits in both guises were dangerous, eventful and ultimately less well rewarded than perhaps they deserved. Their telling makes for a rollicking yarn which - in Diana and Michael Preston's absorbing book - never glamourises an existence that often entailed extreme hardship. Yet the buccaneering alone would scarcely justify remembering Dampier three centuries later.

The truth is that this remarkable man was an acute observer and recorder of the world at large, its inhabitants, flora and fauna, without parallel in his own time and for many years thereafter. Three times he circumnavigated the globe, preceding Captain Cook in landing upon Australia. His first journey, shortly after his marriage, took him away for twelve years. Everywhere he went, Dampier looked, tested, tasted, made drawings and kept notes. His were the first descriptions in English of penguins, of zebras, of avocados,and many more. His theories of the interaction of winds and currents were similarly the first of their kind, their accuracy a source of knowledge for later generations. His published accounts of his travels were best-sellers.

Honoured in his lifetime by the great and the good of The Royal Society, drawn on by Daniel Defoe as a source for Robinson Crusoe, mirrored by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels, Dampier's reputation inexplicably fell into disregard during the 19th Century. In restoring it with scholarly research and in eminently readable style, the Prestons have done William Dampier the justice an exquisite mind deserves.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2012
What an interesting book. William Dampier was an extraordinary man. I really enjoyed reading about his adventures. It gives a fascinating insight into the hardships and difficulties faced by mariners in the seventeenth century. Dampier took part in sea battles, land engagements with the Spanish, attacks on fortified coastal settlements as well as skirmishes with hostile inhabitants on remote islands. The ships he sailed in often leaked and had to be constantly repaired, they ran out of food and water, survived storms at sea, the crews mutinied, individuals were marooned or left behind, there was double dealing and treachery. It's a wonder William Dampier survived to tell the tale. On top of this he recorded in great detail his observations on flora, fauna, native peoples, the weather and topography. His papers were carried with him wherever he went. At one point he puts them in a hollow bamboo tube and stops the ends with wax to protect them whilst crossing through tropical rain forests and wading through raging rivers etc. An amazing story. Well worth a read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2009
This book does a fantastic job of taking the reader on a journey with Dampier. It includes lots of details and points of interest without being overly wordy or boring. It is extremely easy to read and I've had trouble putting it down on the numerous times I've read it! The book is split into five chunks based on different times and aspects of Dampier's life, from privateering to travel writing. This gives the book depth and keeps the reader interested. I recommend this book to anyone, regardless of any previous interest in pirates, sailing or exploration as it is extremely compelling and inspiring! Great book to read on the beach!
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on 27 December 2012
This is a very well written and researched biography of one of those explorers that don't readily spring to mind when considering the greats of 17th and 18th century. I only came across William Dampier's legacy when I visited the North West coast of Australia, and even then, I didn't understand just how extraordinary this man was. Reading this biography is like reading a "boys own" adventure story - his life appears to have been one of constant exploration, great interest in his natural surroundings; add to this his recording of many detailed observations of nature at work, wind systems and tidal flows and a travelogue of his adventures - it all culminates into some fabulous reading. Highly recommend this to those interested in a genuine adventurer with an extraordinary ability to really observe, interpret and then record a life well lived.
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on 25 June 2013
This is an amazing tale, and if you have any interest in the period I would strongly recommend it. The story is almost incredible, and the authors tell it with great skill so that Dampier's character shines through. Thankfully, he is an amazing and engaging subject who is inquisitive, at time sensitive and thoughtful but nevertheless hardy and adventurous. The book is written in a lively style, such that although it is an historical biography it is highly readable and at times quite gripping.

I liked the book so much I bought two copies to give as gifts.
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on 20 August 2014
Dampier deserves to be much better known. He combined the excitement of a privateer and explorer with the observational skills of a early naturalist. The Prestons' book largely relies on Dampier's own journals which were best sellers in their time but are written in an easy style. Dampier travelled three times round the world before there were reliable charts or navigational aids. He visited Australia eighty years before Cook and the Galapagos Islands a hundred and fifty years before Darwin and recorded everything in his journals.
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