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on 7 February 2008
A really well written book which explores the reality & myths surrounding piracy. This book concentrates on the piracy from the late 16th century onwards (for a period up to & including the early part of the 19th century).Inside, chapters entitled "A Nation Of Pirates", "The Buccaneers" , "War Against The Pirates" & "The Golden Age Of Pirates" (to name but a few) explore the different types of piracy (state sanctioned & outright criminal) perpetrated by a variety of nations & their subjects.
The link between piracy & imperialist ambition is well explained & the role of the great navies of the world in first encouraging (or at least turning a blind eye to pirate activity) & then hunting down & attacking the pirates, as views on piracy (particularly amongst the establishment) changed is fascinating.
This book is not a romantic vision of piracy, the author himself admits to siding with the forces of "law & order" but even so, this distinction was at times blurred, as privateers wreaked havoc with the blessing of those same legitimate forces & institutions.
From the Barbary pirates to those of Northern Europe, featuring the likes of Captain Kidd & Henry Morgan, this is a journey through history on the high seas.
A well written attempt to go beyond the fables & tall tales, in order to look at the real history behind this period of piracy. The author has made good use of historical sources (particularly Admiralty records of the time) to produce an entertaining & yet very illuminating book.
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on 18 October 2013
Peter Earle has written a superb and concise history of pirates, ranging from England in the late-Tudor period through to the Greek War of Independence. Although a slim volume, it covers a wide expanse of time and an even wider expanse of ocean in telling the familiar and not so familiar stories of the age of piracy.

Having grown up in the West Country, I've always had a keen interest in pirates, and I can still vividly recall the term we 'studied' them at primary school when I was 7 or 8. Ever since, I have absorbed all sorts of legends, tales and stereotypes that are forever linked with pirates in popular culture, and my greatest delight in reading this book has been discovering and/or remembering that virtually all of them are rooted in real life.

That's not to say it hasn't been an educational experience too. I never previously appreciated quite how global the threat of piracy was, how widely the pirates roamed, and how inextricably linked to naval war and privateering piracy really was. Indeed, I hadn't ever realised how instrumental to the expansion of international trade and colonial security the pirates were.

Fascinating trivia abounds throughout the book: walking the plank was invented in the 19th century by Cuban pirates; seventeenth-century pirates were routinely pardoned by small states to act as instant navies; the word buccaneer derives from the way French exiles made beef jerky. Pirates were sometimes compensated for injuries sustained in action, and wooden legs and hooks for hands were treated 'as if they were his original limbs' in this respect.

The book isn't perfect and in places the writing style is a bit wooden. The chronology suffers occasionally as a result of Earle's deliberate attempt to structure the book into thematic chapters, and his habit of very neatly summarising each chapter in the final paragraph is reminiscent of a school textbook, but overall these minor quibbles can be overlooked as the book is a real pleasure to read.
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on 25 April 2016
Peter Earle's excellent work on the history of piracy since early modern times and the lumbering but eventually ruthlessly effective work of states and navies to eliminate them is gripping from start to finish. If, like me, you are primarily looking at this out of an interest in the 'Golden Age of Piracy' of the early 18th century it is worth noting that this is not the only period Earle covers, and rightly so. While the pirates of this period rank among the most famous (and there is a reason the cover depicts Blackbeard locked in combat with the Royal Navy) the other periods addressed, from Tudor England and its petty gentry-sponsored coastal piracy off the West Country and Ireland, to the terrifying scourge of the Barbary city states and their corsairs in the Mediterranean, are no less fascinating.

The book is arranged thematically across different regions, but these also generally fall into different eras so there is a sense throughout the book of a gradual climb towards the present day (and its mercifully pirate-free waters). The title alludes to the efforts of the navies of the world, particularly that of Great Britain, to combat and eventually eradicate pirates, and the many episodes of inept and half-hearted escapades to stop piracy before it was finally accomplished. Earle at some points draws the parallel between anti-piracy and anti-terrorist campaigns, and indeed his observation that both types of campaign require the picking off of individual havens, ships and men until there are none left echoes well with the efforts of modern counter terrorist operations. This aspect of the book makes for a fascinating insight into the international relations and institutional politics of the day, interspersed with many accounts of individual pirate raids, battles, outposts and of course the particular famous captains and their exploits.

Earle is balanced and overall fair in his treatment of both sides of the story. Individual pirates were often villainous and cruel, but where they were not this is made clear, and some clearly saw themselves as more than mere maritime bandits, occasionally with some justification. The navies meanwhile are characterized by a mixture of corruption and idleness in some instances and steadfast devotion to duty and military skill in others, the latter eventually triumphing over the former as command and control structures and institutional professionalism improved over the years. In both cases the research is clearly effective and wide-ranging, and Earle himself points out in the introduction that the records of the Admiralty itself have been underutilized by previous scholars of the subject, something he attempts to rectify.

As an introduction to the topic for me, having only read Wikipedia entries and odd snippets in other more general history books before, this was an excellent read, and I shall certainly be looking out for Earle's other works on more specific areas of piracy. It does not cover everything, as indeed a book of this length could not - there is very little on piracy in the Far East for example. That being said, the work done on the piracy of Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Red Sea and Indian Ocean is more than enough to give an effective overview of the phenomenon, and I cannot think of any famous pirates who were ignored by Earle - each gets his or her due in the story. For a solid and engaging grounding in the subject look no further.
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VINE VOICEon 12 February 2011
Peter Earle is an academic (London School of Economics, University of London) and it shows. This is a scholarly overview of piracy as an occupation across two-and-a-half centuries. Themes and trends are examined, an even-handed approach is adopted. From the outset Earle sets out to remove the romance from piracy. He suggests, for example, that the very small numbers of female pirates lead to an assumption of widespread homosexuality - hardly the Hollywood pirate image.

But, in truth, it makes for heavy reading. The printed page is different from the lecture hall; at times the author seems not to have expressed his ideas in the most fluent prose. Careful revision might also have removed some of the repetition.

This may well be a book for serious students. For the casual reader there are more racy accounts that are still based on good historical research. Try Pirates of Barbary by Adrian Tinniswood or A Pirate of Exquisite Mind by Diana and Michael Preston, excellent books both.
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on 10 December 2008
Separating the pirate truth from the pirate myth both sounds and is a mammoth task to execute, but Peter Earle somehow, through some magical literary genius-ness that was transcended to him by Blackbeard or Bart Roberts themselves, manages to do both, and still create a bloody good book. The tone of the book is a mixed one, and rightly so for us as reader, as Earle never seems to condemning of the activities of any of the pirates he discusses, and nor does he appear to glorify too much the navies and military authorities that try and end the work of these said pirates. His historical yet fun romp through piracy is both exciting, scholarly and educational, but all done in a way that makes you want to keep reading.

A very enjoyable book to read, whether you're a newcomer to the history of pirates or a hardened seafarer, and a book that has clearly had both a lot of effort and research put into each page. Well done Mr Earle, well done.
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on 10 January 2011
A thoroughly entertaining read that does exactly what it says on the tin by seperating fable from fantasy. Luckily the truth is every bit as interesting as the fiction. I learnt much from this well written book. Highly recommended.
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on 28 August 2009
I persevered with this as I was interested in the subject matter, but in the end it was a disappointment. There were some good bits but a lot of repetition and the good bits had a lot of 'filling' in between them.

Nevertheless, a valiant attempt to dispel the false glamour/glory engendered about pirates by fiction and film.
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on 5 July 2016
Very pleased
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