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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very different pirate tale, 17 Mar. 2007
By 
This book is fascinating and a fast read.Richard Sanders admirably satisfies my love for swashbuckling and rollicking pirate tales, whilst providing historical and societal background in great detail. Anyone who's read Robert Louis Stevenson will find that "If a Pirate I must be..." illuminates the buccaneers and privateers in those novels, particularly affirming their admirably classless, democratic virtues as well as their excessive, drunken foibles. The peg-legged and the half-blind, cast-off by navy or merchantman, found welcome amidst the sea's original equal opportunity employers. Sanders's book complements the recent film about the slave trade, "Amazing Grace", as it depicts the abominable life of sailors on the slavers' ships, where crewmen, on occasion, were reduced to begging food from their enchained victims. Reading of Bartholomew Roberts, his origins, and brief career I felt sympathy and admiration for the man, and a better understanding of the period.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Swashbucklingly good, 21 Mar. 2007
By 
Tim Gutteridge (Cadiz, Spain) - See all my reviews
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This book is a great example of how narrative history can be used not just to tell stories about the past but also to illuminate the world in which these events unfolded.

The book recounts the story of Bartholomew Roberts, a pirate captain in the early 18th century, who operated in the Caribbean, up the Atlantic coast to Newfoundland and down to Brazil, and off the west coast of Africa. Sanders draws on a wide range of primary and secondary sources to reconstruct the details of Roberts' career and life on board the ships he captained, and to explore what motivated Roberts and his fellow pirates.

The retelling of Roberts' story also provides a narrative framework for the reconstruction of the world in which the pirates existed. Just a few of the topics that Sanders touches on are the slave trade, the appalling conditions in both the merchant navy and the Royal Navy, and the early British colonies in the Caribbean.

Another thing I really liked about this book was the way it set me thinking about its underlying themes. Perhaps the most important of these is freedom, or the lack of it. In addition to African slaves, there were also both merchant and Royal Navy seamen who had been pressed into service, tricked into signing lengthy contracts or who were simply suffering under a particularly authoritarian captain. And the pirate crews included not just those who had chosen to become pirates (usually in reaction to such abuses), but also included sailors who had been forced to join after their ships had been captured, as well as significant numbers of slaves. Indeed, Roberts himself was initially just such a 'forced man'.

A related theme is that of loyalty. When a pirate ship confronted a merchant ship, many of the merchant ship's crew might see the pirates as liberators (and many used the pirates' appearance as an opportunity to gain revenge on abusive officers). Similarly, when a pirate ship faced a Royal Navy vessel, there were usually a significant number of forced men in the pirate crew who viewed this as a chance to escape from piracy back into mainstream life.

In short, this is popular history at its very best. It is superbly written with a tight narrative structure, tells a fascinating story, and also tackles a whole range of topics without ever insulting the reader's intelligence by dumbing down.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A swashbuckling read!, 7 May 2007
By 
Andrew J. Cawthorne (Kenya) - See all my reviews
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If you've ever had even the slightest interest in pirates - and let's face it, which of us didn't as a kid? - then you'll love this portrait of the pirate supreme. It's fantastically-researched, but also reads like a fast-moving novel or action movie, as Bartholomew Roberts whizzes across the ocean from fight to fight. It takes you beyond the myths to show how some of our popular impressions of pirates are rubbish, while plenty of others are spot on (the rum, the skull & cross-bones etc). And, most interestingly for me at least, in and among the action, it slips in fascinating background of seldom-discussed social issues - for example, the relatively 'democratic' practices among pirate crews; the universally dire conditions for all sailors of the age; and the use of black slaves on pirate crews. In what for me is always the tell-tale sign of a great read, I found myself failing to resist the temptation to peep to the last page before I'd finished to find out what happened to Bartholomew. Fortunately, the last page doesn't give it away!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding!, 17 Jun. 2007
By 
Paul B. Haven (Madrid, Spain) - See all my reviews
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Sanders brings to life one of the world's most intriguing pirates, with his vivid prose and groundbreaking research. This original portrait challenges every cliche we have about pirate culture. For anyone who is interested in what life was really like aboard a pirate ship, this book is a must read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dread Pirate Roberts?, 7 Oct. 2009
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This review is from: If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of Bartholomew Roberts - King of the Caribbean (Paperback)
In the film The Princess Bride, the main character Wesley is abducted by the Dread Pirate Roberts who apparently kills him. However later we learn that Wesley actually became the Dread Pirate Roberts and the person he took over was not actually the real Dread Pirate Roberts anyway.

Two things from that: Although probably not based on Bartholomew Roberts, it is the first reference I had ever heard to a 'Pirate' Roberts after years of hearing of Blackbeard and the like. The other point is that fiction tells us of pirates raging terror for years, when in fact Roberts' 'career' was barely three years at most.

And the 'raging terror' is a slip of the keyboard as you discover pirates were people, mostly men who wanted something better perhaps: they just saw the easy route as the best way.

This is a terrific account of Roberts and his pirate life. I marked it down for the fact that little is known of Roberts until he was abducted by Davis the Pirate off the coast of Africa. The problem is, the author then concentrates very nearly all of one the early chapters surmising what might have, or probably or..........Hang on a mo, stick with facts, and later on he redeems it all exceptionally well. Just that one part could have been cut short because no one knows what Roberts was doing until that day off the African coast - afterwards as a pirate he was especially well written about and documented.

The other strange section is the one where he speculates if Roberts was gay. This is based on a few odd reports of him being very close to a young medic they take on board. It's worth pointing out that up until the late 1800s it was considered very normal for gentlemen to walk arm in arm or hold hands - it was not considered a sign of sexual preference, just normal. Had he got some concrete evidence, fine, but I do think the author is maybe either off the mark or looking for a 'selling' feature for the book (Hey! We got a gay pirate! Er, so what?)

The back section even shows all the ships captured, when and where and then gives a list of the parents caught - those who were caged and hung (as warnings to others), those hanged and those sent to prison and left off.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aaaaaaarrr ye going to buy it?, 30 Nov. 2008
By 
Dr. Michael Heron (Brechin) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of Bartholomew Roberts - King of the Caribbean (Paperback)
This is a soberly written, thoroughly entertaining account of the most successful of historical pirates. While it lacks the scholarship of something like David Cordingly's 'Life Among the Pirates' (which I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone who is interested in the theme), it makes up for it with the highly insightful depiction of the day-to-day life and politics of a pirate crew.

It's spoiled a little by the occasional bit of speculative sensationalism (was he a Gay Pirate, as the back cover scandalously hints? Well, possibly - but the case certainly isn't convincingly made in the text), but I would still recommend it very highly!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yarrrr!, 1 Mar. 2008
This review is from: If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of Bartholomew Roberts - King of the Caribbean (Paperback)
I bought this on a whim due to a casual fascination with pirates, and what a result! The story grips you from the start and is very easy to read - I stayed up waaaay past bedtime with this book as I didn't notice the time go by!

The book has all the information of a historical textbook, but presented in such a way that it's more of swashbuckling adventure story, keeping your interest from start to finish. As noted by other reviewers it presents a well-rounded account of pirates and their daily lives, not just the stuff you see in the movies.

I would highly recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in all things piratey.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars why aren't history lessons more like this?, 11 Jan. 2008
Bartholomew Roberts is cleverly used as the focus for a multi-faceted and pretty comprehensive depictation of life at sea during the time of the slave trade and emerging machinations in the New World. Well done Richard Sanders, for producing a well researched, lucid and lurid account of the life and times of the seamen sailing the Atlantic between Africa, the East of the Americas, and the Caribbean. Rum punch with lime juice was a big factor in their well being apparently. You don't get nuggets like that in many historical references now, do you. Give this book a read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timbers well and truly shivered here, 3 April 2007
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This is a terrific book. It's well researched but doesn't bash you over the head with the fact. It manages to be an exciting read without playing hard and fast with the truth (one or two assumption wobbles aside), and is really a great lesson in how to combine journalistic skills with compelling narrative.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pirate's Life, 20 Mar. 2007
By 
Mr. T. B. R. Luxton (London, U K) - See all my reviews
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This is a superb book and tells the true story of Bartholomew Roberts, a Welsh seaman who was forced to become a pirate and went on to become one of the most successful pirate captains of the 18th century. It combines great narrative with impeccable research and brings to life the adventures of a seaman and master of men who is more complex and intriguing than any pirate Hollywood has to offer. He was gay, he was teetotal, and he was the democratically elected leader of a bunch of dandily dressed, multi-racial bandits who terrorised the Atlantic for three years between 1719 and 1721. I read the book non-stop from cover to cover. Richard Sanders has brought to life the world of privation and excess, the successes and failures of this all male group of rebels who happily risked their lives rather than succumb to the tyranny of the English ruling class. At the heart of the story the taciturn figure of Bartholomew Roberts, led his men from one side of the Atlantic to the other in a triumphant assault on merchant shipping, which eventually forced the English navy to take the threat of piracy seriously. If you only read one book about pirates, make it this one.
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