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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 December 2009
Though the subject of considerable attention at the time, the raid on the Irish coastal village of Baltimore on June 20, 1631 is an event that has been long overlooked by most histories of the era. Yet as Des Ekin demonstrates in this absorbing book, it is an event that offers an interesting window into life in the early 17th century. While such raids were uncommon they were not unheard of, as Barbary pirates started ranging out into the Atlantic and raiding settlements along the coast. It was one of these raids which fell upon Baltimore, sacking the village and capturing over a hundred men, women, and children. These captives were then taken to Algiers, where they were sold into slavery, a fate few of them would ever escape.

Ekin's book is an entertaining account of this traditionally obscure event. A journalist and author of two novels, Ekin conducted considerable research to underneath the lives and experiences of the Baltimore captives. Where the directly relevant sources ended he turned to the accounts of others who dealt with the Barbary pirates or underwent similar experiences in an effort to understand better what life was like for the villagers of Baltimore. Though this occasionally comes across as padding, it results in a more generally informative portrait of the early 17th century, the economics of slavery, and life during those times.

Yet these strengths are offset by several problems. While his research into the village of Baltimore, the captives, and their lives is thorough, his coverage of the broader context is weaker, with descriptions of such groups as the Janissaries often dependent on a couple of dated sources that result in errors as a consequence. Moreover, while Eakin claims in his preface that he has made nothing up, the text is peppered with assumptions and suppositions that strain such an assertion. Stitching all of this together is an overwrought prose style that gets in the way of a naturally exciting tale. These flaws detract from what is otherwise an interesting account of the sack of Baltimore and the fate of its survivors.
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on 28 February 2009
A very fine book indeed on a topic of increasing interest and relevance - the slave trade driven by the Barbary Corsairs resulted in over a million Europeans being taken into slavery, from Iceland to Spain.

The question of of captives and identity is a tragic one. Women and children in particular suffered badly, but over the years return becomes almost impossible - this is the case the world over. An old Kiowa woman who died in the 1920s only found out weeks before she died that she was white - all of her real family had been butchered by the people she thought were her real family.

The author doesn't try to mitigate the horrors of this slave trade - of any slave trade - and its consequences.
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on 5 February 2016
This is a popular history written by a popular journalist. That provenance is evident in Des Ekin's patent effort to draw parallels between the Corsair raid on 17th century Baltimore (Eire) and jihadi attacks in our contemporary world. Editorial varnishing apart: it was a great pleasure to read this book. Ekin does traverse the gaps in the historical record by strewing his text with actual accounts from other captives who wrote from somewhat similar circumstances. (But I experienced that more as bounce than padding.) And the author never lets the reader lose sight of the fact that he is speculating; moreover, speculation is what it clearly is---not confabulation; and, whenever he can, Ekin sticks closely to the path beaten by more scholarly works. (Ekin closes the book with a brilliant hunch that may have been missed by the actual scholars) He is a confident, skilful, and reflective writer whose prose carries the reader like a wave carries the surf. Another reviewer has found some parts of the book to be dependent on outmoded sources. That may very well be true, but it matters little to me because I knew nothing at all about this historical incident; and, though the picture I now have may be subject to revision it inspires me to further reading (particularly about the pirate republics, and their codes, and their possible influence on the founders of the United States).
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on 5 August 2010
When I was in primary school our class learned the poem "The Sack of Baltimore" for a competition (we won!). It was based on the kidnapping by Algerian slave traders of a large number of inhabitants of the West Cork village of Baltimore in the 17th century. As a youngster the story seemed a bit far-fetched to be true and I forgot about it. However this event certainly did happen and Des Ekin has written this book based on it.

He first describes Baltimore before the raid. It was interesting to learn that most of the people captured were descendants of Protestant English West Country settlers. He also describes the tension between the settlers and a local Irish Catholic landowner, who wanted control of the village and it's fishing trade. Later he speculates that the raid may have been caused by those tensions.

His description of the raid is well written and he gives a good idea of the tension, terror and brutality of the raid.
He also gives the background of the Dutch born Algerian based captain who planned and led the raid. It was not uncommon for "Western" sailors to become involved in the lucrative North African slave trade.

There is very little known about what actually happened to the Baltimore residents once they reached Algiers. In place of this the author has used accounts from other enslaved westerners to describe in a speculative way the way they might have lived. He gives us interesting accounts of life for both slaves and freemen in Algiers at the time. However he has to constantly state that these accounts are not specifically related to the Baltimore residents. In my opinion this takes away from their effect and gives the impression that the length of the book was being padded out.

I was also disappointed that, while he says that two of the Baltimore residents were eventually left Algiers with the help of the British government, he doesn't state whether they returned to Baltimore or even whether he knows what happened to them.

It is clear that a huge amount of research has gone into this book. It is well written and this lends itself to being an easy read. An interesting book on a tragic event.
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on 2 October 2008
This is an amazing book chronicalling a rarely spoken of history of white slavery. Although the writer focuses on the fates of the villagers of Baltimore his wide lens views the lives of many white English and European slaves and the decadent playground of North Africa with its fearsome pirate hordes.He paints a real breathing picture of the harems,jails, societies cities, and high seas of the time.I took this book on a holiday to Morocco enjoying the link geographically with the events in this book so perhaps I'm particular biased, but it was a fantastic read and I highly reccomend it.
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on 25 April 2012
Des Ekin takes the bones of a historic event and with reference to a series of contemporary sources and the use of a fair degree of poetic licence, formulates an account of the event that, in the absence of any definitive or reliable accounts of the fate of the victims, he weaves into a easily readable tale that owes as much to supposition as it does to historical fact.

The style of writing and profiling of a variety of the victims and subsequent speculation as to their fates makes more than an occasional nod to Ekin's regular day job as a columnist on one of Ireland's most popular tabloids.

In that context it may jar on some more sober historians who prefer to deal purely with facts rather than drawing parallels based on the similar experiences of others.

Also in places Ekin is prone to venture a little bit too much into this air of speculation, for example when he devotes a considerable section to dealing with Stockholm syndrome and the fact that these victims may have suffered from it, even though their fate predates the term by hundreds of years (That is not to say that some of them may very well have succumbed to the symptoms of the disorder now described as Stockholm syndrome, but there is almost a sense of Ekin in his eagerness to "get into" the characters involved, is prone to draw on every cliché and trauma that kidnapping victims may every be exposed to)

The work however is quite well annotated and does feature an impressive bibliography reference for further reading on the subject for which this serves as a very appetising taster - a pleasant if not entirely substantial starter if you like!
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on 17 January 2012
It's a slow burner but after getting used to the somewhat staggered prose, this is a tragic but rewarding read of the mistreatment of captives by barbary pirates and the politics that surrounded the unprecidented raid of 1631. If you love history, you'll love this.
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on 18 June 2010
This is a wonderfully fascinating subject.It is the best thing we have on the subject at the moment. There is a decided gap here for someone else to fill.There is a lack of books on this subject.

A few years ago a wreck was found off the coast of Devon at Salcombe. There was an amazing tv documentary on it. Due to where the cannon were found on the seabed historians concluded it was a galley. Proof it was an Algerine galley came in the form of around 400 gold coins issued at Sallee in North Africa. These coins are or were on display in the British Museum. I can't remember Des Ekin mentioning this wreck in his book or the gold coins. It is surely relevant.
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on 27 May 2014
I enjoy history books, but feared, at first, that this one might be a little lightweight. How wrong I was. This is an engagingly-written account of an event that just seems unbelievable. Mr. Ekin examines this story from every angle. It's a human story, a societal critique and a superbly-rounded and flabbergasting piece of historical detective work. I mustn't reveal the ending!
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on 25 October 2014
A rivetting book - a true story - It arrived earlier than promised - couldn't put it down until the end. This was recommended by a tour guide whilst on holiday in County Cork & Kerry in September.
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