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An enjoyable but overwrought book
on 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.