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You can never have enough pirate books
on 12 April 2010
I thought I had enough pirate books, till I saw this one specifically dealing with the Barbary pirates of Algiers, Tripoli etc. It's well researched and scholarly but also written in a delightfully lively style - see this sardonic little piece on everyone's dream job - not...:
"The governorship of Tangier was not a passport to success. The Earl of Peterborough was recalled to England after 11 months, amidst allegations of corruption and incompetence. His successor, the Earl of Teviot, managed a year in office before being killed in a Moorish ambush. During a bout of diarrhoea the Earl of Middleton, who took up office in 1668, got up in the middle of the night, fell over his sleeping manservant and broke his arm; he died two days later. The Earl of Inchiquin was recalled in disgrace after allowing the Moors to overrun the outer defences, though he managed to calm the King's anger by giving him a pair of ostriches. The Earl of Ossory fell into a fit of depression on hearing of his appointment as governor and succumbed to a fever before he could even leave England."
Always keep a pair of ostriches handy. This book is full of unforgettable characters, rich historical ironies, absorbing personal stories and just sheer style, both Tinniswood's and that of his (anti-)heroes. Did you know Samuel Pepys, at very short notice, was ordered to go to Tangier to help supervise its evacuation and destruction? Or that the French mortar-bombed Algiers, in the teeth of a threat, which was carried out, to blow an elderly French priest from a cannon? My own favourite is the harassed Thomas Baker, neglected but kindly English consul in Tripoli, but he's only one in a bewildering tapestry, at a time and cosmopolitan place where people called Hassan Rais, who made a living by importing Christian slaves, frequently turned out to be someone called Rowley from Bristol. You can never have enough pirate books.