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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on 20 March 2010
Well written, well researched - and a huge amount of fun. Pirates of Barbary is filled with colourful historical detail, charismatic anti-heroes and a pointed, but not over done, resonance between the Pirates of Barbary then and now. Absolutely loved it.
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on 18 March 2010
Having enjoyed Adrian Tinniswood's The Verneys so much I thought I'd read this too. And I'm glad I did. Pirates of Barbary is written in pacey, well defined chapters - charting different eras, themes and episodes.
This book is a must for anyone interested in the 17th century and maritime history, albeit one doesn't need to be solely interested in such things to enjoy the benefits of this book.
Adrian Tinniswood is slowly but surely creating a canon of scholarly but popular history books on the 17th century. Although I still think The Verneys is his best book, Pirates of Barbary is comfortably the most fun.
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on 27 November 2012
Pirates of Barbary is a most entertaining book that describes the history of the barbary pirates / corsairs from the early 17th century onwards. What amazed me is that apparently a lot of the pirates of barbary were European imports, be it converted to islam or not. All too many an Ali Reis had his roots in Cornwall rather than Morocco or in Holland rather than Algeria, and reportedly this import was a great boost to piracy as these renegades expanded local capabilities from the original galleon basis to sailing ships. This enabled the barbary corsairs to raid all the way to the North Sea. As the 17th century progressed, and especially into the 18th, the relationship between the barbary states and Europe evolved into a more formal arrangement whereby the Europeans paid tribute, sparing their subjects from the horrors of captivity or worse. Only after the Napoleonic wars did the Europeans (egged on by the young USA) finally get around to squashing the pirates in their home bases. As I said, an entertaining book and very educational too - recommended.
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on 3 April 2016
I learnt of the Barbary pirates through "empire total war" and was vaguely aware of the enslavement of Europeans only to be sold in north Africa but that was about it. Reading this book provided a great deal of context for me to the origins, then life and death of the Barbary states and is integral to any study of Europe, the Ottomans, Moroccan or North African history, Mediterranean, Naval history or even pirate history but just a whole section of history that seems largely ignored. Millions of Europeans were taken from Iceland to Greece. Well laid out and just a general great and interesting read, For me personally learning of the various English attempts and expeditions in North Africa were of great interest.
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on 19 June 2014
Unlike the Vikings, a few hundred years before, the Barbary pirates did not settle where they raided. But certainly they pillaged and took slaves, and they had the opportunity to prey on commercial shipping which previously did not exist on any great scale. This book is a history of their activities during their heyday in the 17th century and the efforts by European countries (mainly English) to contain them.

And it is a very accessible history, not dry and academic. It is obviously written for a popular audience, but certainly not at the expense of compromising the integrity of its facts. The author has obviously done considerable research of original sources, and his organisation and presentation of it is exemplary. He writes well, and is fair to all parties, without letting moral indignation get in the way.

The final coda on the end of the Barbary pirates in the 19th century is well judged and rounds off a satisfying and enjoyable read. Perhaps the European powers would have dealt with it earlier if they hadn’t themselves been so mired in slavery themselves. They proceeded to colonise them, but isn’t that why the Ottomans were there in the first place?
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VINE VOICEon 12 September 2010
I went into a local bookstore and the shop assistant asked me if there was anything I was specifically looking for. I said 'I am looking for a book about pirates'; she said 'you might try the children's section?'. It was funny, it also illustrates how we think of 'pirates' as anecdotal details in history - a historical version of contemporary pulp 'true crime' books.

However, pirates and piracy actually form a structural part of history and have played a part in shaping the modern world. The Public Private Partnership of privateering - robbers with dodgy licenses - were a key instrument for early states to assert power, bother ones rivals and, in the days before effective domestic taxation, getting cash money.

The exploits of English privateers such as Sir Francis Drake are relatively well known in the UK, but as we learn from this book, the Barbary states (i.e. the states of the North African coast) went far beyond Elizabethan England in that they relied almost entirely on piracy to support their economies; whereas England was a commercial state incubating the agricultural and industrial revolutions, for the Barbary states piracy was the only game in town.

The long term dependence of the Barbary states on piracy put them on a collision course with Europe, but what is interesting is the extent to which the major European powers were impotent to stop Barbary piracy for such a long time. As late as the 1700s, when Britain and France were busy colonising North America and a recognisable 'modern' world was coming together, major European states were still paying tribute to the Barbary states in order to buy safe-passage for their merchant ships.

However, Europe's technological, economic and military capability grew very quickly through the 18th century and, by the start of the 19th century the writing was on the wall for Barbary - piracy, so long fretted about and bought off by the European states, became the pretext for invading and seizing direct control of the North African coast.

The book contains a good mix of primary accounts, narrative drive and historical context. It's clearly a 'popular' history book in that it tells a story more than posits a thesis and is aimed at an audience that has an interest in history but no specialised prior knowledge of the issues.
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VINE VOICEon 28 September 2010
The 17th Century neatly bookends the story of piracy in the Mediterranean. For a few decades the protagonists struggle on but in reality by the end of Adrian Tinniswood's rumbustious tale, these pirates - both the semi-legal, government-authorised corsairs and the defiantly independent free lancers - have lost their means of existence. But what an existence it was.

The Barbary coast ports of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli attracted greedy adventurers and devout defenders of one faith or another. They clashed in pursuit and defence of rich prizes as well as religious belief. Many were criminals, many died. Their way of life and death is piercingly told, drawing on letters, period documents and later histories.

The author's final words are a just summary: "The ... pirates of Barbary left a thousand crimes behind them. Their one virtue, whether they were renegade Christian fugitives or devout Muslim warriors or God, was courage. Deplore the crimes by all means.

"But remember the courage."
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on 31 August 2013
Adrian Tinniswood is an excellent story teller of history and events. When you read his books, he has the knack of making it seem as if he is there telling you the story, wherever you are reading it.
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VINE VOICEon 26 March 2014
All the facts seem to be there but there's a lack of passion about this book with is faintly disconcerting, almost as if the writer was doing a task he had no enthusiasm for.
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