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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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UNDER THE BLACK FLAG is the perfect read for anyone who, as a kid, dressed up as a one-eyed pirate and went around waving a cardboard cutlass saying, "Aaargh, speak up bilge rat; where be the treasure?" Or anyone who enters company staff meetings with, "Ahoy tharr, scurvy dogs, shark meat ya'll be." Or, "Are ya feeling lucky, punk?" (Well, perhaps that last is from a more recent era.)
Since he's writing for Western audiences, Author David Cordingly focuses on the pirates, buccaneers, and corsairs of European background, who infested the waters of the Atlantic and Indian oceans and the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries. The book's twelve chapters reveal everything you've ever wanted to know about swashbuckling pirates and piracy: the ships, pirate flags, buried treasure, recruitment, plunderings, pirate violence, famous captains (e.g. Kidd, Blackbeard, Morgan, Rackam, Vane, Roberts), women pirates, pirates' women, pirate life on land and sea, marooning, walking the plank, pirate islands and haunts, pirates in the media (books, stage plays, films), pirate trials and executions, wooden legs and, yes, parrots.
Upon finishing UNDER THE BLACK FLAG, I tried to think of a reason not to award five stars, and couldn't. The volume is extensively researched, well organized, written with the popular audience in mind, eminently instructive, and not without humor. Sixteen pages of photographs complement the text. If you're interested in the topic, I can't recommend it too highly. Aaargh!
By the way, what does "shiver me timbers" mean, anyway?
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on 26 May 1999
This is a well researched & factual account of the lives & times of pirates. The historical facts throughout, are nicely compared to the popular illusions we all draw when considering pirates in particular, or in general. A romantic life, this was not! Extremely few lived to enjoy the product of their nefarious activities on the high seas. In fact very few avoided coming to a sticky end on the gibbet, or on the deck of their ship. It's clear that the crime of piracy in the late 17th. early 18th. century, rarely paid. The book abounds with details of the principle characters that are both interesting & surprising. Perhaps the difference between two of the most well remembered & recognised pirates, Blackbeard & Captain Kidd, is a good example of the contrasts that are so neatly drawn in this book. Whilst Teach (Blackbeard) went about his business in true pirate fashion; cruelly, ruthlessly, fighting to the death & with no decency or honour. Captain Kidd, was proven guilty of only one murder (he killed one of his own crew in a fit of temper, by hitting him over the head with a heavy wooden bucket) & maintained until his final moments that his conviction for piracy was just a pure misunderstanding. This book is lightweight enough for anyone to enjoy & detailed enough for those wishing to study the subject in some depth.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it cover to cover. There are several pages of glossy black & white photos and illustrations. The author's range and grasp of his subject matter is enormous, from piracy in fiction to piracy in Hollywood. Best of all, in my opinion, is the history and meticulously researched subject matter. As an example, Cordingly quotes from the original trial transcripts of Captain Kidd and he writes so sympathetically that one feels almost sorry for the blackguard! Cut-throats who relied heavily on intimdation and menace (hence the skull and crossbones) are dealt with sympathetically and straighforwardly without falling into sentimentality.

The author explains convincly why men - and sometimes women - turned to piracy. He reveals pirates to have had a strange kind of democracy: they voted for their own captain and shared the spoils of piracy between them in a pre-drawn up agreement that would rival any modern day stuffy corporate partnership.

Cordingly exposes the myths, e.g., walking the plank, buried treasure and even provides a fascinating history of the development of coins, the word 'pesos' apparently is directly derived from the Spanish for 'pieces of eight' as is 'escudos'.

A very interesting book if you enjoy history and loved the film, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' (Johnny Depp is closely modelled on Blackbeard). Well-balanced and well-written (apart from an annoying habit of using the word, 'which' instead of, 'that').

The naval & geography narrative is good, too. Cordingly describes the ships, brigantines and sloops lovingly and masterfully.
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on 3 February 1999
This is truly the one source for pirate information. Written by the worlds leading authority on the subject this leaves no myth standing and no stone unturned. It is a long book that takes you through a complete history of pirates and what they were really like. Like ships? Its in here. Like plundering? Its in here. Want to know what happened to them? Why some are corsairs and others are buccaneers? Its in here. Even if your interest in pirates is a moderate one, drop the money for this book. You won't put it down, matey.
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on 14 August 2001
For anyone looking to acquire a sense of adventure or a history buff looking into this period of the great age of sail - this book is a must. Well researched, well written and hard to put down, it gives you an excellent starting point into this period of history. The characters are facinating and brought to life in this excellent book.
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on 20 November 1997
This is a pretty thorough book on pirates and piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. The risks of either being a pirate or serving as a sailor on a merchantman are discussed, as well as the types of ships that pirates normally sailed in. Accounts are also given of the most famous and most successful pirates. I've read many books on piracy, and this is one of the best. It's very well-written with some excellent illustrations. If you're interested in piracy in this time period, buy this book.
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on 20 May 1999
I really loved this book. It not only turned me on to the true lives of pirates, but it's given me renewed faith in the idea that history books don't have to be boring and pompous.
Every chapter was great, and I am now a gazillion times smarter than I used to be on this topic. When I went to the National Geographic's Pirate exhibit on the artifacts from the ship "Wydah", I was able to appreciate it much more.
This book really changed my reading habits, and I am thankful I found it.
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on 18 May 2000
This book is a brilliant read. It details the history of pirates in a very well researched manner, but unlike a lot of historical books it is written in such a way that I did not want to put it down.
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on 28 August 2015
I took this book on holiday with me recently and couldn't put it down. If you haven't read any books on the history of pirates before this is a great place to start. It's highly readable and covers the "Golden age of piracy" when rogues like Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts terrorised the Atlantic. It dispels a lot of the myths surrounding the pirates, though the truth is more fascinating than the fiction. A great read.
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As David Cordingley quite emphatically illustrates in this entertaining romp through the 'Golden Age' of Anglo-American piracy, there was very little romance to the life of a pirate. The classic image of the pirate captain, all aristocratic airs, flowing Carolingian locks and frock coat, ruling dictatorially over his crew of his jolly tars, owes very much more to Peter Pan and Treasure Island than it does to reality. Whilst there was a 'pirate code', most pirate ships were in fact proto-democracies and there was very little walking-the-plank and almost no buried treasure.

Cordingley focuses almost exclusively on Anglo-American piracy in the waters of the Caribbean and off the American shoreline; there are few mentions of French, Spanish or Dutch pirates, and only the occasional aside into Chinese piracy, most notably when touching on Ching Shih, a former prostitute who at her height presided over 300 junks manned by somewhere between 20,000 and 00,000 men! He covers almost every aspect of the life of a pirate: storms, shipwrecks and life at sea; the heat of battle; women pirates; pirate haunts and hideouts; the violence and torture of captives; imprisonment, trial and execution.

What I found most surprising are the legends built up around some entirely undeserving characters, whereas others who were arguably far more notorious in their day seem to have been forgotten by history. I'd never heard of Bartholomew Roberts, perhaps the most dangerous pirate on the seas in his day, whereas Captain Kidd seemed to have had very little career as a pirate at all, at least compared to the lingering fame of his name, and Captain Morgan arguably wasn't a pirate at all, but a legitimate privateer.
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