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.
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.
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.