Top positive review
8 people found this helpful
Thoroughly readable history of piracy in the Caribbean
on 5 August 2014
Woodard states in his introduction that he intends to paint a picture of the Golden Age of Piracy, the early portion of the 18th Century, by focussing on four key figures: Edward "Blackbeard" Thatch (or Teach, or Thache...), Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane, and their nemesis, a prominent Bristol merchant's son-turned-pirate hunter, Woodes Rogers. That's exactly the book he produces, weaving four biographies together to explain the circumstances that allowed the Golden Age to begin, and that would eventually lead to its end. Woodard draws heavily on contemporary sources like court records, ships' logs, a Boston newspaper, and bits and pieces from "A General History of the Pyrates", published in the early 1700s, though he frequently stresses that much within that book was apparently historically inaccurate when compared to his other, more legalistic sources.
For the most part, Woodard is pretty engaging, and does a good job integrating those historical facts into a larger narrative that paints a thorough picture of the era. Occasionally he seems to get a bit carried away, leading to speculative sections that - while clearly noted as such - feel a little reaching. At most, though, that's a minor quibble.
I was more disappointed with the relatively abrupt end to the book. Unfortunately, in setting out to follow the four men mentioned above, Woodard runs out of steam and detail when they are, for various reasons, taken out of the picture. Bartholemew Roberts, described as taking over 400 ships, barely gets a mention. The female pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny also get very little material, despite records of their incarceration. Perhaps it's just that there was not enough historical data for him to draw together an interesting narrative. The only other negative point is that sometimes, in the flurry of names being thrown around and the way the book jumps between multiple perspectives (not to mention the ever-changing allegiances of the various pirate groups), it's easy to lose track of some of the less important players.
I highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in the Caribbean pirates or the era in general, as it also gives a remarkable insight into the slave trade, European wars and rivalries of the time, and early colonies in the Americas.