Monday, May 11, 2009

RAIDERS & REBELS: The Golden Age of Piracy

In the most authoritative history of piracy, Frank Sherry's rich and colorful account reveals the rise and fall of the real "raiders and rebels" who terrorized the seas. From 1692 to 1725 pirates sailed the oceans of the world, plundering ships laden with the riches of India, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. Often portrayed as larger-than-life characters, these outlaw figures and their bloodthirsty exploits have long been immortalized in fiction and film. But beneath the legends is the true story of these brigands—often common men and women escaping the social and economic restrictions of 18th-century Europe and America. Their activities threatened the beginnings of world trade and jeopardized the security of empires. And together, the author argues, they fashioned a surprisingly democratic society powerful enough to defy the world.

"Raiders and Rebels: The Golden Age of Piracy" is very possibly the very best book I have ever read on the Golden Age of Piracy.
The information is organized very well, telling a straight chronological history of piracy's evolution from early buccaneers to king's privateers to outright pirates. He devotes separate chapters to the most famous captains, elucidating their personal histories and careers in a clear and concise manner - Henry Morgan, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Edward Low, Bartholomew Roberts (Black Bart), Calico Jack Rackham (and his lesbian pirate associates, Anne Bonney and Mary Read), the ill-fated Captain Kidd, and more. He also renders a wonderful biography of Woodes Rogers, the privateer-turned-governor of Nassau, a fascinating character whose actions, perhaps more than anyone else's, most damaged the cohesion of piracy - helping it fall apart of its own accord, due to disorganization and lack of discipline and foresight.
Sherry does not write merely about piracy as seagoing theft, but about the short-lived and surprisingly democratic "Maritime Nation." Few people realize that the "Brethren of the Coast" (as they styled themselves) were one of the earliest "countries" - and certainly the only one of their age - to institute accident and disability insurance and elected leadership, not to mention equal opportunity employment and what essentially amounted to equal-share company stock options. Sherry does an expert job of illustrating the brutality and oppression of the age, making it clear why so many sailors voluntarily joined ranks with the seafaring rebels - whose primary battle cry was not "death to all," but "Will ye join us, Brother?"
Many myths are explored and deflated, and many others shown to have a great deal of validity. There is only one recorded instance of anyone being made to walk the plank, for instance, (even if the pirates played on that prevalent myth to their own advantage), though marooning was indeed the favored form of pirate capital punishment.
Most importantly, Sherry does a fine job of making the reader feel what daily life was like for the pirates - and for their suffering cousins in the merchant marines and the Royal Navy - and portrays them in a sympathetic and understanding light. He doesn't soft-pedal the darker side of piracy, but he does put it into perspective.
If you have even a casual interest in Pirates, the Caribbean Expansion, or even global politics - This book will be a priceless addition to your library.
Review by Rob Ossian
Raiders and Rebels: The Golden Age of Piracy (eBook)