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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Pirates of New England                        The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pirates

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        Pirates of New England
Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades
By Gail Selinger
Globe Pequot, 2017, ISBN 978-1-4930-2929-7, US $16.95

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Some pirates, such as Black Sam Bellamy, are well-known while others, such as Thomas Pound, rarely garner mention, but Selinger examines these and many other nefarious rogues associated with New England between the late sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries. She opens with a short history of piracy before tackling the questions of why men went on the account and why this way of life enticed so many to violate the law. This helps readers to comprehend the historical context of the period.

This volume’s particular focus is on New England, a region comprised of today’s states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Many who lived in these areas often failed to differentiate between pirates, smugglers, and privateers. All provided goods at reasonable prices without encumbering the products with the heavy taxes imposed by Great Britain. This facet is explored both politically and economically as Selinger discusses the Pirate Round, a trade route between the Western Atlantic and the pirate haven of Madagascar.

The remaining ten chapters explore individual pirates. In addition to the two previously mentioned brigands, readers learn about Dixie Bull, John Rhoades, Jurriaen Aernouts, Peter Roderigo, Thomas Hawkins, Thomas Tew and Governor Benjamin Fletcher, Henry Every, William Kidd, John Quelch, Paulsgrave Williams, George Lowther, John Massey, Charles Harris, Ned Low, Francis Spriggs, and William Fly.

To better understand just how perilous this period is, Selinger provides a list of some of the wars fought between various European nations – many of which spilled into the Caribbean and New England. She also provides information on wages, cost of living, and pirate booty in an attempt to answer the oft-asked question of “How much is pirate treasure worth today?” To best contrast the allure of pirate life with that of the common man, she provides lists of earnings for various legal seamen and costs for particular items of daily life. Aside from a bibliography, a few black-and-white illustrations, and an index, two appendices are included. The first is a complete roster of the men and boys who sailed aboard Captain Kidd’s Adventure Galley. The second gives the names and fates, if known, for pirates who are rarely or never mentioned in other books on this subject.

The only drawback is that no footnotes are provided to identify the source of some information; this may be more bothersome to anyone wishing to delve further into the history rather than just those seeking good background on New England’s connections with piracy.

Aside from three pages in the chapter on William Fly, where the firing of guns and who’s who on gun crew are discussed in detail, Pirates of New England is a worthy introduction to and summary of piracy as it relates to this specific area of the New World. Many other titles only provide known facts about pirates before and during their escapades, but Selinger makes certain to include what happens after they either cease their marauding or are captured. Nautical language is always explained within parentheses, which makes it easy to understand the word(s) in context. Overall, Pirates of New England is a compelling, fast read filled with interesting tidbits for both readers unfamiliar with the subject and those with an insatiable appetite for all things piratical.

Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Complete Idiot's
        Guide to Pirates
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates

by Gail Selinger with W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
Penguin Books, 2006, ISBN 1-59257-376-2, US $18.95 / CAN $25.00 / £12.99


Subtitled “Fascinating facts about the world’s most infamous pirates,” this book does just that in an entertaining fashion. It is divided into four parts that take the reader from ancient times through the present day on an exploration of the history of piracy around the world. Part One covers popular culture, ancient history, pirates of the Middle Ages, the Spanish Main, Elizabethan Sea Dogs, and women pirates of the English Renaissance. Part Two concentrates on the Buccaneers of the 17th century, from the “thieves, naval deserters, cutthroats, runaway slaves, convicts, and religious and political refugees” who were the original buccaneers – men who smoked meat – to men like Henry Morgan and L’Ollonais. Also included are why these men turned to piracy, life at sea, and the weapons they used. Part Three discusses the Golden Age of Piracy – the hoisting of the Jolly Roger, the Pirate Round, safe havens, the proliferation of pirates during this time period, the hunters of these sea rogues, and biographies on some of the more noteworthy pirates of the age. Part Four looks at the end of the Golden Age then backtracks a bit to the rise of the Barbary Corsairs and how a young nation defied the custom of the time to topple these pirates. Asian piracy concludes this section. Appendices include a glossary, resource list, and reenactment groups.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates is one of the most complete introductions to pirate history on the market today. The format allows for quick reads without bogging down with too many details. Headings and subheadings, as well as the two tables of contents, the index, and “The Least You Need to Know” at the end of each chapter, make it easy to locate the information you seek without reading the book from cover to cover. Pirate yarns, dead men’s tales, knowing the ropes, and treasure chests enhance your reading experience with stories, quotes, definitions, and undiscovered gems. Black-and-white illustrations allow you to better grasp the topics covered. The publisher uses a good-sized print and lots of white space to make the journey easy on the eyes. The author acknowledges a few minor errors – such as the perpetuation of the myth that the Laffites were blacksmiths – but hopes these will be corrected in future editions of the book. In no way, however, do they diminish from this voyage upon the high seas, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates should adorn the shelves of all pirate libraries.

Buccaneer Trends and the Truth About Pirates
(NPR radio interview with Gail Selinger)

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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