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The History of Maritime Piracy

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

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Pirates in the Age
        of Sail
Pirates in the Age of Sail
by Robert J. Antony
W. W. Norton & Company, 2007, ISBN 978-0-393-92788-7, $15.00


Most books on maritime piracy focus on one region, particularly the Caribbean. This Norton Casebook in History, however, examines piracy worldwide from 1500 to 1850. Major events and persons are examined in respect to the political, social, economic, cultural, and sexual changes occurring during this time period. Maps, pictures, and tables illustrate the material within the book, which is divided into three sections.

Part one presents an overview of piracy. The subsections cover: Pirates, Privateers, and Buccaneers of the West; Corsairs, Renegades, and Slaves of the Mediterranean; Pirates, Merchants, and Rebels on the China Coast; Raiders, Warriors, and Traders in Southeast Asia; and Global Piracy Today. Using these same divisions – with the exception of modern piracy – part two presents primary documents (or their translations) pertaining to each region. A sampling of these includes:

Deposition of Adam Baldridge, Taken May 5, 1699
John Dann’s Testimony against Henry Every
Captain William Snelgrave’s Captivity, 1719
European Renegade and Corsair John Ward
John Foss’ Captivity in Algiers, 1793-96
The Pirate Zheng Zhilong
Depositions in the Case of He Xing’s Gang, 1782
Narrative of Richard Glasspoole’s Captivity, 1809
An Oral History of Sea Dayak Raiding
Handbill of William Edwards, 1845
The final section of the book contains three essays. Jo Stanley writes on women pirates; Marcus Rediker discusses “Hydrarchy and Libertalia”; and Joseph N. F. M. à Campo examines piracy in colonial Indonesia from 1816 to 1825. The bibliographic essay, which appears before the index, recommends noteworthy journal articles and books where readers can obtain additional information. This book contains one of the most readable, concise, and thorough overviews of piracy during the age of sail throughout the world that I’ve encountered. While many volumes provide quotes from primary resources and eyewitness accounts, this one provides readers with a wealth of examples, some of which are rarely found elsewhere. These documents also introduce readers to lesser-known pirates and piracy outside of the Caribbean. One particularly valuable chart lists the pirates in each region with the time periods in which they preyed, allowing readers to compare who did what at the same time someone else pirated in another region of the world. Pirates in the Age of Sail is an indispensable addition to all pirate libraries. At $15 it’s a steal!

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Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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