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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

Pirates: Predators of the Seas          Piracy: The Complete History          Scourge of the Seas          Blackbeard          Spanish Galleon

Pirate Ship          World Atlas of Piracy          Naval Miscellany          Pirate: The Golden Age

Cover Art: Pirates Predators of the Seas
Pirates: Predators of the Seas
By Angus Konstam with Roger Michael Kean
Skyhorse Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-1-60239-035-5, US $29.95
Pirates examines maritime piracy from the ancient world to today around the world. Divided into fourteen chapters the book begins with the pirate ship, then examines in chronological sequence the history of piracy. Several chapters cover related topics: weaponry, justice against pirates, safe havens, and myths, manners, and articles of agreement. Most of the infamous pirates can be found within these pages, as can those not so well known. A comprehensive index allows for easy access to specific information, and the table of contents is annotated so a quick glance allows readers to know what they’ll find in each chapter. Colorful maps, charts, and illustrations enhance the text.

Those who have Konstam’s earlier work, The History of Pirates, will find the information in this volume more detailed. While many books discuss the ships pirates used, few emphasize it by putting it first and none really show the evolution of vessels through history. Konstam does this in great detail and with vivid illustrations. One reason I particularly like this book is because it covers facets of piracy, such as Asian and medieval, often ignored in favor of Caribbean piracy.

I do have a few concerns about the information presented. Konhoji Angria was not an African Muslim. He was a member of the Maratha family. Stede Bonnet was hanged in December of 1718, rather than November with other members of his crew. Jean and Pierre Laffite did not operate a smithy. Jean did not acquire the house, known today as “Maison Rouge,” from Louis-Michel Aury. The Captain Johnson who wrote The General History of Pirates is not the Charles Johnson who penned the play, The Successful Pyrate.

Compared to the wealth of information contained in these pages, though, these are minor errors. Pirates is a worthy addition to any collection. The knowledge it contains provides readers with a well-rounded view of piracy through the ages. The only thing that would have made this even better is a bibliography or list of recommended resources for readers.

Visit Angus Konstam

Book Review Copyright ©2008 Cindy Vallar

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Piracy

Cover Art:
                  Piracy the Complete History
Piracy: The Complete History
By Angus Konstam
Osprey, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84603-240-0, US $24.95 / CAN $27.95

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While not the oldest profession in history, pirates have plagued the seas from ancient times to present day. Piracy examines this history in eleven chapters: Pirates of the Ancient World, Medieval Pirates, The Sea Dogs of the Renaissance, Mediterranean Corsairs, The Buccaneers, The Golden Age of Piracy, The Pirate Round, The Last of the Pirates, The Chinese Pirates, Modern Piracy, and Pirates in Fiction. Konstam concludes with a three-page essay on “The Real Pirates of the Caribbean,” and the book includes an introduction, notes, a selected bibliography, and an index.

This book tells the story of the real pirates of history – the men for whom shipwreck, starvation, disease and violent death were a constant threat, and whose piratical careers were usually measured in months rather than in years. While these pirates certainly did operate in exotic locations…and their story occasionally involves marooning, buried treasure, desert islands and parrots, the notion that their lives were in any way romantic would have been highly amusing to them.
This passage leaves no doubt that the author has a clear objective in mind – providing the true history of piracy, rather than the myths that have evolved over the centuries about men and women we should fear rather than emulate as romantic characters. Although Konstam provides a brief definition of piracy, readers soon discover one meaning neither fits all pirates nor geographic regions. Sometimes they are friends or allies, other times they are “enemies of all mankind.”

As someone who has studied pirates for nearly a decade, I particularly identified with several remarks in the conclusion of this book.

For a pirate historian, one frequently asked question is whether you feel any affinity for the pirates of the ‘Golden Age’, for men like Blackbeard, or ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, or ‘Black Bart’ Roberts. …The simple answer is no, I don’t feel any affinity for them, and if I were given the chance I probably wouldn’t like to meet them either…. However, I do admit to being fascinated by them, by their crimes and by their lives.
This fascination clearly shows in the book. Of all the titles of Angus Konstam’s that I’ve read, Piracy is by far the most interesting and entertaining. He captivates readers from the introduction and holds our interest until the last word in the conclusion. Although the history of piracy from ancient times to the present is a vast subject, Konstam does a superb job encapsulating the highlights and providing us with a well-rounded look at piracy and how it’s changed through time. He achieves his goal of making “a few people aware that there was another, less romantic, side” to pirates, which makes this an outstanding book to read for anyone who wants to know about real pirates.

Meet Angus Konstam

Review copyrighted © 2009 Cindy Vallar


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Scourge of the Seas

Cover Art: Scourge of the Seas
Scourge of the Seas: Buccaneers, Pirates and Privateers
By Angus Konstam
Osprey, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84603-211-0, US $24.95; CAN $32.95

The “golden age” conjures up images that are more romantic than cruel. The pirates themselves never called the period thusly – writers adopted it much later, comparing these villains of all nations to swashbucklers. No one during the 17th and 18th centuries described them or their exploits as such. Within the pages of this book, Angus Konstam examines the real buccaneers, pirates, and privateers who sailed between 1620 and 1830.

Divided into three sections, the book begins with the buccaneers (1620-1700), concentrating on their victims, weaponry, tactics, commanders, the world in which they lived, and their demise. Konstam explains the background and reasons for the rise of these pirates in easy-to-understand terms. He also highlights several important battles, as well as introduces readers to important commanders (Myngs, Morgan, L’Olonnais, Le Chevalier, and de Graaf).

“Pirates 1660-1730” explores the differences that set these rogues apart from their predecessors, the buccaneers. Among the topics discussed are crews, warfare, havens, ships, codes, flags, and how nations brought the villains to justice. The pirates included in this section are Edward Teach, Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Jack Rackham, Charles Vane, Henry Every, Stede Bonnet, William Kidd, and Bartholomew Roberts. Readers should know that contrary to the text, Bonnet was hanged in December 1718, not November. Many of his crew were executed then, but he escaped. One illustration in this section seems out of place, since neither Jean Laffite nor Robert Surcouf lived during this time period.

The final section concerns privateers and pirates who sailed from 1730 through 1830. Konstam examines the development of privateering, then looks at their organization and recruiting practices, how they waged war, their ships, ports and havens, and the anti-piracy campaign England and the United States waged in the 1820s. Among the noteworthy and infamous men highlighted here are Silas Talbot, John Paul Jones, Robert Surcouf, Thomas Boyle, Jean Laffite, Benito de Soto, and Pedro Gibert. I was disappointed with the information on Jean Laffite. Some details, which are myths, are presented as facts. Pierre, not Jean, died in Mexico.

Color illustrations, including some of Howard Pyle’s paintings, and maps help bring this era of maritime piracy to life. A glossary explains nautical terms, and a bibliography allows readers to explore this period further. There is also an extensive index. In spite of the minor problems already mentioned, Scourge of the Seas* is a worthy addition to any pirate library. It covers some topics often glossed over in other works and introduces readers to major players in each period.

Visit Angus Konstam

*This hardback edition is based on a three previously published Osprey books: Buccaneers 1620-1700, Pirates, 1660-1730, and Privateers and Pirates 1730-1830.

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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Blackbeard

Cover Art: Blackbeard by
              Angus Konstam
Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate
by Angus Konstam
John Wiley & Sons, 2006, ISBN 047175885X, $24.95 / CAN$31.99 / £16.99

While other pirates have faded from memory, Blackbeard still conjures up vivid imagery of pirates terrorizing people and shipping for about two years in the early 18th century. This notorious pirate has been the subject of many books, but Konstam’s aim is to separate the man from the myth. He strives to understand why Blackbeard went from legal privateer to outlaw, why other pirates joined his crew, and why he met such a bloody end. The author intersperses the narrative with the basic fundamentals of piracy, as well as background and motivations of the other key players who crossed paths with Blackbeard from 1716 until his death in 1718. I enjoyed reading this book, but as a pirate historian I found myself wanting to pass over sections of text because I already knew the information contained there. I wanted to learn more about Blackbeard, but his story equates to only two or three chapters. I recommend Blackbeard to readers unfamiliar with the Golden Age of Piracy rather than those already familiar with Blackbeard and pirates in general.

Visit Angus Konstam
Learn more about Blackbeard

Originally reviewed for Historical Novel Reviews, November 2006
Book Review Copyright © 2006 Cindy Vallar

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Spanish Galleon 1530-1690

Cover Art: Spanish Galleon
Spanish Galleon 1530-1690
by Angus Konstam
Osprey, 2004, ISBN 1-84176-637-2, US $15.95 / Can $22.95 / £9.50

When one thinks of the Spanish galleon, several images comes to mind – the Spanish Armada against England in the 17th century, pirates after gold and silver, and shipwrecks with sunken treasure. Thanks, in part, to Hollywood’s depiction of these vessels, which were vital to Spain’s maritime empire, romanticism often clouds the truth about the galleons. This book examines the real galleons and aims to answer some specific questions:

1. How did the design develop?
2. How were the galleons built?
3. What armament did they carry?
4. What was the flota system?
5. Who was aboard and where were their quarters?
6. What was it like to live aboard a galleon?
7. How did they perform as warships?
Spanish Galleon is a succinct explanation about the particulars of this vessel. The presentation is matter-of-fact, but never dry. Hidden amongst the pages are tidbits of information not often covered in other books. For example, did you know that a galleon’s guns were removed after a voyage was complete and stored in royal warehouses? Illustrations emphasize what the text covers, and the double-page spread of the galleon is a detailed look at its interior. The color plates make the galleon more realistic, and information about the depicted ships is provided at the end of the book. An excellent introduction to the Spanish galleon.

Book Review Copyright © 2006 Cindy Vallar

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The World Atlas of Piracy

Cover Art: World Atlas of Piracy
The World Atlas of Pirates
By Angus Konstam

The Lyons Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1-59921-474-0, US $29.95 / CAN $27.95

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The opening sentences of this book clearly summarize Konstam’s intent with this latest title about sea villains.

The aim of this book is to set the record straight – to expose the romantic myths about pirates that have existed for centuries. In fact, piracy was a brutal business, far removed from the rose-tinted world of captain Jack Sparrow.

Rather than romanticize pirates, the book encompasses “assault, murder, kidnapping, and torture….” Yet the author presents his topic in such a way that the reader can read about these crimes without fearing for his own life.

The discussion on pirates opens with a familiar quandary to those who study pirates – were they really pirates? “A pirate in one country could have been an explorer or hero in another, commissioned by a monarch to ‘conquer’ new lands or seas.” What follows is a look at the various terms that have become synonymous with pirates, but actually have precise meanings in this world of villainy. Konstam also points out, unlike most authors of pirate histories, that the word “pirate” has been “misused, misapplied, and misunderstood.”

The contents of the book are presented in chronological sequence, beginning with pirates of the ancient world through modern pirates. The final chapter considers the fact versus the fiction that comprises the world of pirates. Each page is handsomely illustrated with photographs and artist renderings. Interspersed throughout are maps that highlight trade routes, pirate raids, battles, and more. There are also highlighted sidebars that provide dates pertaining to specific pirates, as well as nuggets of information on topics as varied as electing a pirate captain to the Hong Kong Squadron. The only thing missing is a bibliography.

The visual appeal of this book is stunning and it resembles the coffee table books of old that were proudly showcased in people’s living rooms. There are a few errors, such as the date Stede Bonnet was hanged or that Kanhoji Angria was an African, but these are minor and in no way detract from the wealth of treasure on real pirates. Any reader seeking a well-balanced compendium on the real pirates throughout history will guard this book as if it were a map to buried treasure. For serious students of piratical history, The World Atlas of Pirates is one of the best places to start.

 
 Meet Angus Konstam

 Review Copyrighted ©2009 Cindy Vallar

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Naval Miscellany
Cover Art: Naval Miscellany
Naval Miscellany
By Angus Konstam
Osprey, 2010, ISBN 978-1-84603-989-8, US $15.95 / CAN $17.95 / £9.99
Within the pages of this book the reader finds a diverse selection of articles covering many aspects of naval history and lore from ancient times through World War II. The purpose is not to provide an in-depth examination on any one topic, but to provide the opportunity to explore and discover. While primary focus is on the British and American navies, other nations are also represented.
 
A small sampling of the contents reveals the book’s wide scope:
 
Ten Warships that Sank Without the Help of the Enemy
Preserving Admiral Nelson
Sea Shanties and Shipboard Music
The Lords of the Admiralty
Painting the Sailing Man-of-War
 
For pirate enthusiasts, the list includes:
 
Privateer or Pirate?
The Seven Sea Dogs
The King of Corsairs
The Navy and Pirates
 
While many miscellanies (trivia books) are primarily a compilation of lists, Konstam opted to write fascinating articles to whet the reader’s appetite. His intent was to appeal not only to naval enthusiasts, but anyone with a curiosity about naval history. As a writer always searching for answers to hard-to-find questions, I appreciate several selections because Konstam kept researchers in mind as he sorted through what to include or discard. What makes Naval Miscellany such a delight to read is I can pick and choose the titles that most appeal to me or skip around, rather than reading the book from beginning to end. Although a hardback, the book is the size of a paperback that contains a chest full of treasures to scintillate the mind.

Meet Angus Konstam
 
Review Copyrighted ©2010 Cindy Vallar

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Pirate
Cover Art: Pirate: The Golden Age
Pirate: The Golden Age
By Angus Konstam and David Rickman
Osprey, 2011, ISBN 978-1-84098-497-0, US$18.95 / CAN $22.00 / £11.99

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Although some readers may miss the Authors’ Note, which appears in small print in a corner on the back of the title page, it provides a clue as to what will follow in subsequent pages:
 
The biggest problem was trying to unravel the myth from the reality, scraping away the layers of later interpretation to reveal the real pirates who terrorized the waters of the Caribbean and the Americas.
 
Not only do the authors delve into the murky waters created by novelists and Hollywood, but also those found in artistic renderings of pirates.
 
Pyle created a “pirate look” that bore little resemblance to the real thing. We had both been trying the same thing from two different directions – one trying to separate pirate fact from fiction using historical sources, and the other through a scholarly study of pirate clothing.
 
The collaboration of these two authors produced Pirate, a sixty-four page book that provides readers with a concise summary of these sea rogues from 1714 to 1724 – a time when these villains numbered in the thousands.
 
This examination opens with a look at where the moniker “The Golden Age of Piracy” came from and the disagreement among pirate historians as to the time period this moniker encompasses. This is done in two succinct paragraphs that end with the goal of the book: “to reveal as best we can the reality of pirate life and their appearance during this turbulent decade.” What particularly fascinated me was discovering another example of how Rafael Sabatini impacted our image of pirates, because he coined the term “Golden Age of Piracy” when writing his pirate novels, including Captain Blood, in the 1920s.
 
Before the authors get into the nitty-gritty, they begin with a chronology of important piratical events beginning with the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended Britain’s participation in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713, and ending with John Gow dancing the hempen jig in 1725. There are a few discrepancies in this timeline since Stede Bonnet was actually hanged on 10 December 1718, rather than 1719. His crew was hanged the month before he was. *
 
The topics in this volume cover how pirates were recruited, the skills pirates needed to succeed, what they actually looked like versus what we imagine,  what their lives were like, the violence that accompanied this life (including weaponry and tactics), the plunder they captured, seeking revenge for past wrongs, and the fate awaiting pirates. The book ends with a list of museums and galleries where piratical resources can be found, a bibliography, a glossary, and an index.
 
Illustrations, both in color and black & white, abound. The captions clarify and reinforce what’s contained in the narrative. There are also eight full-page paintings that realistically depict pirates in various aspects of their lives. Recruitment, for example, depicts pirates attempting to persuade a captured crew to join them on the account. Two pages are reminiscent of paper dolls – an average seaman versus a pirate captain, with their various parts of dress individually depicted and labeled to allow readers to better understand how real pirates actually dressed.
 
I’ve been a fan of Osprey’s various military series ever since I read Culloden 1746 by Peter Harrington while researching my novel, The Scottish Thistle. Among my maritime collection, I number several titles Konstam has written for Osprey, but Pirate, part of the Warrior series, offers readers more in-depth information than earlier titles. Other books touch upon the various topics covered, but Konstam and Rickman provide a marvelous and detailed assessment through explanation supported by period and first-hand examples about one decade rife with pirates. The rogues, themselves, would find this a treasure worth hoarding. Readers familiar with Konstam’s other Osprey titles will find this a worthy addition to their collections without duplicating what’s already owned.

Review Copyrighted ©2011 Cindy Vallar

*The author has assured me that this error will be corrected in the future editions.

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Blackbeard's Last Fight
Cover Art: Blackbeard's Last
                Fight
Blackbeard’s Last Fight: Pirate Hunting in North Carolina 1718
By Angus Konstam
Illustrations by Mark Stacey and Johnny Shumate
Osprey, 2012, ISBN 978-1-78096-195-8, US $18.95 / UK £11.99 / CAN $19.95
eBook US $9.95 / UK £5.98

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In the introduction, Konstam explains why Blackbeard became the most notorious of the pirates who lived during the most prolific piracy period in history, the early eighteenth century. His attack on the port of Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina raised the stakes and eventually led Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia to take action against this most fearsome pirate.

Readers learn how Blackbeard became a pirate, particularly following the War of the Spanish Succession and the sinking of Spain’s treasure fleet in 1715, and his early years in the sweet trade. The main focus comes after he acquires the French slaver he christens Queen Anne’s Revenge and his time in North Carolina.

Next Konstam looks at how the British government tried to counter piracy, Maynard’s attack at the battle of Ocracoke Island, and Captain Brand’s land expedition to Bath Town, which was originally intended to trap Blackbeard in a bottleneck to prevent his escape. The aftermath discusses the trial and punishment of the pirates and analyzes the raid. The narrative ends with a brief account of Stede Bonnet’s last days, the effect of the government’s policies on piracy, and the publication of Captain Johnson’s General History of Pyrates.

Quotations from firsthand sources are interspersed throughout the narrative. Aside from the maps and colorful artwork that accompany each page, there are chevrons in the margins pinpointing key historical events. A two-page spread of the Battle of Ocracoke provides a blow-by-blow recap of events between 7:00 and 9:05 a.m. on 22 November 1718. A bibliography and index are included.

While there are numerous volumes on Blackbeard’s life, this one focuses primarily on the last days of his life and the raid that brought about his demise. It provides readers with an excellent summary of what happened, as well as an overview of the Golden Age of Piracy and how the pirates were defeated.

Meet Angus Konstam

Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar

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The Pirate Ship
Cover Art: The Pirate Hunter
The Pirate Ship 1660-1730
By Angus Konstam
Illustrated by Tony Bryan
Osprey, 2003, ISBN 1-84176-497-3, $14.95

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What is a pirate without a ship? The pirate ship is the quintessential tool for anyone who wishes to plunder the high seas. Within the pages of this book, Angus Konstam examines the pirate ship of yore, specifically those of the Golden Age of Piracy.

A seaworthy ship was of primary importance to pirates, but they couldn’t just commission one to be built. Instead, they had to steal them as they did treasure. Although Hollywood would have us believe that pirates sailed aboard large, heavily armed ships, a warship like Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge was a rarity. Instead pirates favored smaller, faster ships with shallow drafts that allowed them to swoop down on their prey before it escaped or to evade pirate hunters whose ships dared not venture into hidden coves. Sometimes pirates used schooners, but pinnaces, sloops, and brigantines were preferred. Once a prize was taken, pirates converted it to fit their needs. They knocked down bulkheads. They made the deck flush and cut additional gun ports to accommodate a greater number of guns with which to attack future prey.

Within the pages of this book, Konstam provides a comprehensive introduction to this oft-neglected aspect of piracy. Using primary and secondary source materials, he discusses the designs and origins of these ships, how the pirates converted merchant ships to fit their needs, what ships they favored, and how they used the ships in action.

The illustrations provide the reader with clear examples of what pirate ships looked like and how one type differed from another. A glossary explains sailing terms and the bibliography leads readers to books with more in-depth information on wooden sailing ships, piracy, and seafaring life. The Pirate Ship is an excellent first resource for anyone who wants to learn about pirate ships. This title is a welcome addition from Osprey and upholds this publisher’s reputation for providing comprehensive books that are easy to read and understand at reasonable prices.

Book Review Copyright ©2002 Cindy Vallar

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